On the southeastern edge of the U.S. Midwest sits Indiana. For those of us coming from the Southwestern US (and maybe elsewhere?), Indiana may not seem like a very special place, but like everywhere, it has its many surprises. First, Indiana has been home to many exceptional people, including Abraham Lincoln and a room full of celebrities showcased by the Indianapolis State Museum. Second, Indiana has some exceptional hiking. Whether you are exploring the hills to the south, or the Indiana Dunes to the north, along the shores of Lake Michigan, this state has surprising variety and beauty to offer.
When it comes to culture, the 19th US state is home to the Indy 500, a famous formula one race. And it has been host to creative and iconic dishes like the pork tenderloin sandwich and the sugar cream pie.
Join me in exploring and appreciating this beautiful land in the heart of the United States.
Type: US State
Region: North America
Official Languages: English
Population: 6.8 million (2021)
Currency: US Dollar
Power Outlet: Type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.
How to Get There
Indiana is a landlocked state in the Midwestern US, so it can easily be reached by car from any surrounding area (I’ve also reached it on foot from Kentucky).
If you are flying in, Indianapolis is likely your destination, although you may compare prices to airports in some of the surrounding states.
The Nature of Indiana
If you were to drive from the south of Indiana to the north, you would note something interesting. Southern Indiana feels like a more dynamic landscape, with rolling hills, gorges, and caves (hello, Kentucky). But as you head north, you will enter an area that seems notably flat and perhaps even “boring.” This flat area, also known as the Tipton Till Plain, was created by massive glaciers that carved out the surface of what we now know as Indiana, and filled in the relief of the land with the “till” or soft materials that they left behind. You might be interested to know that the highpoint of Indiana, Hoosier Hill, is in this generally flat feeling area. Finally, Northern Indiana is characterized by the Great Lake Plains.
To learn more about the geology of Indiana, check out the Landscapes of Indiana by John R. Hill.
To learn more about the impact of glaciers on Indiana from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Indiana, now known for its agricultural monocultures (or areas of single plant species, usually created by humans), is actually a varied land that has changed much over the ages. (You can learn more about this in person at the Indiana State Museum).
Wetlands, for example, used to cover 24% of Indiana’s landscape, and now cover just 3%. Wetlands are characterized, unsurprisingly, by water and they are home to a vast array of bird species, as well as amphibians and reptiles. They have been drained in Indiana and elsewhere to make way for development of homes, highways, and agriculture.
Forests remain surprisingly common in Indiana, particularly in the south, and about 20% of the state is currently forested. These areas are explorable in many cases, and can be accessed via Hoosier National Forest, Brown County State Park, Turkey Run State Park, and more.
One of the most unique spots for ecosystem diversity and biodiversity is encapsulated by the Indiana Dunes National Park (check out our guide to the Indiana Dunes) and the surrounding state parks. The dunes are in northern Indiana, along the shore of Lake Michigan. They include four different “complexes” or sets of dunes that were created by the Lake over time, with the most current being along the lake currently – called the Tolleston dunes. These undulating dunes change as they age, particularly as different plant species settle in the sand and begin to prevent their movement. Older dunes have more established species, like robust and long-lived trees, and younger dunes are colonized by resilient and fast-growing species like grasses. Due to all of this, the landscape of the dunes has an array of ecosystems, from beaches, to grasslands, to oak-forests, and more.
To learn more about the nature of the Indiana Dunes area – read the National Park’s Natural Features and Ecosystems article.
To learn more about Indiana’s ecosystems check out Sciencing’s “Ecosystems of Indiana”.
Our Posts On Exploring Nature in Indiana
Hiking in Indiana: You might be surprised to know that there is lots of amazing hiking in Indiana. There are hilly and forested lands to the south, and undulating dunes sculpted by Lake Michigan in the north. You can explore much of this on the trails, and see a different side of Indiana.
