I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
June 30, 2021
Drive a few hours north from Nashville and you’ll encounter a delightful surprise nestled in the hills of southern Indiana: two turn-of-the-century grand hotels, painstakingly restored to their former glory.
‘We need to go somewhere for our anniversary,’ a friend texted me recently. ‘We need something fun.’
‘Have I told you about French Lick?’ I typed back, wondering if she knew what she was in for. Get me started talking about Indiana’s French Lick Resort and I can go on and on and on. My family first discovered the French Lick Resort several years ago and I’ve been raving about it ever since to anyone who’ll listen. From its glamorous origins as a destination of choice for socialites, celebrities, and presidents to its recent transformation into a luxurious yet accessible resort (its largely midwestern clientele likes to keep things super casual these days), this is a destination that truly has something for everyone.
Settle back and let me tell you everything you need to know about the French Lick Resort. It’s a unique resort with a fascinating backstory.
Back in 1845, local physician William Bowles built a three-story lodge in French Lick and named it the French Lick Springs Hotel. Bowles was hoping to capitalize on visitors flocking to the area to take advantage of the 13 local mineral springs, which were believed to have healing powers. The sulfurous-smelling water in those springs was full of sodium, magnesium sulfate, and lithium salts, which, when ingested, acted as a powerful laxative that was effective in as little as an hour. People of that era also believed bathing in the springs could cure things like gout and arthritis. In 1869, Dr. Joseph Rogers analyzed the springs and dubbed the largest of them ‘Pluto’s Well,’ after the Roman god of the underworld. With that act, the water from French Lick’s mineral springs came to be known as Pluto Water. Remember that. It’ll come up again soon.
Sadly, the original hotel burned down in 1897. In 1901, Indiana politician Tom Taggart bought the property and started building the hotel that stands today. Under his ownership, the French Lick Springs Hotel flourished and expanded, especially after the railroad built a spur to the hotel grounds and began offering daily service to and from Chicago. Members of the midwestern elite would come to the hotel to drink from Pluto’s Well, walk in the gardens while the water did its magic, and then make use of one of the outhouses helpfully placed throughout the property. I know. Let that sink in for a moment. It was a thing. In fact, it was such a thing that Taggart built a plant across the street from the hotel and began bottling the spring water — With the tagline ‘If nature won’t, Pluto will,’ Pluto Water was distributed across the country, and it soon became a household staple. It was so well known that it was mentioned in an episode of Sanford and Son! And Louis Armstrong wrote about his mother giving it to him as a child in his autobiography! And Kurt Vonnegut referenced it in his first novel!
By the 1920s, the hotel had entered its heyday. Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Studebakers vacationed here along with politicians and celebrities. Famous guests included Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Bing Crosby. The area was also popular with mobsters like Al Capone – It was said that they all agreed to a truce while on hotel property. Taggart built two golf courses around the hotel as the game caught on across the country and in 1924, the PGA National Championship was held on the Donald Ross Course. And golf wasn’t the only draw — By this time, visitors weren’t coming so much for the mineral springs as for the gambling — By the Prohibition years, the town of French Lick boasted 13 illegal casinos. This went on until 1949, when Indiana police conducted the Derby Weekend Raid, permanently closing all of French Lick’s casinos while guests were away for the day to see the Kentucky Derby.
As the decades wore on, the hotel changed hands several times. It didn’t help matters when lithium was declared a controlled substance in 1971 and Pluto Water could no longer be sold. The hotel sort of clung to life until 2005, when it, along with the West Baden Springs Hotel next door, was purchased by the Cook Group. Investors managed to secure Indiana’s 11th and final gaming license for the property and a $600 million dollar renovation and restoration project began — ‘the largest private restoration project ever completed in America,’ according to the World Property Journal. The hotel re-opened in 2007 as the French Lick Resort with two grand hotels, a casino, golf courses, an event center, and more, and the place has been going gangbusters ever since.
