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Enjoy A Can’t Miss Indianapolis Museum

We visited Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana, where we received complimentary admission. All opinions remain our own – and we stayed open to close because it was that awesome.

Kids sitting in a covered wagon

With nice weather, we love to be outside. The opportunity to explore something new and maybe learn a little something makes it even better.

My children have been to a living history museum before for school field trips, but I have never been. The 800 acre Conner Prairie, just outside Indianapolis, is a perfect introduction to the concept.

In a living history museum, you’re transported in time, just as you would be at a Renaissance festival. You’ll find true to the times activities and buildings, and the characters love to interact.

Needless to say, the next time we visit Hamilton County, we’ll be back to visit Conner Prairie.

What to Do at Conner Prairie

There’s something fun to do for all ages

I attended as an adult, and I was fascinated throughout. I love learning about how the carpenter works, talking the to Civil War Soldier about his experience, and learning you can use black walnuts to dye fabric.

My kids loved the balloon ride, the animals, and checking out inside the buildings – especially the school houses. My daughter learned knot tying, and my son saw pottery created for the first time.

For littles, they love animals, and there’s also a new Ag Adventures, a giant playground they’ll love near the entrance. The Treetop Outpost is another great place for them to run around and learn.

Empty playground at Conner Prairie living history museum

At the Treetop outpost, they offer crafts for kids, some play space, and there’s a guide with learning experiences. We smelled different tree branches, learned about acorns, and more from her.

Start your journey in the Lenape Indian Camp

The earliest history in the living history museum dates from the Lenape Indian Camp. The camp focuses on the times when the Lenape interacted with fur traders before a permanent settlement appeared.

Note: I asked workers why they call it Lenape Indian rather than Native American. They explained that they work with the Lenape to create all aspects of the area, and the Lenape prefer the term Indian to Native American.

Within this area, you can see the dugout canoe, as well as tools the Lenape used in 1816, which include some truly ingenious vises and cutting tools.

They also include Lenape dwellings, made from authentic materials. Due to weather damage, they are in the process of being rebuilt, which is fascinating to see them partially constructed and to understand how they come to be.

There is also a fur trading outpost with a trader who will share about the different pelts and items available. This is a fascinating way to see what goods different groups coveted, and how many earned an income at the time.

Experience the William Conner House from 1834

William Conner was a fur trader who married a Lenape woman and had several children with her before he negotiated the treaty to remove the Lenape to a reservation (his wife and children went with the Lenape). He remarried and built this brick house that retains the original character.

Kitchen from a living history museum

Inside the house, you can explore the various rooms, from the oilskin floor covering in the dining room to the kitchen with the authentic tools and ovens. We learned about the beehive oven and how it works to bake bread and other necessities, something I’d never heard of before.

Move on to the Animal Encounters across the way

Who doesn’t love animals? The animal encounters include animals you would find on a farm during the 1800s, and many are rare historical breeds we had never before seen.

We watched a sheep get milked and learned the milk gets used for thing like making the sheep milk soap sold in the store, among other uses. (If you’ve never seen a sheep milked before, find out when they do it and go!)

Inside the barn, you can talk to the animal specialists and ask all sorts of questions. No matter what you want to know, they can help figure it out.

Outside “just” the barn, you can see the animals in their outdoor enclosures, too. In fact, we saw some of the Arapawa goats being walked from the barn to their pasture.

Cows browsing in the pasture

Watching the animals is so soothing, and you can tell these are well cared for and content creatures. And before you ask – all the cows have horns, not just the bulls, as they are English longhorn cattle.

Visit the 1836 Prairietown

We spent the most time in 1836 Prarietown, as there is simply the most to see and absorb here. This was where we found the various tradespeople all hard at work, in addition to other townspeople going about their daily life.

We talked to a lawyer who was working on determining what happens to a widow’s possessions and home once her husband dies and is in debt. That’s a question I never thought about, and case law at that time was sparse.

Lawyer sitting in his yard at Conner Prairie

I loved watching the potter throw mugs on the self powered wheel. He takes a piece of clay and within ten minutes has a mug identical to the others he’s created earlier in the day.

It’s almost hypnotic to watch him. And yes, you can purchase the mugs in the Conner Prairie store, though not at the 1836 prices listed on his slate.

Potter throwing a mug on a wheel

We also watched a blacksmith, learned about the only inn in town, and spoke with the doctor’s wife who was minding the country store. Every person knows what feels like every bit of history you expect, and it’s fascinating to ask them questions and hear about what and how they live.

Here you can see true to period buildings from the school house to the inn to villager’s houses and more. We were fascinated by how different “similar” buildings are to what we have today. It makes you realize how much you take for granted.

Don’t skip the 1859 Balloon Voyage

Though this is an extra cost, don’t skip it. In this helium balloon from 1859, you float up to 377 feet above the living history museum and can see Indianapolis (most days), as well as all the places part of Conner Prairie.

Helium balloon landing

The ride lasts for about 15 minutes as you slowly ascend, then spend time at the top to take photos and admire the scenery. It’s truly a unique experience, as no one in my family (but me) has ever been in a balloon before.

As the balloon ascends, and again while it descends, you must hold on to something. Once at the top, you may let go and look around more fully.

The balloon remains fully safe, with a guardrail surrounding the basket and a net above that keep everyone where they belong. And yes, it is wheelchair accessible, too.

The balloon remains tethered with a guide cable that releases to allow the balloon to slowly ascend then pulls it back to earth at the conclusion of the ride.

