French Lick, Indiana is a town of about 2,000 people in the south-central part of the state. That’s probably why it isn’t known as a travel destination, but that’s part of the charm! You won’t find a lot about things to do in French Lick, Indiana in the guidebooks. But those who do come here know what a gem this town is, with famous hotels, history, and a variety of attractions for travelers.
And it’s not just French Lick! Once you’re here, you’ll want to check out the neighboring town, West Baden. Both offer endless possibilities for visitors interested in exploring the area. If you don’t know about these places, you’re missing out. So, I thought I’d share my favorite things to do in French Lick to help you realize why you need to make time to visit this Indiana town!
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What Is French Lick, IN Known For?
Located in southern Indiana, French Lick has a fascinating history that has shaped its identity today. In the early 1800s, the town was a trading post popular because of its mineral springs and natural salt lick that attracted French fur traders. And this is where the town eventually got its unique name!
Eventually, the trading post gained widespread fame for its mineral springs, which many believed to have healing properties. In the 19th century, grand hotels like the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel attracted visitors seeking relaxation in the mineral waters.
During the Roaring Twenties, the town of French Lick became a vacation destination for the elite, even during Prohibition. It had a reputation for lavish parties and hidden casinos. Despite a decline in the mid-20th century, a revival in the late 20th century preserved its historic landmarks.
Today, French Lick offers visitors a blend of history and attractions for visitors of all ages! You’ll find elegant hotels, a scenic railway, outdoor adventures, and more. Families will love the Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park. For history lovers, there’s the French Lick/West Baden Museum in downtown French Lick, featuring the world’s largest circus diorama.
Check Out the Best Things to Do in French Lick
1. Stay at a Historic Hotel
French Lick/West Baden is home to 2 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.
Since the two hotels are managed by the same company, visitors can enjoy the amenities of both properties while staying at one. This means access to an impressively diverse range of indoor and outdoor activities.
If you’re looking for things to do in French Lick, Indiana with kids, you’re in luck. There’s a line-up of family-friendly options at the resort, including Pluto’s Alley, the bowling alley at the French Lick Springs.
The hotels offer historic tours of their respective properties daily, which are definitely worth the time. The West Baden Springs Hotel was once dubbed the eighth wonder of the world and was rumored to be where Al Capone hid out at the height of his fame! Both have spas, fine dining restaurants, and indoor and outdoor pools.
2. Go to the Elephant Spa
An elephant spa is exactly what it sounds like! Elephant lovers, you’ll never forget the opportunity to give an elephant a bath. It’s just as amazing as one might expect.
You can make an appointment to help bathe the elephants during one of their daily spa times. It’s just one of the many animal encounters offered at the Wilstem Wildlife Park.
The elephants are transported from Florida to live on the ranch from March to October. Participants scrub the elephants, clean them behind their ears, and even paint 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.
The elephants are just one part of the park’s mission when it comes to animal conservation. Wilstem Wildlife Park homes and cares for several different species of animals that are considered endangered, including Asian Elephants.
3. Take the Whole Family to Wilstem Wildlife Park
The Elephant Spa isn’t the only thing to do at Wilstem Wildlife Park, by far! You also can choose from several other animal encounters, including adorable otters, sloths, giraffes, or kangaroos. They also offer a drive-through animal safari, zip lining, ATV tours, and horseback riding (as does the French Lick Springs Resort).
In town, the Wilstem also owns Shotz Miniature Golf & Laser Tag. They know what families want to do on vacation!
We were pleasantly surprised to find all of these amazing adventures on our trip to French Lick. While there are plenty of things to do in French Lick with kids, it’s just as easy to go there and relax. Plus, it was a quick road trip from the Chicago area for us (and an easy drive from Indianapolis). Our kids are already asking when we can visit again!
4. Marengo Cave
A short drive from French Lick is Marengo Cave, a U.S. National Landmark. The underground caves were discovered in 1883, and they’ve been offering tours ever since! Today, they’re considered the most popular attraction in the state of Indiana.
You can choose from two different underground cave tours- one is about 45 minutes long and the other is about an hour and a half. The longer tour is 1-mile in either direction.
Neither is accessible for wheelchair users, and you’ll need to be able to walk up and down a flight of stairs. Children of all ages will love exploring the underground formations, but be sure to ask the guides which tour is right for your family.
While you’re at Marengo Cave, check out their other fun activities for all ages!
For kids, there’s gemstone mining and a cave simulator. You can have fun pedal karting or playing glow-in-the-dark putt putt golf.
For the truly adventurous, they also offer special cave exploration packages. And don’t forget to visit the gift shop and candy store while you’re here.
5. Ride the French Lick 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.
This is one of the top things to do in French Lick, Indiana with kids (or kids at heart!). There are various themed trains throughout the year, each with 3 ticket classes to choose from.
For the kids, there are Day Out with Thomas trains and the Wild West Express, complete with Wild West hold-ups by highway bandits!
Visitors ages 21 and up can indulge in a Tasting Train, where you enjoy a scenic ride complete with bourbon or chocolate tasting.