In 1855, another hotel was built a mile away, as a direct competitor to the French Lick Springs Hotel. It was named the Mile Lick Hotel, and it had several mineral springs of its own. A few years later, the hotel’s name was changed to West Baden Springs Hotel after Baden-Baden, Germany’s own mineral spa town –its mineral water was dubbed ‘Sprudel Water’ — and by the late 1800s, the resort had become the epitome of luxury, boasting an opera house, a pony and bicycle track, and a baseball field. When the hotel burned down in 1901, owner Lee W. Sinclair built it back even better, commissioning the construction of the world’s largest domed atrium, complete with a massive fireplace that burned 14-foot logs.
The new dome was dubbed the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ at the time and the hotel continued attracting elite guests until the Great Depression, when the reservations abruptly stopped and the hotel had to close its doors. In 1934, the hotel was sold to a group of Jesuit priests for one dollar and they weren’t cool with all that luxury. They got rid of most of the hotel’s fancy fittings, including its four Moorish towers. The property changed hands again in the mid-1960s and operated as a college until the mid-80s, when it was sold again in a state of disrepair. It deteriorated until the Cook Group purchased it, restored it to its original amazing-ness, and re-opened it as part of the French Lick Resort in 2007.
Today, the resort is a history buff’s paradise — Both hotels have hundreds of artifacts on display in the common areas and both hotels offer daily historic tours to guests who are interested in learning more about the resort’s fascinating past. (You can make reservations for the tours here.) Additionally, you’ll find the French Lick West Baden Museum in the tiny town of French Lick, right across the street from the resort. It’s an easy walk from the French Lick Springs Hotel.
The biggest question most first-timers want to know is whether it matters which hotel they stay in when visiting the resort. My answer? YES! Both hotels are historic and gorgeous. Both have spas and multiple restaurants and it’s easy to take a trolley bus between the two hotels (and most guests do go back and forth throughout the trip — Both hotels have a lot to offer). However, there are some big differences between the hotels that will probably affect which one you choose as your home base.
The French Lick Springs Hotel is the larger of the two hotels. This is definitely the hotel you want to choose if you’re traveling with kids or just a more raucous, active group in general, because it’s basically where most of the action is. This hotel includes a bowling alley and arcade, a massive buffet-style restaurant serving up breakfast and lunch, a pizzeria, a deli, an ice cream shop, quick indoor access to the casino, and a gallery with lots of neat little shops.
The West Baden Springs Hotel has a more luxurious and refined feel and it’s also the quieter of the two hotels. I’d choose this hotel if I were coming to the resort for a girls’ trip or a romantic getaway. It also offers casual and fine dining, shopping, indoor and outdoor pools, and a spa, as well as a very popular high tea each afternoon in the atrium and the most wonderful wraparound porch with rocking chairs overlooking the hotel’s lovely gardens. There are lots of spots in this hotel to sit back with a glass of wine or cup of coffee and enjoy a good book, and that should tell you all you need to know.
The resort now has a more modern option as well — Valley Tower. This hotel has all the usual amenities and it looks like the chief draws are that it’s closest to the casino and it includes 12 suites configurable in three different bedroom combinations, making it perfect for larger groups.
Both self-parking and valet parking are FREE at the resort and the resort’s trolley service (also free) is fantastic and will take you just about anywhere you need to go on the resort grounds or in downtown French Lick and nearby West Baden Springs — If you travel often like we do, you know this is HUGE and yet another reason why I love the French Lick Resort so much.
You won’t believe how much there is to do within the resort, no matter the season! Here’s a quick rundown of all your options:
Both hotels have luxurious spas with treatments like massages, manicures, pedicures, scrubs, body wraps and facials. I had a massage during my last visit and it was heavenly. Even if spas aren’t usually your thing, you might want to consider booking a bath in The Spa at West Baden’s famous mineral waters – Guests have been bathing in the healing spring waters here since the early 1900s, and I can promise you it’s an experience… and smell… you’ll never forget!
I also booked the West Baden Signature Sprudel Bath the first time I visited — The bath has a strong sulphur smell (you can actually faintly smell it outside the spa itself — That’s how, um, ‘iconic’ it is!), but now that I’ve experienced it, I’m a believer — I felt incredibly relaxed afterward and I loved experiencing a little piece of history in such a unique way.