 Ticket prices:

  • Adults (13+) are $17/$13 (non member/member)
  • Children (2-12 Tuesday to Thursday) are $10/$9 (non member/member)
  • Children (2-12 Friday to Sunday) are $17/$13 (non member/member)
  • Donor level members cost $8

Do not skip the Civil War Journey

In July, 1863, Confederate forces crossed the Ohio River and raided the town of Dupont. This village recreates that experience and really brings home the reality of the time.

As you cross the covered bridge into the village, you see the smoking storage shed. The village focuses on the day after the Confederates raided, with the villagers still aflutter.

Be sure to visit the general store. Inside, you have an immersive exhibit that takes you through the raid as a “memory” of the shopkeeper. 

However, if you have any who are easily frightened, be aware, as it is a 3D interaction with video, shelves falling, “gunshots” and breaking lights, and more. You truly feel like you’ve been a part of the raid.

From there, be sure to visit and talk to the Union soldier who remained there to see to the safety of the village. He has plenty of stories and knows his history amazingly well.

Civil War Reenactor telling his story

Another fascinating stop is the Soldier’s Aid Society where we saw and heard about the field hospitals and supplies used. Thank goodness medical care has progressed since then!

For those into pure nature, you aren’t left out

My kids loved the treetop outpost. To be honest, I could almost move in to the four story treehouse. It’s gorgeous.

Each level has a different theme and different activities for kids. This keeps it interactive and interesting for all.

My daughter loved practicing her knot tying, while we watched other kids fascinated by the musical instruments. At the top, there’s a seek and find with hints on what to look for that make the climb well worth the effort.

Practicing knot tying against a wall

Just outside the treehouse, there is a small climbing area with slides and ladders and more for kids to enjoy. Or enjoy the crafts.

This is also the jumping off point for the nature walk. This is a fairly extensive exploration of the restored prairie (1.2 miles), so be sure you have appropriate footwear.

The trail includes multiple points to stop and look for specific features that are all well documented with signs and more. You’re easily able to see both what the prairie originally looked like and included and how it exists today.

For those who have guests with special needs, this remains a great visit

(Note that in the current environment, some of these options are not available due to restrictions.)

With all the open space, there is plenty of chance to get away and decompress if any part becomes too stimulating. In fact, they have a quiet places map, providing details on where to find spaces with sensory kits that include weighted blankets and soft sensory toys.

When we visited, we never shared space with another family, which made it easier to navigate no matter the needs. Some exhibits may be more stimulating, but all are clearly noted so you can make your best judgement.

Even better, much of the staff have been trained in Sensory Friendly Practices, making this a safer space. And the first Sunday of the month is sensory friendly from 10am to noon, with all exhibits that make noise turned off for a reduced fee of $4 (members are free).

Additionally, they offer wheelchairs at no cost on a first come, first serve basis. Nearly all the historical buildings are wheelchair friendly and accessible, as are most paths.

That said, note that the focus is on historical accuracy, so some stone paths may be more tricky. Buildings that remain inaccessible have staff who will bring the exhibits to the guest, so you don’t miss out.

Additionally, if you have a wheelchair assistant or a deaf interpreter, those assistants receive half price admission. They have a full accessibility and inclusion mission, and it’s impressive.

How much are tickets to visit Conner Prairie?

Purchase Conner Prairie tickets in advance here.

Regular admission:

  • Adult tickets $18
  • Kids 2-12 $13 (you must purchase tickets online)
  • Seniors 65 and older $17
  • Under 2 are free

Group tickets (at least 15, currently limited to a max of 25):

  • Adult tickets $14
  • Kids 2-12 $9 
  • Thursday to Sunday only, and you must reserve in advance with Conner Prairie

Military discount (with ID at the gate):

  • Military personnel are free
  • Adult tickets $9
  • Kids 2-12 $6.50
  • Seniors 65 and older $17

When is Conner Prairie open?

Visit Wednesdays to Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Members have a special members only hour Wednesdays 10-11am.

General hours:

  • Wednesdays 11am to 3pm
  • Thursdays and Fridays 10am to 3pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 5pm
  • Saturday evening 5:30 to 8pm (no discount on pricing)

Can you eat at Conner Prairie?

Yes, you have a couple options. There is a cafe inside where you can purchase items, though currently they accept only credit cards.

Additionally, you can bring your own picnic and enjoy it inside the museum on the amphitheater lawn. Note that you cannot leave and return, so make sure you bring your food with you when you first enter.

What are the benefits of becoming a member at Conner Prairie?

Growing up, I always purchased a membership at our local children’s museum because we knew we’d go often. If I lived closer, I would do the same for Conner Prarie!

A basic membership costs just $120 per year and includes two adults from the same household and all children 21 and under. With two adults and two children, the membership pays for itself in two visits. Who wouldn’t go twice a year?

The membership gets you not just unlimited entry to the living history museum, but you also get discounts on the 1859 Balloon Voyage, classes, at the cafe, and the store. Additionally, you get to attend the Headless Horseman on select nights in October (not all dates) at no cost.

My favorite benefit, though, is the free admission to all other Smithsonian affiliates that are part of the reciprocal program. I bet you didn’t realize this was a Smithsonian affiliate, did you?

This means entry to everything from the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston to the Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma. There are currently almost 70 different institutions across the country that participate.

There are two additional membership levels. For $150, you can do the “plus” membership that gives you two extra guests each time you come at no charge and admission to Headless Horseman on all dates.

You can also designate a caregiver to your membership at no charge if you have a nanny or regular babysitter who can take your kids. Plus you get priority registration for programs.

Lastly, the individual and guest membership allows you and a guest to visit for $95 per year. The benefits are the same as the basic membership but for just two people instead of a whole family.

What is your favorite part about Conner Prairie?

helium balloon flying in the sky


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