Indiana, as a whole, tends to fly under the radar. It is one of the smaller American entities (ranked 38th out of the 50 states for total area) and middle of the pack in terms of population (17th). "The Crossroads of America" is nearly landlocked, save for the small portion of its Northeastern corner that touches the Southern shore of Lake Michigan. But basic facts aside, Indiana is home to some surprisingly cool hubs. With the likely exception of the capital, many non-Hoosiers may be unfamiliar with the following seven underrated cities.
This seat of Allen County, in Northeastern Indiana, is green in many ways. For starters, Fort Wayne maintains over 120 miles of hiking and biking trails and over 80 stellar parks. Enjoy the flowers, trees, and outdoor serenity during the fairweather season, and when those snowy Indiana winters blow in, retreat to the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, where the climate-controlled enclosure showcases tropical and desert gardens, as well as rotating exhibits. If blue is more your shade, make for the Maumee, St. Mary, and St. Joseph rivers, all converge in the city's center, or bring the kids to one of the many "splash pads" that are free of charge throughout town.
Terre Haute sits on the Eastern bank of the Wabash River in a lovely region known as Wabash Valley, in the heart of midwestern America. This West-Centrally located seat of Vigo County hugs the Illinois border and is conveniently positioned within striking distance of seven major cities, including Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. But no need to rush off elsewhere. Terre Haute sports and up-and-coming downtown core, outdoor recreation, such as the 300-acre Griffin Bike Park that facilitates everything from a tranquil ride to extreme courses, and a full spectrum of stimulating museums, from the Swope Art Museum to the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
Sure, Indianapolis is the state capital and Indiana's most populous city, but it seems to lack the immediate clout of some of the nearby, or especially coastal, American cities. With that said, the nearly 1 million "Indy" natives know that their centralized Marion County city rocks. Sports fans, in particular, have come to the right place. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway seats over 250,000 people, making it the largest sporting venue in the world! Throughout its 100+ year history, the "Brickyard" has seen some of the most thrilling events across every iteration of automobile racing. If fast cars aren't your thing, the Indianapolis Colts kick off their home games at the Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indiana Pacers tip off next door at the Gainsbridge Fieldhouse. And if you prefer culture over competition, cover the 8-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which connects six of Indy's distinct districts.
Immediately North of Indiana is the charming suburban city of Carmel. This Hamilton County community complements the capital's attributes and also carves out a unique identity of its own. Those with a creative flair should visit in September to catch the Carmel International Arts Festival. But any time of the year, one can also see a performance at the 1,600-seat, masterfully constructed Palladium concert hall or visit the galleries, tasty restaurants, and cool shops along Main Street. And if you are looking to explore the area under your own power and the fresh blue sky, hop on the Monon Trail, which heads South through Nora and Broad Ripple, all the way to downtown Indiana and the aforementioned Cultural Trail, or North to the communities of Westfield and Sheridan.
Good old Gary has experienced quite a fall from grace since its prosperous steel industry days. Once called "The City of the Century" and "The Magic City," this shrinking Lake County community is now called the "Murder Capital of America" in some circles. However, fluctuating reputation aside, Gary has a few great things going for it. First of all, it is located right at the Southern tip of Lake Michigan. This fact means that the welcoming beaches and sand dunes of Indiana Dunes National Park (and the peripheral areas) are immediately accessible to the East, while the captivating skyline of Chicago, Illinois, can be seen just up the Northwest coast. And even though some lament that Gary has an estimated 13,000 abandoned houses, factories, and other buildings, this gives angsty photographers infinite fodder for their off-beat, 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' graffiti-rich collections.
The vibrant Michigan City is on the East end of Indiana Dunes National Park, also adjacent to the fresh blue waters of Lake Michigan. This LaPorte County setup has lots going for it. Summer tourists will probably want to beeline straight for Washington Park Beach. This 99-acre, friendly green space also has a 2-mile stretch of sand to sprawl out on, and one of the only lighthouses in the state. Speaking of those sailor-saving beacons, the Old Lighthouse Museum sits right where Trail Creek and Outer Basin meet the Michigan City Harbor and is well worth a visit. If sun-bathing and history aren't your thing, check out the Washington Park Zoo's wild setting and 90 species of animals from all around the world, including Bengal tigers, Grizzly bears, Bald eagles, the American Alligator, and plenty of other enticing creatures.
Just a little way Northwest of both Indiana and Carmel rests the seat of Madison County. Anderson fosters a religious, small-business-centric community with tranquil natural settings to punctuate the atmosphere. Here, the White River rolls through town, meeting up with Killbuck Creek and the waters of Shadyside Lake. Shadyside Park and Rangeline Nature Preserve take advantage of these welcoming and fertile banks, as does Mounds State Park, another neat outdoor magnet that straddles the White River and is home to prehistoric indigenous monuments. For some evening entertainment, tune into the eclectic schedule at the 1,500-seat, exquisitely-designed Paramount Theatre Center and Ballroom. It is also important to note that the main headquarters of the Church of God is located in Anderson. The institution's presence, including the affiliated Anderson University, forms a vital foundation for the devout residents of this city.
If you are passing through the mostly literal, as well as figurative, crossroads of the country, be sure to pull over in some of these seven underrated cities. Despite the relative obscurity, you won't be left wanting in the ways of entertainment, outdoor activities, sporting events, sinusoidal histories, or eccentric aesthetics and sensibilities. "The Hoosier State" is back on the map and awaits your next road trip through the midwest.