While both hotels have gorgeous indoor and outdoor pools, the French Lick Springs pools are especially family friendly. In fact, the French Lick Springs Hotel just opened a brand-new zero-entry outdoor pool with a poolside restaurant and bar. Activities are planned at the French Lick pool all summer long, including DJ pool parties, a dive-in movie, summertime s’mores, cornhole tournaments, and morning stretch classes. Meanwhile, the large indoor pool offers year-round fun — My kids loved the water-spouting dolphin statue in the middle of the pool and it also has a volleyball net and nearby ping pong table with all the equipment you need on hand. I have wonderful memories of swimming here in the middle of winter one year — We’d play in the pool for a while, then race outside to the large jacuzzi, which is open year-round. There’s nothing like a hot jacuzzi on a freezing cold winter night!
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or you just want to get out and enjoy the weather, the French Lick Resort has a trail for absolutely everyone. Get a trail map at the front desk or the valley links golf course and choose from the more than ten miles of trails on the resort’s property and right next door in the Hoosier National Forest. Trails vary in length from a paved and unpaved one-mile jaunts to rugged 3.8 and 5.1 mile trails through the hilly forested land bordering the resort lawns. May through September, a free guided outdoor hiking adventure departs each morning Tuesdays through Saturdays from the concierge counter and a free guided, three-mile morning walk on Saturday and Sunday mornings mixes in a little resort history with exercise. And bird watchers can get a complimentary bird watching rack card from the concierge desk at both hotels to help identify the birds they spot in the wild. See more on hiking at French Lick Resort here.
As you can tell from my brief summary above, both hotels have fascinating histories and you can learn lots more about them on a historical tour. Historical tours are offered at both hotels several times each week and they’re a very popular activity at the resort, so you’ll want to reserve your spot ahead of time.
Sitting down for a traditional English tea in the atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel is considered a quintessential experience at the French Lick Resort and I’d say it’s appropriate for all ages, since my kids loved it. You’ll be served finger sandwiches, scones, and petit fours and can choose from a selection of gourmet teas while a harp, cello or flute plays nearby. Tea is served between 2 and 4 pm and it’s a relaxing and historically appropriate experience that I highly recommend. Make reservations before your visit — Tea at the resort is a very popular afternoon activity!
Given French Lick’s colorful gambling history, a casino here seems particularly appropriate — But one of the things I love about the resort is that if you’re not into casinos, you’ll hardly notice the casino at all. It blends right into the French Lick Springs Hotel’s architecture and it’s off in its own area, so you won’t see anything to do with gambling unless you’re headed to the casino with the intention of going inside. I also love that the casino is entirely smoke-free — Most casinos I’ve been to aren’t, so this is a very big deal to me!
French Lick Resort’s casino has more than 700 slots, 25+ live-dealer table games, and a high-limits section with tables and slots up to $100. If you’re like me and don’t really gamble but want to check out the casino action, I recommend going to the high-limits section and grabbing a drink. It has ‘VIP’ seating areas that are a little more upscale, including some cozy little hideaway spots you’ll find behind the bar.
You don’t need to be a skilled rider to enjoy a horseback ride at the French Lick Resort’s stables — In fact, when we signed up for a ride on our last trip, our guide told us that about 80% of their guests have never ridden a horse before! If that doesn’t inspire confidence, nothing will. There’s something for everyone at the stables, whether you want to go on a 45-minute or 90-minute trail ride on the resort’s eight miles of horse trails, let the kids enjoy a pony ride, learn about how the horses are cared for, tour the stables, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the resort property. Trail rides are open to anyone age eight and up and pony rides are available for the under-eight set.
One of the most fun ways to see the resort is on a surrey or bicycle. You can rent 2,4, or 6-person surreys at the French Lick Mercantile Co. (the general store located in the lobby of the French Lick Springs Hotel), or rent bicycles at the Activities Center — They’re just $5 per hour. We had a blast riding bikes around the resort with our kids — The paths are paved and flat and it’s a great way to spend an hour or two during your visit. Here’s more information on French Lick Resort’s surrey and bicycle rentals.
