There are 10,366 state parks in the U.S., compared to 59 national parks. While national parks are better known, and often contain more unbridled natural wilderness, state parks seriously deserve more of your attention.
They’re often less populated, closer to home, and offer just as many amenities (if not more!) as their national counterparts.
Touting 32 state parks, it was hard to narrow down Indiana’s best state parks to just five, but I selected a diverse collection that has something for everyone in the family.
Have something to add to my list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
5. Chain O’ Lakes State Park
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this park was practically in my backyard. The popular local favorite, Chain O’ Lakes State Park, is just a short drive north to Albion, IN. With nine connecting lakes and over 200 surface acres of water, Chain O’ Lakes has a lot to offer water-lovers of all sorts.
Fishing is offered year-round, and the park offers rentals for canoe, paddleboat, kayak, and rowboats. A large beach area makes this park a great choice for families in the summer. In addition to water-activities, Chain O’ Lakes has 12 hiking trails (of over 23 miles) and a wonderful nature center.
Events geared towards nature-lovers and children are offered daily. Re-enactments tours are regularly held in the historic 1915 schoolhouse, where you can explore and enjoy activities like writing with homemade paper and quills, making a candle, or watching fiber spinning.
Other hands-on and informative events include identifying (and clearing) invasive species with park rangers, classes on traditional Myaami plant knowledge, and interactive theatrical performances designed to engage the audience and give them a better understanding of a true-to-life frontiersman of the Indiana Territory. Campers have access to the park’s 331 electric sites, 49 non-electric sites, 33 primitive sites, and 4 rally campsites.
4. Shakamak State Park
Southwest of Indianapolis in Jasonville, you’ll find the next hidden gem of Indiana: Shakamak State Park. This park consists of three massive man-made lakes with over 400 acres of water. There is no shortage of outdoor activities at Shakamak.
In addition to fishing and boating, Shakamak features a very popular family aquatic center with a pool and water slide. With reservable cabins, tennis courts, basketball courts, and over 13 miles of hiking trails, it’s clear that this park was designed with one thing in mind: campers. One unique feature of Shakamak is its Rent-A-Camps that sleep six people, complete with electricity, picnic tables, fire ring, parking spur, drinking water supply, and modern restrooms/showers.
For traditional camping, Shakamak has eight full hook-up sites, 114 electric sites, 42 non-electric sites, a youth tent area, dumping stations, and a camp store with basic supplies. One of the most appealing features of camping here is the environment: you feel fully immersed in nature here. Its quiet, wooded camping areas provide atmospheric shade in the summer, and a lovely immersion of colors in the fall. A wonderful festival is offered in the fall, featuring shuttle rides, pumpkin carving, and much more.
3. Indiana Dunes State Park
Off the southern coast of Lake Michigan in Chesterton, IN, you’ll find a childhood favorite of mine. Having family in Hammond, IN, we regularly enjoyed trips in the summer to the Indiana Dunes State Park, which contains the most unique eco-landscape in all of Indiana.
The park ranges over three miles of beach and 2,182 acres of beautiful Indiana landscape, but the real attraction at this park is its namesake: the massive sand dunes that formed over thousands of years. Rising as high as 200 feet, the Indiana Dunes are home to a remarkable array of animal and plant life, in addition to a robust fishery and an active bird-watching community.
The park features over sixteen miles of hiking trails, including some of the most difficult hikes you will find in the state. The massive peaks and valleys of the sand dunes add up to quite the workout. The park offers 140 electric sites (all 40-amp service) and a youth tent camp area.
Events are offered year-round, including campfires on the beach, meet-and-greets with local artists, boat tours, apple festivals, stargazing by telescopes, and much more. The Indiana Dunes is like nowhere else on earth and an absolute must-see.
2. Brown County State Park
While attending Indiana University—Bloomington, one of my favorite things about the experience was my proximity to Brown County State Park in Nashville, IN. Nicknamed “The Little Smokies,” the rolling forested hills of this park might make you forget that you’re in Indiana.
Featuring 16,000 acres of gorgeous, hilly vistas, Brown County is Indiana’s largest state park. With over eighteen miles of trails, this is the park to go to if you’re interested in getting lost in nature. Brown County is home to tons of outdoor activities, including horse and mountain bike trails, fishing/ice fishing, tennis courts, playgrounds, open fields, and a large swimming pool.
Daily family-friendly events include crafts, campfire cooking, creek exploration tours, bird-watching tours, and more. For camping, the park offers 401 electric sites, 28 non-electric sites, 60 rally sites, youth tent area, dumping station, and camp store.
The park’s rustic Abe Martin Lodge offers motel rooms, cabins, dining, conference facilities, and a super fun indoor water park. This is a great park to visit year-round, but many visitors flock to the park in the fall to enjoy 20 miles of exquisite autumnal colors playing out on the trees.
1. Turkey Run State Park
Turkey Run State Park has long been a favorite of mine and Hoosiers-alike, voted to be the best state park in Indiana many times over. It hosts kid-friendly events almost daily, including animal-feeding, planetarium star shows, fungi identification hikes, holiday-themed camping, and candle-lit historic home tours, amongst others.
Located in the west-central town of Marshal, IN, Turkey Run is home to arguably the most famous hiking trail in the state, in which you can explore three canyons in the Falls Canyon-Rocky Hollow Nature Preserve. In addition to its famous trails, the park features an extensive nature center, cultural arts programs, fishing, playgrounds, horseback riding, tennis, and a swimming pool.
In terms of camping, Turkey Run State Park offers 213 electric sites, youth tent area, camp store, and dumping station. You should have no problem finding a place to camp, but it’s still highly recommended you call ahead of time.
What are your favorite parks in Indiana? Have you visited any of the parks listed? Please share your experiences in the comments below!