French Lick, Indiana is a town of about 2,000 people in the south central part of the state, which might be the reason it isn’t on most traveler’s radars. Those who have visited however, know about the town, its famous hotels, its history, and the variety of attractions this gem of a destination has to offer. You don’t find a lot about French Lick in guide books, but that’s part of its charm.
French Lick, and the neighboring town, West Baden, offer endless possibilities for visitors to explore the area, but if you don’t know about these places, you’re missing out. Hopefully, sharing our favorite things to do in French Lick will help you realize why you need to make time to visit this Indiana town.
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Best Things to Do in French Lick Indiana
1. Historic hotels
French Lick/West Baden is home to two historic hotels, the West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Springs Resort. Both were built in the mid-1800s and used the area’s mineral springs to attract visitors to their competing resorts. Over the years the properties housed casinos (there’s still French Lick casino), a seminary, and a college, but at one point, West Baden was in a complete state of disrepair.
Both resorts offer historic tours of their respective properties daily which are definitely worth the time. Today the two hotels are managed by the same company, allowing visitors to enjoy the amenities of both properties while staying at one. Families can enjoy indoor and outdoor swimming pools at both properties.
2. Elephant spa
This is exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity to give an elephant a bath and it is just as amazing as one might expect. Visitors to Wilstem Ranch can make an appointment to help bathe the elephants during one of their daily spa times. The elephants are transported from Florida and live on the ranch from March to October. Participants scrub the elephants, clean behind their ears, and even spray their toenails. I’ve never heard of anything like this, but we had a lot of fun and learned a lot about animals during our time with them.
3. Marengo cave
Not far from French Lick is Marengo Cave, a U.S. National Landmark discovered in 1883 and offering tours ever since. There are two different underground cave tours, one is about 45 minutes long and the other is about an hour and a half. Children of all ages will love exploring the underground formations, just be sure to ask the guides which tour is right for your family.
4. Visit French Lick Indiana Scenic Railway
Leaving from just outside the gates of the French Lick Resort, the French Lick Scenic Railway takes visitors on a 20 mile journey through Hoosier National Forest and the 2200 foot Burton tunnel. There are various events throughout the year for train enthusiasts including “Day Out With Thomas” and “The Polar Express French Lick” at Christmas time. A wonderful way to explore this part of the country and its beautiful scenery.
5. Holiday World
Less than an hour away (in Santa Claus, Indiana of course) is Holiday World, one of the best amusement parks we’ve ever explored. The park is divided into four sections: Halloween, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, and Christmas. The rides, food, music, and decor is themed accordingly. My kids loved discovering the various areas and hearing holiday music in July. They even found Santa Claus and had their picture taken with him!
In addition to the theme park, there is Splashin’ Safari, the attached water park. My kids said this was hands down their favorite water park yet. The place was massive, with a large variety of slides and rides, restaurants, free drink stations (yes, throughout the park drinks are free) and a giant splash pad.
There are also free sunscreen stands throughout the park which any parent will tell you is much appreciated. The place was clean, the staff was friendly, and even though it was crowded in places, you could always get on rides fairly easily. Definitely worth the quick drive from French Lick Indiana.
6. Larry Bird land
For those who don’t know, Larry Bird was a famous basketball player for the Boston Celtics in the 1980s. He happens to be from French Lick and for many, the names go hand in hand. There’s a restaurant in town, 33 Brickstreet, that has a lot of Larry Bird’s personal memorabilia.
Not only was this one of our favorite places to eat in French Lick, it was also a fun place to spend a couple of hours watching sports and exploring the on-site autograph collection. The highlight for our kids was trying on Larry Bird’s Olympic team jacket and holding his NBA MVP trophy. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the collection was still a huge hit.
7. French Lick golf is world class
I’m not a golfer, but those who are, have heard of French Lick. There are three courses here designed by the best of the best: Pete Dye, Donald Ross, and Tom Benedelow. Walter Hagen won the 1924 PGA Championship here. Since then it has hosted the Senior PGA and Women’s LPGA Championship. I didn’t go out on the courses, but I saw the view from above and they look pretty spectacular.
8. It’s on a wine trail
Most people wouldn’t expect a vineyard in southern Indiana, but there are actually 9 vineyards throughout the region that make up the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail.
One of the vineyards is French Lick Winery with a tasting room and restaurant right in the heart of French Lick. The Vintage Café restaurant serves delicious pizza, pasta, salad, and sandwiches, and not to be missed bigio bread. The vineyard produces over twenty different wines from a variety of grapes so there is something for everyone to sample.
There is also a distillery on site, Spirits of French Lick, which creates unique spirits such as: Absinthe Le Bleu, Blackberry Eau-de-Vie, and Old Clifty Hoosier Apple Brandy.
9. Abundance of natural beauty
French Lick is on the border of Hoosier National Forest, which offers over 200,000 acres of land for exploring. There are trails for cycling, hiking, and horse back riding throughout the forest and there’s a large lake, Patoka Lake, where families can enjoy activities like fishing, swimming, boating, and canoeing. It’s perfect for outdoor adventures.
10. Wilstem Ranch has everything else kids will love
Wilstem Ranch not only offers the elephant spa, but they also offer a drive through animal safari, zip lining, ATV tours, and horseback riding (as does the French Lick Springs hotel). In town they own Shotz, a place for mini golf and laser tag. They know what families want to do on vacation!
We were pleasantly surprised to find all of these amazing adventures on our vacation to French Lick. While there are plenty of things to do in French Lick with kids, it’s just as easy to go and relax. It was a quick road trip from the Chicago area (and an easy drive from Indianapolis)and our kids are already asking when we can visit again.