You’ve got to ride the rail trolley while you’re at the resort — It’s an experience you won’t forget. In honor of the popular trolley service that shuttled guests from the hotel to downtown French Lick back in the early 1900s, the resort partnered with the Indiana Railway Museum and secured a $200,000 grant to restore rail trolley service between the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel. A period trolley car (ca. 1903) was brought to Indiana from Portugal and carefully restored and now you can ride on it to get from one hotel to the other. It’s a really fun and unique thing to do.
In addition to the rail trolley, the French Lick Resort now has a fleet of trolley buses that will take you anywhere you want to go on the resort property or in the towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs, free of charge. I absolutely loved this service on my last trip to the resort with my daughter and stepdaughter, because it meant I could park for the weekend and not have to drive again until we left. Trolley buses pass by the hotels every few minutes — Tell the driver (or the valet stand) where you want to go and they’ll make it happen!
COVID put a temporary stop to most activities for kids at French Lick Resort, but as things get back to normal, expect KidsFest to resume soon. The on-site childcare program offers all kinds of fun activities to keep kids ages 6-12 occupied (a hayride to the stables is just one of them!) while parents enjoy a meal out or a few hours at the casino. The night our kids participated a few years ago, they got to play in giant inflatables in the resort’s gym area, which they absolutely loved.
Children’s programming at the resort is slowly ramping back up this summer — In addition to special family activities at the swimming pool, you’ll find fun things for the kids to do at the activities center. Activities this summer include craft times, a watermelon smash, and scavenger hunts. Check out the French Lick Resort’s children’s page for all the latest updates on what’s available during your visit.
We always make time for shopping when we visit the French Lick Resort — Browse the shops at either hotel and I think you’ll agree that they’re pretty wonderful compared to shopping options at other resorts. At the French Lick Springs Hotel, you’ll find the Promenade of Shoppes in between the hotel and the casino. The shops here offer arts and crafts from local artisans, candy, toys, clothing, home goods, jewelry, and more. The selection is very well-curated and we always find something during our visits that we just have to have.
The West Baden Springs Hotel has fewer shops, but they’re also worth visiting. Circle the atrium on the first floor and you’ll find several shops containing home decor, gifts, clothing, and jewelry, all chosen with an eye to the hotel’s luxurious and historic charm.
The French Lick Resort is a golfer’s dream, boasting three courses designed by Donald Ross, Pete Dye and Tom Bendelow and a whole lot of golfing history to boot. Plus, 30 minutes away in Jasper, you’ll find Sultan’s Run — another French Lick Resort championship course that includes a waterfall behind the 18th green.
Ever heard of Foot Golf? I hadn’t until I came to French Lick Resort, and if we’d had one more day on our itinerary, we definitely would have tried it. FootGolf combines the elements of soccer and golf and it’s appropriate for all ages. You can play on the Valley Links Course and follow the rules of traditional golf, but a soccer ball replaces the golf ball and you use your feet instead of clubs. Play 9 or 18 holes, or opt for the 14-hole Short Course for unlimited play all day. It really looks like fun, especially for someone like me who can’t play golf at all.
On the bottom floor of the French Lick Springs Hotel, you’ll find a six-lane bowling alley, pizza joint, bar, and arcade. It’s a perfect way to spend an evening with your family or friends, particularly when the weather outside is frightful. Cosmic bowling is available from 9-11 at night and the arcade includes games like Guitar Hero and Space Invaders as well as pool tables, Pop-a-Shot, foosball and air hockey. If you want to bowl, be sure and reserve your lane ahead of time — The bowling alley is cozy and the space fills up fast.
One thing that really sets French Lick Resort apart from other resorts in my mind is its lawn games. If the weather’s nice, you’ll see lots of people on the lawns surrounding the hotel playing all kinds of games furnished free of charge by the resort. Available games include badminton, cornhole, ladder golf, soccer, and sand volleyball – There’s a sand volleyball court near the Indiana Railway Museum. The games are all set up and ready to go and you can check out a volleyball or soccer ball from the bell stand.
Yes, the s’mores get their own category in honor of my kids, who thought this was the best thing ever. In the summertime, s’mores kits are available at the French Lick Springs Hotel for a dollar per person on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings – the fire pits are right outside the hotel — and for us, it has become a French Lick Resort ritual. S’mores are never not fun, amirite?