The History and Culture of Indiana
People started making their home in what we now know as Indiana in at least 10,000 BC. At this time, people exploring this new land would have seen the last glaciers of the Ice Age, as well as some of Indiana’s prehistoric megafauna. These people, living in a land that looks very different from what we see today, survived by foraging and hunting the large animals who’s fossils we marvel at today.
When the Ice Age ended and the land began to warm, and people lived there longer and longer, there is evidence that the population slowly increased and hunting technology and culture began to evolve. Archeologists distinguish between the ancient periods between that time and the modern Indigenous cultures of Indiana through examination of their arrow and spear points over time- tracking changes in their design and the materials used to make them.
There is also evidence in Indiana of so-called “Mound building” peoples. Evidence of their settlements and architecture has been preserved through time through their building of earthen mounds. This can still be viewed in Mounds State Park in Anderson, IN, as well as elsewhere in Indiana. This was a place of thriving human civilization.
When Europeans came and began creating records that we can access now, they noted the following indigenous peoples from 1600s o the mid-19th century: Miamis, Wears, Piankashaws, Potawatomis, Kickapoos, Mascoutens, Delawares, and Shawnees (Jones & Johnson, 2016).
The first Europeans to noteably chart out Indiana included the French explorer Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle. He set out from modern day Canada, and took rivers (including the Ohio River) all the way down to modern-day Louisiana. He claimed all the lands he passed through, including Indiana, for France.
This led to the eventual construction of trading posts and forts by the French along waterways, and in 1708 the town of Vincennes became a permanent, European settlement with the building of a community church. Vincennes still exists today and is the oldest (European) town in Indiana.
The French and British colonists also fought over the land that is now Indiana, and in 1763, when the French and Indian War ended with the Treaty of Paris, Indiana became part of the British colonies. For a time, this resulted in a slowing of European settlements west of the Appalachian mountains due to the proclamation by the English king. This limit to American movements and settlements, played into the unrest that eventually led to the American Revolution and 1775. When that war ended in 1783, the land that includes Indiana became part of America.
However, Indiana didn’t become the 19th state of the Union until 1816. This was a time of rapid population growth among Euro-American settlers in the state. This was also a time during which Abraham Lincoln called Indiana home, from 1816 to 1830. During the lead up to the Civil War, the state was a part of the Underground Railroad, with dedicated folks helping people escape to freedom by hiding them in their homes and helping them move north. When the Civil War started, Indiana supported the Union.
At the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s, Indiana was at the heart of the United States industrial age, being right next door to Chicago and having its own industrial complexes in the north along Lake Michigan, and in Indianapolis. At the same time, Indiana’s expansive agricultural landscape was modernized. Into the modern era, Indiana remains a dynamic landscape of culture and emerging history.
Modern culture in Indiana is reflective of the United States as a whole, with a few additional insights. As a part of the Midwest, Indiana has a conservative and agrarian emphasis, which will be evident as you travel across the state, through farms and past religious sites and signs. Organized sports are also popular in Indiana, with the addition of the famous Indy 500 racing that happens annually in May.
For food inspiration from Indiana check out Taste of Homes recipe list.
For more information….
On prehistoric peoples of Indiana: Early Peoples of Indiana by James R. Jones III and Amy K. Johnson (2016). (https://www.in.gov/dnr/historic-preservation/files/HP_earlypeoples-1.pdf)
For the early history of Indiana in relation to European colonists, learn more from the History Museum (https://www.historymuseumsb.org/early-history-of-indiana-to-1779/).
Hoosiers and American History (https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/Hoosiers-and-the-American-Story-ch-03.pdf) (https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/Hoosiers-and-the-American-Story-ch-05.pdf)
Our Posts On History and Culture in Indiana
Experience Culture and History in Indianapolis
Where We Have Been
More Information From Around the Web
Check out our Explore Indiana Pinterest board with links to blogs across the web.
And for safety considerations:
See the Government of Canada’s travel warnings (https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/united-states), the United Kingdom’s travel warnings (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/usa/safety-and-security), and/or your own country’s information.
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