Indiana Backroads: All Aboard in Jasper

The Spirit of Jasper takes one of Indiana’s most scenic Autumn cruises off-road.

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Jasper IndianaOn the banks of the meandering Patoka River, Jasper is the departure point for excursions through the forests and rolling farmland of Dubois County in southwestern Indiana. And you’ll see the most picturesque landscapes not from the road but aboard the Spirit of Jasper (201 Mill St., 812-482-5959, reservations recommended), a restored historic train of luxury cars that makes weekend voyages through the countryside and Hoosier National Forest. The oldest of the train carriages dates to the 1920s, and the Parlour Car, built in the ’40s for military use, now features flat-screen TVs and a 19-foot-long bar. Autumn jaunts include “Fall Foliage” ride-and-dines and express runs to the French Lick Springs Hotel and Casino in neighboring Orange County.

 

Hoosier National Forest
Hoosier National Forest

 

Then again, you might not be in any hurry to leave Jasper and its mix of distinctive attractions. The Dubois County Museum (2704 Newton St., 812-634-7733) has more than 36,000 pieces and artifacts with an emphasis on the area’s manufacturing legacy, including antique wooden office furniture. Across the way, Smalley Coffee (2955 Newton St., 812-482-2442) brews straight joe, espresso, and craft tea in a 1966 Airstream Overlander dry-docked next to a strip-mall parking lot. Jasper’s favorite watering hole since 1872, Snaps (1115 Main St., 812-848-7627) pours a respectable selection of beers to accompany elevated bar food like breaded-and-fried alligator bites and prime pork ribeye. Recently refurbished, the Second Empire–style Winfield West Bed & Breakfast (325 W. 6th St., 812-556-0111) houses guests a few blocks from the train depot.

 

The historic Dubois County Courthouse anchors a neat town square.
The historic Dubois County Courthouse anchors a neat town square.

 

The 235-foot bell tower of Saint Joseph Catholic Church (1029 Kundek St., 812-482-1805) beckons both visitors and parishioners, many of whom have roots stretching to the German immigrants who helped build it 135 years ago. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it features three Italian-marble altars and priceless stained-glass windows from Switzerland. (If you ask nicely, an attendant will let you climb the belfry.) The Schnitzelbank Restaurant (393 Third Ave., 812-482-2640) has worn Jasper’s Teutonic heritage with pride since 1961, serving authentic schnitzel—the forerunner of Indiana’s fried pork tenderloin—with cold beer in fishbowl-sized schooners. And if you don’t get to hear “the Schnitz’s” glockenspiel chime, it’s okay—you are always willkommen to come back.

 

St. Joseph Catholic Church
Ask an attendant to let you climb St. Joseph Catholic Church’s 235-foot belfry.

Tony Valainis

 

Scenic Route

From Indy, south on State Road 37 to Bedford, west on U.S. 50 to Loogootee, south on U.S. 231 to Jasper.

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