At this 60,000 square foot center, you’ll find indoor tennis, basketball, and pickleball courts, as well as sporting equipment and tennis machine rentals. Golf lessons are also available here by appointment. If you really want to improve your game, attend the Golf Academy, a three-day program that includes individual instruction, full swing and short game analysis, state-of-the-art video swing analysis and custom club fitting.
Are you secretly hoping to be known as an expert marksman? You’re in luck — The resort has a 75-acre shooting range that’s open to guests ages 13 and up, no experience necessary. Rent either a 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotgun or bring your own gun and ammo and take aim at clay targets of various trajectories, speeds, elevations, distances and target sizes.
Both hotels offer sizable fitness rooms (and the fitness center at the French Lick Springs Hotel is open 24/7!) but what really sets the resort aside is that it also offers fitness classes, indoor morning walks and seasonal hikes free of charge to hotel guests. Check the calendar to see a list of all that’s being offered during your stay.
“The porches?” you say. Yes, friends. Both hotels have the most wonderful covered porches with tons of rocking chairs and one of my absolute favorite things to do at the resort is grab a glass of wine from the lobby bar and head outside at sunset. Even better, on Friday and Saturday nights in the summertime, a ragtime band plays in period costume on the porch of the French Lick Springs Hotel — It’s about the most charming thing ever and always makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time to a grand hotel in the early 1900s.
I’ll be honest — Typically, when we visit a resort, we forego the resort restaurants in favor of restaurants in nearby towns because local restaurants almost always have much better food. French Lick Resort is a notable exception. Despite the fact that the resort is putting out incredible amounts of food each day at 13 different restaurants (not to mention room service), all of our resort meals have been fantastic… So this may be the only time when the majority of my restaurant recommendations are within the resort, because I definitely have some favorites.
Consider this casual lunch and dinner spot a must-visit on your French Lick Resort vacation. Everything meal we’ve had at the Power Plant has been wonderful, with special mention to the AMAZING pretzels and beer cheese and the incredible Reuben sandwich. The bar is also a good spot for a drink — The Power Plant stays busy.
For a big night out, you have two options at the resort — Sinclair’s Restaurant is one of them. Located inside the West Baden Springs Hotel, Sinclair’s is known for its decadent breakfasts, but dinner here is also very special. Sinclair’s filet mignon is delicious and their blackened Arctic char was one of the best fish entrees I’ve ever eaten. Make reservations for dinner before your visit — Tables fill up quickly and if you wait until you arrive, the restaurant may well be booked every night of your stay.
Named for the first-ever Kentucky Derby held in 1875, French Lick Springs Hotel’s signature restaurant is probably the most popular place to eat at the resort, so plan on making reservations long before you arrive. We did not and were unable to get a table — Waah. Diners rave about the quality of the steaks, which are 100% premium aged Midwestern Angus corn-fed beef. Beyond the steaks, what makes this restaurant truly memorable is the tomato juice you’ll be served before your meal — According to legend, tomato juice was created here back in 1917 when a chef ran out of oranges and squeezed tomatoes instead for breakfast guests. His recipe is still used today at 1875.
Hagen’s has become another dining tradition when we visit the resort. This restaurant offers casual dining and overlooks the Donald Ross Golf Course. Its panoramic views of the Indiana countryside are absolutely stunning at sunset. A trolley will take you to the restaurant from the hotel and back again, and the ride is almost as fun as the meal itself — There’s lots to look at along the way. Sit outside on the deck if the weather’s nice, or you might opt for the bar, where Al Capone is said to have carved a message in the wood.
The Grand Colonnade is the place to go to have an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast — You’ll find it at the French Lick Springs Hotel in an enormous ballroom where Franklin Delano Roosevelt once received the nomination to run for President back in 1931. Breakfast options include omelets, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and most all the other traditional breakfast items, as well as lighter fare for the calorie-conscious.