The Polar Express French Lick at Christmas time is the railway’s most popular train. In fact, it books months in advance, so look for tickets when they become available at the end of the summer!
6. Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park
The Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park is perfect for families visiting French Lick, IN. This indoor water park offers something for every member of your family. There are 4 different thrilling water slides for the older kids, as well as a lazy river, and even an underwater VR experience!
Your kiddos can also enjoy unique splash zones made just for families, and the littlest ones won’t feel left out in the Splish Splash Pool. Get away from the kids in the adults-only hot tub or join everyone in the outdoor pool.
There are places to eat inside Big Splash, as well as arcades for when you want to get out of the water. Looking for a family-friendly place to stay in French Lick? The park is perfect for big families, with a range of rooms and suites that can hold up to 9 people!
7. Pay Homage in Larry Bird Land
In case you’re not a sports fan, 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 also a restaurant in town, 33 Brick Street, that has a lot of Larry Bird’s personal memorabilia. Not only was this one of our favorite places to eat in French Lick, but 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!
8. Try French Lick’s World Class Golf Courses
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: the Pete Dye Course, the Donald Ross Course, and the Valley Links Course.
Walter Hagen won the 1924 PGA Championship at Valley Links. Since then, the course 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.
9. Explore the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail
Did you know that southern Indiana is prime wine country? Most people wouldn’t expect a vineyard here, 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, which has both a tasting room and restaurant right in the heart of French Lick.
The Vintage Café restaurant serves delicious pizza, pasta, salad, sandwiches, and their not-to-be-missed pan bigio. It’s the perfect follow addition to a wine tasting. And the tasting room is open to walk-ins.
French Lick Winery’s vineyard produces over 20 different wines from a variety of grapes so there is something for everyone to sample.
There’s also a distillery on site, Spirits of French Lick, which offers tours of the facilities with a tasting at the end.
The distillery creates unique spirits such as Absinthe Le Bleu, Blackberry Eau-de-Vie, and Old Clifty Hoosier Apple Brandy.
10. Savor the Abundance of Natural Beauty
Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers will have a great time in the rolling hills of southern Indiana.
French Lick is on the border of Hoosier National Forest, which offers over 200,000 acres of land for exploring. Here you will find trails for mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding throughout the forest.
There’s also a large lake, Patoka Lake, where families can enjoy activities like fishing, swimming, boating, and canoeing. It’s the perfect place for outdoor adventures.
FAQ About Things to Do in French Lick, Indiana
Is French Lick, Indiana worth visiting?
Absolutely, French Lick is definitely worth a visit! It offers a unique and non-touristy experience, with its historic hotels, amazing outdoor opportunities, family-friendly attractions, and more.
You can take a wine tour, visit the French Lick/West Baden Museum, or try your luck at a casino.
A family can enjoy a quiet weekend away in French Lick with a variety of low-key experiences, including water park fun.
Plus, its scenic surroundings and outdoor activities in Hoosier National Forest make it a delightful destination. It’s really a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
What movie was filmed at French Lick Resort?
The historic West Baden Springs Hotel served as the backdrop for the movie “Blue Chips” (1994). This sports drama stars Nick Nolte and Shaquille O’Neal. And the 2022 horror movie, “So Cold the River” starring Bethany Joy Lenz was also filmed here, beautifully featuring the hotel.
What is there to do near French Lick?
When you visit French Lick West Baden, you’re just a short drive from a variety of even more historical sites, outdoor activities, and family-friendly tourist attractions.
If you’re visiting in the winter, Paoli Peaks is a beginner-friendly ski resort just a few miles outside of French Lick. It’s popular for skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, and more.
Less than an hour away is Holiday World, one of the best amusement parks we’ve ever explored. The theme park is divided into 4 sections: Halloween, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, and Christmas.
Holiday World also includes Splashin’ Safari, the attached water park. My kids said this was hands down their favorite water park yet!
Another fun visit might be the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, where you can learn about where Abraham Lincoln grew up in Indiana.
How long is the French Lick Scenic Railway ride?
The French Lick Scenic Railway offers different ride options with varying durations. The standard ride offered throughout the year, known as the Scenic Train Ride, typically lasts approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Themed rides can vary in length. For example, the seasonal Dinosaur Adventure Train and Summer Splash Bash Train both include a destination that makes the ride 2.5-hours long in total.
Also, guests should arrive 20- to 30-minutes before their train departure. Note: French Lick is in the Eastern Time Zone.
Does French Lick still have hot springs?
While the mineral-rich hot springs of French Lick were a significant attraction over a century ago, they sadly no longer exist. However, you can still enjoy the remnants of the past when you book a stay at the French Lick Springs Resort or the West Baden Springs Hotel.
Both historic landmarks in the region were built in the 1800s at the height of French Lick’s popularity as a wellness destination for the wealthy! Today, both hotels boast world-class spas that offer a variety of treatments, massages, and relaxing environments for your benefit.
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.