Visit Fort Wayne, Indiana for fuzzy red pandas, fun on the waterfront, festival days and more
By Emily Wolfe
Located just a little over two hours away from Dayton, Fort Wayne, Indiana is a perfect summer destination for family fun.
Jessa Campbell, Visit Fort Wayne’s marketing and communications manager, says there’s plenty in Fort Wayne to fill a day or weekend trip for a visiting family. From one of the country’s best zoos to a fun-packed downtown with a bustling riverfront, here are the can’t-miss attractions to include on your Fort Wayne itinerary.
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is the region’s most popular family attraction, consistently rated one of the best zoos in the nation. The zoo’s four expansive regions—African Journey, Australian Adventure, Central Zoo and Asian Trek—were designed specifically with families in mind and are filled with rides and interactive exhibits that are sure to keep kids of all ages engaged.
“You don’t have to pick your child up to see over an exhibit wall,” Campbell says. “You can pet a stingray, you can feed a giraffe, you’re walking amongst the kangaroos.”
Earlier this year, the zoo opened its reimagined Asian Trek area with a revamped Red Panda Ridge exhibit.
The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the end of July, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting in August.
On the Waterfront
Three rivers—the Maumee River, the St. Joseph River and the St. Marys River—converge into a point in the middle of Fort Wayne. With Fort Wayne growing in popularity as a tourist destination, the city has been hard at work expanding recreation options along the riverfront.
In 2019, Promenade Park opened on the riverfront, connecting the rivers to downtown Fort Wayne. Families will find tons of options for fun in Promenade Park, from a treetop canopy trail to a kids’ canal to splash around in. Kayaks and canoes are also available for rental, offering paddlers the chance to see the city from the river. (The current Promenade Park is only the first phase of riverfront development, with future plans including a hammock grove and an area for bouldering.)
Other attractions on the waterfront include the Old Fort, a recreation of the historic fort that originally stood at the junction of the three rivers, and the popular family destination Science Central. The science center has interactive exhibits for kids of all ages.
“[Science Central] is a great destination families love to add on if they’re coming to see the zoo,” Campbell says. “Your little ones can check out the water table, the bigger kids can learn about science on a sphere.”
Located just south of Promenade Park is The Landing, a historic part of downtown Fort Wayne that has become a hub for dining and recreation. With 10 locally owned restaurants, The Landing has casual and fine dining options for visiting families.
“You can just go down there and see what you’re interested in,” Campbell says. “It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy the murals and art in that area.”
In addition to dining and public art, The Landing is home to The Bradley, Fort Wayne’s boutique Vera Bradley-themed hotel, which opened in 2021. Visitors looking for a designer experience can book a room or suite at the hotel themed after the famous Fort Wayne-based brand.
Fort Wayne’s other dining hub is the Union Street Market, the first food hall and market in the northeast Indiana region. Open every day, the market is home to more than 20 local vendors selling fresh, prepared and specialty food.
“They also have tons of programming with live events and they’re doing some cool things throughout the summer as well,” Campbell says. Check out the market’s calendar for biweekly yoga classes, Summer Music Series and Bike Nights.
Beyond Fort Wayne
There’s no need to stick within the city limits while visiting Fort Wayne, especially if you’re visiting for multiple days. Venture out from your home base in the city to see northeastern Indiana’s other family attractions.
For outdoorsy families looking for a hiking or camping destination, there’s Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion. Just a few miles northwest of Fort Wayne, Chain O’ Lakes has 23 miles of forest trails, a historic schoolhouse and small boat rental.
Kosciusko County, located in the same direction, is a great spot for a beach excursion. Several lakes in the county’s lake system are open for swimming—and they’re also conveniently located near the beautiful Village at Winona. Once a summer retreat destination, The Village is now a boutique shopping and dining hub with a vibrant events calendar. To the southwest, Roanoke is another popular shopping destination—and home to one of the area’s top fine dining spots, Joseph Decuis.
For classic car enthusiasts, Campbell also recommends the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, a half-hour’s drive north of Fort Wayne.
Summer Festival Schedule
For an especially memorable visit, plan a Fort Wayne vacation to coincide with one of its many family-friendly cultural festivals. During the second half of the summer, the lineup includes Pride Fest, highlighting the LGBTQ community (July 21-22), Fiesta Fort Wayne (Aug. 12), celebrating Hispanic and Latino culture and Taste of the Arts (Aug. 26), a downtown celebration of arts and food.
The festival season continues into September with the Grabill Country Fair (Sept. 7-9), a craft fair spotlighting the area’s Amish heritage, and the Johnny Appleseed Festival (Sept. 16-17), hosted each year in honor of the tree-planting folk hero.
If nothing on the summer festival schedule sounds appealing, plan around it—go on a festival-free weekend for a better chance of finding short lines at the zoo and elsewhere in Fort Wayne. Whenever you visit, Fort Wayne—and its red pandas—are sure to give you a warm, fuzzy welcome.