From touchdowns to tigers, White River State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana has plenty of options for every visitor to explore. This great green space in the heart of downtown boasts world-class cultural and educational attractions, as well as trails, trees, and waterways that you would expect in a traditional park. Spread over 250 acres, White River State Park features a zoo, ballpark, IMAX theater, and more, making it a must see on your next journey through the Midwest.
On a recent trip to Indianapolis I was amazed to discover that nestled in the heart of this booming metropolis was a 250-acre park that was packed with amazing and captivating attractions that are a perfect fit for every member of the family. As a huge NFL fan I admit that when thinking about Indianapolis previously, my only thoughts were of the Colts football team, and a recent hosting of the Super Bowl. Thanks to that major sporting event, Indianapolis now has a huge selection of hotel options and room numbers, the majority of which happen to be perched right upon the expansive White River State Park. Let me take you through a journey of this amazing urban park, and how it’s a great spot for families vacationing in the Midwest.
Museums in White River State Park
While many times museums aren’t your typical pick for family vacations, it’s a great way to learn more about a region, and museums are becoming more and more equipped with activities for kids who visit along with adults. White River State Park has two world-class museums, which will teach and inspire as you wander along in their expertly curated exhibits.
The Indiana State Museum features exhibits covering the Ice Age to the 21st century (and beyond), and provides an exciting adventure into the past, present, and future of Indiana. Artifacts from the collections are frequently rotated and special exhibits are changing often, allowing the museum to offer a different experience every time you visit. When I visited two of their special exhibits, a 19 Stars quilt exhibit and an exhibit of the photojournalist Bill Foley, captured my attention and inspired my own storytelling journey. The quilt exhibit featured quilts from the early 1900s as well as modern day quilts. Seeing the beautiful colors and knowing the care each artisan took in creating their piece inspired me in my own desire to redecorate our home with colors that represent my own emotions and feelings. As I wandered along the display of Bill Foley’s photos I was moved to rethink my own photography passion and look again for a story in each photo. The curators do an excellent job so check to see what special exhibits are planned for your visit to the museum. For kids, and adults, the IMAX theater will be a popular destination, the ideal way to break up your day of museum touring, or for a fun family evening.
If you’re looking to discover captivating stories of the indigenous people of North America and western art, the Eiteljorg Museum will be another stop on your visit to White River State Park. Harrison Eiteljorg, an Indiana businessman who fell in love with western art during business trips to Colorado, began his collection as a way to capture and express his passion for the American West. Today his passion has created a museum that shares the stories of the west with new generations, and creates a world-class attraction in his hometown of Indianapolis. The museum has continued to follow his purpose and regularly adds special exhibits to its permanent collection of western art, as well as hosting events and festivals that celebrate the Native American culture.
Zoo Animals in White River State Park
When you’re ready to take a walk on the wild side, a visit to the Indianapolis Zoo will be next up. It’s hard to believe that a large zoo, which features an underwater dolphin viewing dome as well as a massive orangutan center, can all be housed in an urban park, but it’s true. Featuring many of your traditional exhibits that you expect at a zoo, the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center was the highlight of my visit. I was able to witness one of the scientists who is studying orangutan behavior do a free-choice test with one of the resident apes, as well as spying one orangutan take to the 80-foot-tall rope climbing trail overhead. During the free-choice test, an orangutan was given the opportunity to enter a testing room where a scientist played a computer food identification game with the subject. A food item was presented and if the orangutan correctly touched the identifying symbol on the touchpad, she was given the treat, if not it was removed and a new food was tested. Learning that the zoo purchases 100 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable energy sources, and provides a $250,00 biennial Indianapolis prize, the largest individual monetary award given for animal conservation in the world, shows me the zoo has a strong focus on animal conservation and sustainability, which is an important factor for me when visiting animal exhibits.
College Sports in White River State Park
Sports fans will be elated to learn that the White River State Park is home to the NCAA Hall of Champions and offers fun activities as well as history and trivia about the foundation of college sports, the NCAA and it’s student athletes. Consider asking for the scavenger hunt activity to follow along with fun facts and trivia on the lower level of exhibits, and then journey up a level to try your hand at sinking some baskets or bending a soccer ball.
Baseball in White River State Park
Another unbelievable part of the White River State Park, a baseball field! And not just any field either, Victory Field is a 14,500-seat ballpark which has received numerous local and national accolades including being named “Best Minor League Ballpark in America” by Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. It is home to the Indianapolis Indians, a professional Triple-A baseball club affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. For many sports fans, catching a ballgame during a family vacation would certainly be a memory to make. It’s a great use of vacation funds too with the most expensive seats costing only $16 each and a special promotion, like Two-for-One Tuesday and Kids Eat Free Sunday, every day of the week.
Live Music in White River State Park
Have a music fan in the family? The Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn features a mix of some of the best live music in the Circle City (downtown Indianapolis), hosting top artists such as Jack Johnson, Third Eye Blind, the Beach Boys, and Barenaked Ladies. Its picturesque setting is located along the east banks of the White River and was named a Top-100 outdoor world-class venue (via Pollstar). The concerts are “rain or shine” in the Park, and offer lawn sitting as well as a VIP elevated viewing section. While your enjoying the music, take a minute to enjoy the beauty of the evening, like this beautiful sunset I captured during my visit.
Leisure in White River State Park
Lastly, if you’re looking to enjoy some fresh air and leisure exploration, White River State Park has 1.5 mile canal that is perfect for a stroll. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, consider booking a Segway tour, which will glide along the river as well as teaching you a bit of history about White River State Park.
Are you as amazed as I was at all the impressive attractions and activities that can be found in the heart of downtown Indianapolis? As I watched families smiling at the ballpark, touching sharks at the zoo, and panning for gold at the Eiteljorg, I realized that White River State Park is a perfect spot for a family vacation, and I can’t wait to head back with my own family!