Travel while Social Distancing

Cave Country Canoes

Social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizer: de rigueur in these times of the coronavirus pandemic. Travelers are finding their wanderlust can co-exist with CDC recommendations. 

by Elizabeth Granger

Lunch from a fast food drive-thru, shared at a solitary picnic table at a conservancy. And then, a short hike into the forest. 

For Darlene and Steve Tague of Fishers, it’s how to travel with Covid-19. Their wanderlust has taken them throughout and beyond the United States, but these days the pandemic has them staying close to home. But not always at home. 

Travel 2020 has meant day trips instead of multi-week journeys. For both, a reminder of their youth and Sunday drives with their families. Their auto remains ever ready – with face masks and hand sanitizer – for a short jaunt. Usually to a different place each time. 

Garfield Park Sunken Gardens

“We like to explore new things,” Steve says. 

“We don’t like to see the same thing every time,” Darlene adds. 

Nor the same people. “We enjoy interacting with people, and I can’t see cutting that out of my life,” she says.  “The absence of people is the hardest thing about the coronavirus. But I’m not going to quit living just because it’s scary. I’m going to find a way to make it work. We’re cautious. We wear our masks, we wash our hands, we keep our distance.  There’s too much out there to stay close to my house all the time. And it’s worth it.”

They even turned “essential travel” into a bit of an adventure by shopping at an Amish grocery store about 30 miles from home. 

The Tagues – who call themselves the Tague Team – sing the praises of “hidden” outdoor possibilities. They’re big on small-ish options like the Red-Tail Land Conservancy near Muncie, Hitz-Rhodehamel Woods Nature Preserve near Bean Blossom, Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve near Bryant, Oxbow Nature Conservancy near Lawrenceburg, and the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary near Connersville. No crowds. 

Beach Waves @ Indiana Dunes

Kelly V. Phillips, outreach coordinator at Red-Tail, says, “With the urgency to socially distance themselves, people have organically migrated to secluded and wild places. Our preserves have always been a destination for physical wellbeing, but more than ever this year they are means of emotional restoration.”  

Many current suggestions for travel focus on the outdoors. Designated trails for walking, hiking and biking can be found throughout the state. So can driving trails. 

Northern Indiana’s Quilt Gardens, along the Heritage Trail in Elkhart County, remain popular. The gardens are planted and tended to by volunteers in each of the communities where they’re found. Terry Mark, director of communications for the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau, calls them a “love note to the community and the world.” 

Other quilt-related trails are part of the Indiana Barn Quilt Trail. Found in nine counties in various sections of the state, they focus on Hoosiers’ rich farming as well as quilting traditions. The largest trail, in Gibson County in southwestern Indiana, has more than 225 quilt patterns painted on barns. 

Gabis Gardens

The Historic National Road (U.S. 40) – America’s first federally-funded interstate – takes drivers across Indiana’s portion of the highway from Richmond through Indianapolis to Terre Haute. Fifteen interpretive panels tell the story of the road that opened the west to travelers in the early 1800s.  
For a bit of levity in these serious times, the state tourism office has created a list of roadside oddities, titled “The 20 IN 20,” that includes the stuffed and mounted Old Ben, the world’s largest steer, in Kokomo; a cocktail-sipping pink elephant in Fortville; and the Big Peach in Bruceville. 

Public art everywhere invites walkers as well as bikers and drivers. Typically outdoors but not always, and free to the general public. 

Outdoor murals often offer larger-than-life history lessons. The Mural Trail in Richmond has more than 80 murals. Fort Wayne has plans to celebrate its heritage with the Make It Your Own Mural Fest in September. Eleven artists will create additional murals in each of the 11 counties in northeast Indiana; the murals are to be unveiled Sept. 18.  

Eagle Creek Park

Think statues everywhere. Carmel, Indianapolis, Lafayette, more. The Garfield Trail in Grant County offers 11 bright yellow Garfield cat statues in a variety of dress: basketball uniform, medical shirt, fishing gear, … In Fairmount, James Dean’s home town, Garfield is one cool cat. 

The 8-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail, connecting the city’s seven cultural districts, was planned with public art in mind. “Rather than focusing entirely on the destination, the Cultural Trail encourages you to enjoy the journey along the way,” says Nate Swick, communications manager for Visit Indy. 

Wilstem Ranch near Paoli launched its Drive-Thru Safari Park in mid-June. Visitors stay in their own vehicles – and feed the animals if they’d like – while viewing more than 30 species of animals.

Quilt Gardens

The American Discovery Trail (ADT), with 6,800 miles of multi-use non-motorized trail stretching from Delaware to California, goes through Indiana with a northern trail as well as a southern trail. Indiana’s ADT portions total 616 miles. 

The Cardinal Greenway, Indiana’s longest rail-to-trail covering 62 miles from Richmond to Marion, is part of the ADT. Cycling & Family Fitness in Richmond offers free bike rental. 

Many smaller trails also welcome biking and hiking. Among them: Monon Trail in Marion and Hamilton counties; Wabash Heritage Trail in Tippecanoe County; B-Line in Bloomington; Whitewater River Gorge Trail in Richmond; and Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in Elkhart County.

City and county parks as well as privately-owned options offer impressive green spaces and gardens. They include Garfield Park Conservatory’s Sunken Gardens in Indianapolis, Hayes Arboretum and Cope Environmental Center in Richmond, Gabis Arboretum in Valparaiso, Irwin Gardens in Columbus, and the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington. 

Hayes-Arboretum, Richmond

White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis is one of the largest urban state parks in the country and offers 250 acres of greenspace alongside the White River and Central Canal. Eagle Creek Park on Indy’s west side is home to 3,900 acres of woods, meadows and ponds alongside 1,300 acres of reservoir. 

From Lake Michigan to the Ohio River, waters throughout the state invite boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and other sports, as well as just taking in the scenery. Opportunities can be found in cities’ downtown areas – including Indy, Fort Wayne and South Bend – was well as unpopulated rustic places. 

Scenic drives can provide a thought-provoking change from the status quo. “We like to get off the beaten path,” Steve Tague says. “We don’t take the interstate.” 

And with the luxury of time, this retired couple’s free spirit can take them where they never planned to go. “We work from an outline but seldom have a hard plan,” Darlene says. It often puts small towns on their journeys. They enjoy strolling along the downtown area, stopping in at shops that catch their fancy. These days, with social distancing guidelines in mind. Restaurants were just re-opening when they ventured out to celebrate Darlene’s birthday, and they found themselves the sole diners in an eatery in Wabash where the enjoyed not only the meal but also the conversation with the staff.  

Murals in Depot District

Drive-in movie theaters – there are 20 in Indiana – provide respite from coronavirus news with built-in social distancing. Among them are the Tibbs in Indianapolis, Centerbrook in Martinsville, Skyline in Shelbyville, Starlite in Bloomington, Moon Lite in Terre Haute, Auburn-Garrett in Garrett, 49-er in Valparaiso, Cinema 67 in Spencer, Holiday in Rockport, a different Holiday in Mitchell.

Options for getting out and about are everywhere. The pandemic has caused changes, to be sure, but think about farmers’ markets, farm visits, historic sites, even cemetery walks. 

For an unusual but fantastic viewing spot, climb the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower in the Hoosier National Forest near Bloomington when it opens again. 

Monon Trail

Editor’s Note: With ever-changing health guidelines, readers are strongly encouraged to check sites’ websites before venturing out. Also check tourism offices for outdoor adventure packages that include bird watching, nature bingo, scavenger hunts, campfire cooking classes, golf, disc golf, horseback riding, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking