I’ve lived in Indiana for more than 15 years now and I had never heard of Columbian Park in Lafayette, Indiana until a friend recently mentioned it. When a free weekend popped up for us, I knew we needed to go and spend the day exploring, and I’m so glad we did! The city is best known as home of Purdue University and, just off I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis, this college town might seem like a place to skip with kids but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We spent a fun-filled day exploring one of the city’s best offerings, Columbian Park, which hosts an entire day’s worth of fun.
What to Do in Columbian Park in Lafayette, Indiana
This sweet little FREE zoo is reason alone to come visit Columbian Park. It’s beautifully landscaped and clean with kid-friendly exhibits that let your little ones experience the animals up close. My boys loved the petting zoo farm area with at least a dozen baby goats running around and eager to nibble on their fingers.
All the thoughtfully designed exhibits let kids get up close and personal with the animals including prairie dog tunnels, an underwater otter tube, and a walk-thru wallaby enclosure. It’s not a particularly large zoo but my boys were entertained for over an hour and we didn’t even partake in any of the rides (additional charge) or educational opportunities. Plus, did I mention it’s FREE!?! It doesn’t get better than that when it comes to budget friendly attractions!
The Columbian Park Zoo Express Train Depot is just across the road from the zoo. Since you saved all your money from FREE admission to the zoo, you can pick up your $2 tickets train at the zoo’s gift shop and walk over to the depot to wait for the train. The ride around Columbian Park gives you a great view of all the park’s amenities including a lake, the playgrounds, and the recreation center. The ride takes about 12 minutes to complete and starts and ends at the depot. Your kids will love the colorful animal statues along the route and you’ll appreciate a few minutes to rest your feet while you enjoy the ride!
The stadium for Lafayette’s minor league team, The Aviators, is inside Columbian Park as well, making it easy to grab tickets and see a baseball game with your family. Games are held in the evenings throughout the summer so check the schedule before you plan your day at the park to see if you can fit a game into the end of your day. These smaller minor league games are perfect for kids since they’re family-friendly and super affordable.
This water park facility is also located right next to the zoo and during the summer months offers families a place to cool off in the heat. The large zero-entry pool section has several spray features and a small water slide for young visitors. My family loved the lazy river with single and double tubes for floating along. There are several larger water slides for the thrill-seekers in your group, just double check the hight restrictions before you climb the stairs.
Lifejackets are provided free of charge for anyone who needs them and the concession stand offers a variety of snack items if you need a quick treat. I appreciate the locker rooms (including a couple of family changing rooms) and lockers for storing valuables. Admission is FREE for 2 and under, $6 for guests under 48″, and $7 for guests over 48″. Make sure to visit their website for seasonal hours.
There are several playground groupings to choose from and my boys had so much fun exploring all of them. Each offers a slightly different type of equipment with lots of variety. There are some hills that separate the various areas so you may want to set some boundaries on where you want to let your kids roam since you can’t see all the areas from one spot. There are some age-specific areas for the littler crowd and lots of nice shade, which I always appreciate. You can park near the playgrounds and it looked like there were picnic tables and some shelters available near this area.
Just outside the park, at the corner of Main and Wallace, near the stadium, there are two great options for grabbing a yummy treat after a day of playing. The Original Frozen Custard stand has been serving its delicious offerings since 1932 and offers old-fashioned sodas and shakes in addition to their frozen custard. Right next door I also saw a small walk-up stand for shaved ice if you want another option. Parking is tight for both so you’re best off leaving your car parked in Columbian Park and walking over.
Other Lafayette-West Lafayette Attractions
Don’t be deterred by the racy name, this family diner is actually the last remaining Thirst Stand of the Triple XXX Root Beer Company and offers delicious root beer along with typical diner breakfast and lunch offerings. Seating is all along a winding counter with spinning stools (sorry, parents!) for seating. At peak times (especially on Purdue home football weekends) the wait can be quite long but the line typically moves quickly. My kids found plenty of kid-friendly options like pancakes and burgers, plus they loved sitting at the counter and watching the kitchen. For even more fun, have your kids watch the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode that features Triple XXX.
Another option for adventure in the area is Wolf Park, a conservation and research facility that studies wolves and other animals. You can tour the facility during the afternoon or in the evening for a Night Howl but hours are limited, especially in the winter, so make sure to check their operating schedule before you arrive. Since the primary goal of Wolf Park is education and research, the tour is not super kid-friendly, especially for those under the age of 10.
The one-hour guided walking tour was just too much talking and a long walk in the heat for my kiddos but wouldn’t be a problem for older kids and teens. I would recommend the night howl instead of an afternoon tour in the heat of summer, since the animals weren’t very active and the tour is mostly in the sun. For some great information and pictures about the Night Howl, check out this post from Midwest Wanderer. Our tour was interesting and the volunteers are incredibly knowledgable, but the overall experience is designed for an older audience.
Columbian Park is a hidden gem in Purdue’s home town and is worth a visit if you’ve got a young family and want to spend an affordable day exploring something new. Say yes to an adventure and head to Lafayette-West Lafayette to check out all that the park has to offer!
Have you visited Lafayette before? What’s your favorite Midwest park?