We’ve tried several restaurants outside the resort, and the German Cafe is the only one I would enthusiastically recommend. In fact, I’d even call this a must-do during your French Lick Resort visit — It’s that good! It’s located in downtown French Lick, which is an easy walk or trolley ride across the street from the French Lick Springs Hotel. Here, you’ll find delicious German favorites like Bavarian pretzels, bratwurst, schnitzels, spaetzel, and more, all served in the coziest, quaintest restaurant that’s the epitome of small-town charm.
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, the resort also has a deli, a pizzeria, a mercantile with prepackaged foods, a coffee and ice cream shop, a full room service menu, and a few other casual dining restaurants on the property. And if you’re looking for a truly memorable evening, reserve seats at Table One, a private dining experience inside the Sinclair’s kitchen with glass walls that allow you to see everything being prepared or that can be frosted at the touch of a button for privacy. Table One diners order from custom menus and are served on one-of-a-kind Versace dinnerware. It’s all very very.
There’s lots to explore outside the resort property no matter the season, and I’ve got to tell you, the drives to get to all these places I’ve listed below are absolutely gorgeous — Indiana has some of the best scenic countryside I’ve ever seen. Here are our favorite options in easy driving distance of the French Lick Resort.
Take the trolley to the French Lick Winery, where you can sample wines from the nearby Heaven’s View Vineyard. Wines can be purchased by the glass, bottle or case. One mile away in West Baden Springs, you’ll find the Spirits of French Lick Distillery, the largest pot-still distillery in the state of Indiana. Here, you’ll find pre-prohibition style products made with locally-sourced ingredients much like they were back in the good old days. Make an appointment in advance to tour the distillery and taste five of the spirits made here, which include bourbon, brandy, gin, aquavit, and Indiana’s first-ever commercial absinthe.
The Patoka Lake Winery is a scenic 20-minute drive from the resort. Here, you can get a tasting at the wine bar or buy wine or wine slushies and enjoy meats, cheese and chocolates at tables inside or outside on the covered patio. Winery tours are available with an advance reservation..
Another big reason I personally love the French Lick Resort is that quaint and cozy downtown French Lick is literally right across the street — and it just keeps getting better with every visit. You’ll find lots of shops here filled with antiques, home decor, and arts and crafts from local artisans. And whatever you do, don’t miss Fox Hollow Art Gallery, home to a quirky and very well-curated selection of Indiana-made goods that keep locals and visitors alike coming back often.
Holiday World is easily our favorite theme park within driving distance of Nashville — We go just about every summer — and it’s only 30 minutes away from French Lick Resort! There are plenty of rides here for everyone, from toddlers to teens and beyond, as well as an amazing water park with thrilling water coasters you just won’t find anywhere else. Holiday World is also famous for its cleanliness, its friendly staff, and its free sunscreen, soft drinks, and parking. Definitely add this to your must-do list if you have kids and you’re coming to the resort in the summertime.
If you follow any of my social media accounts, you know we do a LOT of hiking — Just thirty minutes from French Lick Resort, you’ll find one of my all-time favorite family hikes: Hemlock Cliffs. This two mile out-and-back hike through the lush Hoosier National Forest includes sandstone rock formations, seasonal waterfalls, rock shelters, and one very amazing box canyon with a cliff that’s almost like a mini-cave and is easy to climb up to and stand on, surveying the forest below. It makes for some amazing photos and a really fun experience for both children and adults. The overhang provides such perfect natural shelter that I wasn’t surprised to learn Native Americans occupied this space as far back as 10,000 years ago. Looking for more hiking options in this protected area? Here you go.
Just 10 minutes from the resort in Paoli, you’ll find a drive-thru safari at the Wilstem Wildlife Park, where you can view more than 40 species of wildlife from your own car. Expect to see deer, bison, alpacas, zebras, ostriches and more — Animal feed is available for purchase so that you can give the animals a snack from your car, as well.
Wilstem Wildlife Park also offers small group animal encounters with grizzly bears, wolves, elephants, giraffes, and more, as well as guided horseback rides and a a ziplining course.
Ask French Lick locals where they’re headed on the weekends and they’re likely to answer “Patoka Lake.” This scenic lake has been named by USA Today as the best place to see wildlife in Indiana, and it’s also a great place for swimming, fishing, and boating. Take a guided wildlife tour of the Patoka Lake where you might see bald eagles, otters, and osprey or rent a pontoon (equipped with a slide and motor large enough to pull tubers), fishing boat, or houseboat and enjoy your day out on the lake.
