By William Flood
Colder weather is just ahead; when all the holiday festivities end, don’t risk a case of cabin fever. Instead, plan a wintertime getaway to family-friendly French Lick Indiana, a wonderful year-round destination only three hours from Fort Campbell.
The area is home to a pair of world-class National Register historic hotels. Nearby, you can enjoy a vintage train ride, outdoor (and underground) activities, skiing and even authentic Amish culture.
French Lick Resort
Let’s start with those grand resorts. The French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels are the focal point for the area. Both are beautifully restored, four-diamond hotels, each part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America.
The French Lick Springs Hotel
The French Lick Springs Hotel was established in 1845. The current complex dates back to 1901. There are 443 guest rooms (some are pet-friendly with advance notice). Six restaurants on-property range from fine dining to a coffee shop. For some adult time, try the French Lick Casino for gaming or national-caliber entertainment.
The complex has a fitness center, heated indoor pool and hot tub, and even boasts its own bowling alley.
West Baden Springs Hotel
The West Baden Springs Hotel was also built more than a century ago. It was once known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” partly because of its signature atrium spanning 200 feet across. Ironically, the hotel fell into almost complete disrepair by the 1990s, but, today, it stands as a testament to the efforts of dedicated historic preservationists.
There are 243 rooms (some are pet-friendly with advance notice). Nightly turndown service and complimentary bathrobes add a luxurious touch. Five restaurants, including a coffee shop, are available to guests and visitors. There is an indoor pool, hot tub and spa available to guests.
During the holiday season, festivities, including the 50 Days of Lights celebration, are a major draw. For kids, there are photos with Santa and toy-making workshops. Everyone will enjoy the Dickens carolers strolling the properties. After the holidays, enjoy afternoon tea and light jazz or pop music in the atrium at the West Baden hotel.
Make sure to enjoy a complimentary ride on the historic trolley that runs on a narrow-gauge rail between the two hotels. The trolley shares a history with the resorts going back to 1903. Trolleys run approximately every 20 minutes, 365 days a year.
French Lick Railway
Hop aboard a train on the historic French Lick Railway for an 18-mile, nearly two-hour trip through the Hoosier National Forest and 2,200-foot Burton Tunnel. The trains run year-round.
Special events are ongoing. The holiday Polar Express™ embarks from the festively decorated station. On board, the story is read aloud by the crew and passengers are treated to cookies and hot chocolate just like in the movie. Santa Claus comes aboard to present each child with a silver sleigh bell.
Overnight Adventures at Blue Spring Caverns
Blue Springs Caverns offers the unique experience of touring a cavern by boat. While winter is off-season and the caverns are closed for regular tours, they do offer Overnight Adventures tours for youth groups ages 9 to 16. This experience features a boat tour followed by a guided exploration of areas of the caverns not typically open to the public. Participants bunk overnight in the caverns and are served breakfast underground the next morning. If you lead a scout troop, classroom or youth group, this may be worth organizing.
Paoli Peaks is Indiana’s premiere ski destination offering 65 skiable acres with 15 trails of skiing, snowboarding and tubing. Lessons are available for novices. Snow season usually starts in mid-December and ends around mid-March.
Hoosier National Forest
The Hoosier National Forest spans 203,000 acres across nine counties featuring some of the best remaining forestland in Indiana. The area offers year-round hiking and camping. Enjoy several lakes, canyons, rock outcrops, impressive sandstone formations, and seasonal waterfalls.
Gasthof Amish Village
About 45 minutes from French Lick, Gasthof calls itself an “oasis in the farmland” of southern Indiana. The 92-acre property was originally a working Amish farm, but today, it’s home to a restaurant, hotel and shopping enclave. The restaurant offers a buffet featuring authentic Amish recipes. The restaurant building was crafted by Amish carpenters using classic mortise-tenon and peg joinery. After dining, hit the bakery and gift shop for take-home goodies.
After dining, stroll the grounds and shop the antique and specialty stores featuring everything from local handmade crafts to antique furniture. Special events are year-round, including holiday craft bazaars which run in November.
For a Weekend or a Week
Winter in French Lick awaits. When the weather warms, let the area call you again for golf, boating and fishing. When you’re there, slow down, step back in time and relax in a rocker on the veranda of one of those grand hotels.