A vibrant college town, Lafayette is located in the northwest of Indiana, just across the rushing Wabash River from its sister city West Lafayette. The government seat of Tippecanoe County, it has a rich history and culture with much of life in town dominated by the prestigious Purdue University.
Named after the French general Marquis de Lafayette, an American Revolutionary War hero, it was founded in 1825 at a spot where the river became impassable upstream. Star City soon flourished as a shipping center and railroad hub with several architectural styles and attractive old buildings still being on display in its historic downtown.
Thanks to its sizeable student population, Lafayette has some awesome cultural events and nightlife to enjoy with college football game days being particularly lively affairs. Besides these things to do in Lafayette itself, the city is also surrounded by heaps of idyllic nature spots offering up all kinds of fun outdoor activities.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. Celery Bog Nature Area
A very picturesque spot to explore, the Celery Bog Nature Area lies on the western outskirts of West Lafayette. Sprawling across a huge area, it acts as a haven for local wildlife with plenty of trails and a nature center found amidst its lush undergrowth.
Formerly a vegetable farm, until a ferocious fire burned its planting beds one summer, the vast area now protects a pristine wetland ecosystem. As you wander along its seven miles of paved paths and boardwalks, you’ll enjoy lovely views over its murky waters and woodlands.
In total, more than 120 different species inhabit Celery Bog with beavers and foxes sometimes spied alongside deer, coyotes and turtles. Besides being very popular with birdwatchers, the preserve also has an excellent nature center containing educational exhibits and activities on local fauna and flora.
11. Wabash Heritage Trail
Another wonderful way to see more of the city and its scenic surroundings is to walk, run or cycle along the Wabash Heritage Trail. Winding its way alongside the pretty river of the same name, it has countless parks, nature spots and tourist attractions for you to stop off at along the way.
Stretching roughly thirteen miles in length, it takes you from the Tippecanoe Battlefield Park to Fort Ouiatenon. The rambling route passes through both Lafayette and West Lafayette with Happy Hollow Park and the Davis Ferry Bridge counting among its main attractions.
As much of the path is lined by towering trees, joggers and cyclists enjoy some much-needed shade in summer with picnic areas and viewpoints also dotted about. Other than visiting the battlefield and fort, you can always grab a bite to eat at the handful of cafes and restaurants bordering the trail.
10. Art Museum of Greater Lafayette
Home to lots of fantastic paintings, photos and sculptures, the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette lies just a stone’s throw from downtown. As well as displaying arresting artworks by local and national artists, it puts on loads of lectures, classes and concerts over the course of the year.
Established in 1909 to encourage an interest and appreciation for art in the area, its more than 1,500 artifacts and installations now occupy a purpose-built museum just southeast of the center. While it mostly focuses on 19th, 20th and 21st century American art from Indiana and the surrounding states, amazing Inuit carvings and intriguing works by Mexican artists also feature.
After strolling about its light and airy galleries and taking in all its striking landscapes and portraits, you can pass by the gift shop and pick up some delightful handmade souvenirs.
9. Clegg Botanic Gardens
Yet another picture-perfect spot for you to hit up is the beautiful Clegg Botanic Gardens right on the northeastern limits of Lafayette. Overlooking Wildcat Creek, it has eight attractive little nature trails for visitors to hike along amidst its verdant woods, savannahs and prairies.
Originally the private country retreat of the Clegg family, the serene hillside gardens were opened to the public in 1965 in memory of their only son Jerry who had sadly died a few years earlier. Despite its smallish size, the park includes a number of landscapes with steep ravines and the swirling creek lying next to enormous old oaks and wildflower-filled meadows.
As such, the gorgeous gardens are a very pleasant place to spend some time in quiet reflection with stunning scenery and views on show wherever you look.
8. Purdue University
Regularly ranked among the best public universities in the country, Purdue University exerts a huge influence on both the city’s economy and its cultural life. Set just across the river in West Lafayette, its colossal campus has lots of impressive historic buildings and immaculate green spaces for you to explore.
Since being founded in 1869, it has expanded considerably with dozens of colleges, residence halls and athletics fields now dotting the leafy campus. In addition to a couple of excellent art galleries, it has the exquisite Art Deco Elliott Hall of Music and the lofty Purdue Bell Tower for guests to stop by.
Aside from seeing the iconic Purdue University Arch and checking out the Purdue Memorial Union, it is well worth watching the Boilermaker football team play if you have the chance. On game days, thousands of students create a massive buzz around town with the games themselves being exciting, action-packed affairs.
7. Downtown Lafayette
The heart and soul of life in the city, Lafayette’s lively yet laidback downtown is home to most of its best bars, restaurants and shops. Very pedestrian-friendly, the handsome historic district lies right by the Wasbah River with fun cultural events and community festivals taking place here all the time.
What started out in 1825 as a transportation hub for the west-center of the state has since steadily grown into the thriving downtown of the sizeable city. All its diverse architecture reflects the area’s storied past as fine Victorian-era buildings and early twentieth-century houses line its streets. Many of these are now home to cozy cafes, unique boutiques and packed-out college bars.
Among its main highlights are the Tippecanoe County Courthouse which exhibits some outstanding neoclassical architecture and the Long Center for the Performing Arts; an atmospheric Vaudeville theater from the twenties.
6. Samara House
Just to the north of the university’s expansive campus is one of the city’s most interesting buildings: the sleek and stylish Samara House. Designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, its elegant interior is a treat to tour with delightful design features and furniture on show throughout.
An excellent example of his Usonian architectural vision, the charming house was built in 1954 for Purdue professor John Christian and his wife Catherine. Named for all the distinctive winged seeds that can be spotted on the property, the single-story structure, its wide windows and patios blend in perfectly with the lush grounds all around them.
On the tour, your expert guide will point out some of the forty innovations designed by the architect and tell you all about the family, their lives and interactions with Wright.
5. Wildcat Creek Winery
After all the sightseeing and outdoor activities, what better way to relax than with a refreshing glass of wine in hand. At the award-winning Wildcat Creek Winery, guests can sample sumptuous wines either in their tasting room or out on the terrace overlooking its gorgeous green gardens.
Founded by Rick and Kathy Black in 2008, the family-run winery occupies an antique old Hoosier farmhouse, just up the road from the Clegg Botanic Gardens. Named after the lovely little creek that winds its way nearby, it now has over a dozen handcrafted wines for you to try at its peaceful site.
As you try their tasty whites, reds and roses, a knowledgeable staff member will teach you about the wine-making process and what each one is best paired with. Afterwards, you can buy a bottle or two to take home from the gift shop which also sells locally-produced chocolates, cheeses and jams.
4. Columbian Park Zoo
A firm favorite with families, Columbian Park Zoo is home to nearly two hundred mammals, birds and reptiles from every corner of the globe. Situated just a short walk or drive to the southeast of downtown, it also has a small petting zoo and exciting animal encounters for you to enjoy.
Established in 1908, its spacious enclosures and exhibits now house over 190 creatures both big and small of more than ninety different species. While ambling around, you can therefore see everything from playful otters and prairie dogs to cute owls, waddling penguins and giant Galapagos tortoises.
After seeing all the animals and exploring its magical butterfly garden, visitors can always make use of the adjacent park’s playgrounds, picnic areas and walking trails.
3. Wolf Park
Another wonderful place to head if you want to see some amazing animals up close and personal is Wolf Park in the nearby town of Battle Ground. At the top-class conservation center, guests can see not just packs of grey wolves but foxes and bison too, roaming about its pristine prairies.
In 1972, Dr Erich Klinghammer, a professor of animal behavior at Purdue University, founded the facility to study wolves and help researchers protect them in the wild. Fifty years later, the wildlife preserve is still going strong as a small pack of six wolves, four red and grey foxes and a herd of big bison currently inhabit its scenic site.
On educational tours, you’ll learn about the majestic creatures, their natural habitat and behaviors while watching them play, eat and sleep in the enclosures before you.
2. Haan Museum of Indiana Art
A must-visit for its fine collection of ceramics and decorative arts, the magnificent Haan Museum of Indiana Art is located just a short stroll south of the center. While its antique furniture, paintings and sculptures certainly make for a striking sight, the grand Colonial Revival mansion in which they are housed is just as impressive.
Built in 1904 for the St. Louis World’s Fair, it was later moved brick by brick to Lafayette, only opening to the public as an art museum in 2013. Once past its enormous Ionic columns, guests can enjoy the world’s largest collection of Indiana art on show in the mansion’s tastefully-decorated halls and rooms.
Highlights include incredible impressionist paintings by the Hoosier Group and all the fabulous old furniture and furnishings that adorn its two floors. After marveling at all its eccentric ceramics and monumental vases, make sure to wander about its superb sculpture garden before heading off.
1. Prophetstown State Park
As it offers up the perfect mix of history, nature and outdoor activities, Prophetstown State Park is a great place to visit for all the family. Sprawled across a huge area to the north of the city, it has lots of hiking and biking trails to explore with campsites and picnic areas scattered here and there.
Lying alongside the Wabash River, the state park commemorates a Native American village founded in the area in 1808. At the site’s open-air museum, visitors can amble around a replica of a Shawnee village and a 1920s farmstead which highlights how people used to live and farm in the past.
In summer, you can also cool off at its aquatic center which features a fun thirty-foot tube slide and a relaxing lazy river area. With picturesque woods, prairies and wetlands to hike and bike around, the newest state park in Indiana makes a lovely place to visit and vacation.