Winter at French Lick Resort is just as fun thanks to all the indoor activities at the resort and Paoli Peaks. Here, you’ll find 17 runs for skiiers and snowboarders, lessons for newbs or those looking to improve their skills, and a snow tubing park, which we took advantage of during an after-Christmas visit and LOVED.
A 45-minute drive from the resort, you’ll find Cave Country Canoes, where you can rent canoes or kayaks and take a half-day or full-day trip down the Blue River. The half-day experience takes 2-4 hours and includes easy Class I rapids, islands, sand bars, nature, wildlife, and, springs. This is another summer experience recommended by locals and it’s also one my family loves. Cave Country’s website states the run is appropriate for ages 3 and up. I do recommend kayaks over canoes if your kids are old enough, since kayaks are far easier to navigate and harder to tip.
If the kids are clamoring for an adventure, purchase day passes online and take the kids to nearby Big Splash Adventure, an indoor waterpark with water slides, water play areas, a lazy river, and more. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for kids and seniors.
These scenic railway rides offer restful views of Indiana’s beautiful countryside, and they’re definitely worth making time for during your French Lick Resort vacation. Departing from the French Lick Depot (which is located right down the road from the French Lick Resort), you have several different train ride options, including a 2-hour trip into the Hoosier National Forest and a full-day excursion into the town of Jasper, as well as special-event wine tasting, dinner, and children’s excursions. There’s even a train ride featuring a Wild West hold-up! Check the French Lick Scenic Railway website to find out what’s happening during your stay in French Lick.
You know a historic resort is going to have some fabulous secret features. Here are just a few I’ve discovered — If you know of more, please contact me and share! These are my favorite kinds of details.
My daughter always insists on visiting the library at the West Baden Hotel. It’s a lovely little spot to chat with a friend or read a book — It also holds a secret guest tradition that I can’t believe I only recently discovered. Hidden inside many of the books on the shelves are messages written on slips of paper by former guests. The messages range from resort reviews to proclamations of love to anonymous confessions. Hotel employees aren’t sure when the tradition began, but it sure is a fun one to continue while you’re there.
On our last visit to the resort, I learned the story of the mysterious angel room, also found at the West Baden Springs Hotel. You can’t see it, but you can see photographs of it in the hallway that wraps around the atrium. What most guests don’t know is that in the center of the hotel’s magnificent dome, there’s a tiny room, 200 feet above the ground. It’s accessible only by going onto the hotel’s roof and climbing a ladder to the get to the top of the dome. Once there, you can go through a door and descend another ladder into a tiny, cylinder-shaped room, whose walls are lined with eight floor-to-ceiling murals of angels, hand painted in the style of 16th-century Italian artists. How did they get there? No one knows, but hotel staff hope that by sharing the mystery with as many people as possible, they’ll come closer to solving it. They suspect the angels are the work of Italian craftsmen who helped build the hotel back in 1901, perhaps painted to provide protection over the structure. Or perhaps they were painted by soldiers when the hotel was used as a hospital during World War I. Or maybe circus performers from the 1920s are responsible — That’s when the atrium was also used for circus performances. To see photos of the paintings and read more information about them, check out the West Baden Springs Hotel’s ground-floor hallway the next time you’re there.
Right beside the bowling alley on the bottom floor of the French Lick Springs Hotel, you’ll find a passageway unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a hotel. When the hotel was restored back in 2006, crews were asked to convert a former crawl space into a way for guests to go back and forth between the Grande Colonnade Buffet and the bowling alley. It took five months of hand digging beneath the hotel’s 1902 limestone foundation to create the narrow hallway, which was left in its natural state so that guests can see the hard work that went into making it. The result is a really fun and memorable way to get from one part of the hotel to another.
I don’t think I’ve left anything out of this post, but if you have information you’d like to share, please feel free to contact me. As you can see, the French Lick Resort really is a great getaway for any time of year. Have fun and tell me what you thought of your visit after you return home!