After attending Thunder Over Louisville for the first time, I think I’ve been living under a rock! Until I was invited to come visit Southern Indiana and experience the Southern Indiana side of Thunder, I hadn’t heard of Thunder Over Louisville. Well, apparently I’m the only one — my friends were envious and we arrived to find thousands of people crowding the streets and bridges and restaurants. It was an amazing night!
Thunder Over Louisville in Southern Indiana
Thunder, the official kick off of the Kentucky Derby Festival, is a free airshow and fireworks show. With these festivities, naturally, street festivals pop up and parking lot parties rock the day. Our first experience left us with indelible family memories imprinted with the echos of squeals of delight and gasps of awe from our children.
While the 9:30 p.m. fireworks are the main event (this is the LARGEST fireworks show in all of North America), the airshow that begins at 3pm draws quite the crowd. Aerial stunt acts glide towards the crowd below, dragging parachutes, colored smoke and lights, much to the delight of the thousands upon thousands of people gathered below. Helicopters hoover above the Ohio river, stirring up the water, scattering a mist over the audience.
A multitude of people; families, couples, singles, groups of friends — line the banks of the river on the Kentucky side and the Indiana side, rivaling one another for the title of the best view, the best entertainment, the best party. That’s right, there are parties.
Southern Indiana Thunder Parties
Local businesses in the pathway of the hoopla are ready to host locals and visitors alike, many selling tickets (and selling out) for prime locations to view the show. You’ll pay a premium price for these incredible viewing spots, but many tickets will include food and beverages in the ticket price. We took part in three different parties so we could share our experience with you. The best way to find all of the official viewing parties is on the Clark-Floyd Counties SoIN website.
Thunder Parking Lot Parties
Local hotels and businesses close to the river front in Jeffersonville, Indiana offer Thunder viewing packages that include a spot in the parking lot to watch. We were invited to a private parking lot party that was about a 5-10 minute walk to the river front. The organization had a pitch-in style meal and snacks available throughout the day. Everyone brought lawn chairs and picnic blankets, some guest brought pop-up tents. Families brought lawn games and other items to keep children entertained throughout the day — the air show begins at 3 p.m., this means there’s a full six and a half hour until the fireworks begin. The view from the parking lot parties was great. You could see a lot of the air show and fireworks.
Southern Indiana Riverfront Viewing
The Jeffersonville riverfront was packed with families and other groups. Carnival games line the road with food concessionaires scattered between. Public lawn spaces were brimming with people in lawn chairs and stretched out on blankets. Children laughed and ran around playing tag and climbing on a nearby playground equipment. Grassy mounds of dirt were teeming with excited spectators all day long.
Buckhead Mountain Grill Thunder Party
Local restaurants along the Ohio river in Southern Indiana fence off their parking lots, set up tents, bring in entertainment and throw a lively party for an admission fee. The Buckhead Mountain Party was a ticketed event, with tickets starting at $125 for adults and $50 for children. This family friendly party offered appetizers and soft drinks all afternoon and a full dinner buffet in the evening. Alcoholic beverages were available for purchase. Attendees could bring their own chairs or use the chairs provided by the venue. In addition, Buckhead Mountain Grill offered arts and crafts and activities for children during the airshow.
Of all of the parties we’ve attended for Thunder, Buckhead Mountain Grill had the best view, hands down. There was an unobstructed view of the bridges where the planes crisscrossed and where the fireworks were launched. It sits across the river from the main Thunder Over Louisville viewing area and was my favorite viewing spot.
Viewing Party at Widow’s Walk Ice Creamery
If you’re looking for a place to spread out and call your own, the Widow’s Walk Ice Creamery throws a fantastic part with live entertainment and a viewing spot across the street from the riverbank. Groups are assigned to their own parking space or cafe table on the patio and are welcome to come and go as they please throughout the day.
Ice cream, cafe drinks and quick service food items are available for sale at a discounted price. Children can run around and play while making friends with other guests. The Widow’s Walk team hosts dance parties, lawn games and a raffle. The view is fantastic, but for the vendor trailers on the “midway.” And while they may obstruct your view of what happens down low, you won’t miss the fireworks and aerial happenings. The indoor bathroom situation vs. the public porta-potties on the main street — priceless. Tickets for this southern Indiana viewing party are $100 for adults and $25 for children.
Where to Stay for Thunder in Southern Indiana
While there are several hotel options available in Jeffersonville, nearest the riverfront, you may find it more cost effective and logistically practical to stay in another area of southern Indiana. The only downside may be the drive home — with close to 100,000 people watching Thunder on the Indiana side, the departure from the event is anything but quick for event goers who arrive by car.
Home2Suites by Hilton in Clarksville
Just five miles from the viewing areas in Jeffersonville, the Home2Suites is a fantastic choice for families for many reasons — there’s a kitchen, breakfast is provided each morning and you’re actually encouraged to move the furniture in the suite to suit your needs.
Where to Eat in Southern Indiana
When you’re in Southern Indiana for Thunder, you may not have a lot of time to check out restaurants, but in the event that you do, I have some recommendations for you. We’ll be returning soon to try some other places that we took note of during our trip, but here are the restaurants we checked out.
Rubbin’ Butts BBQ
This Sellersburg barbecue joint caught our eye because of the name, but it has our recommendation because of the food! You’ll love the variety of dishes available on the Rubbin’ Butts menu, including seafood selections. If you’re dining with your family, try the Family Dinner, it includes pulled pork, shredded chicken, beef brisket and ribs with your choice of four sides. The brisket will melt in your mouth, but save room for dessert, the the banana pudding is delectable and the peanut butter cup pie is worth taking a slice home!
If you’re looking for a delicious stop for breakfast or lunch, First Watch is a popular chain with comfort food favorites and classic dishes with a twist. I recommend the french toast, my kids love the pancakes and my husband is all in on the omelets — all of them. You’ll love the farmhouse feel, it’s almost like you’re gathered around the table at the family farm, enjoying a farm to table breakfast with your loved ones.
Pearl Street Treats
This adorable sweet shop has a selection of soft serve flavors and self serve toppings for a create your own yogurt treat. An assortment of candies and other sweets are available for sale. We had dessert and then stayed for lunch, enjoying some of their items from the grill. If coffee is your jam, you’ll find a menu full of specialty drinks.
Falls of the Ohio State Park
The Falls of the Ohio State Park is comprised of hiking areas in greenways and in fossil beds. Our family explored the fossil beds and identified many fossils that we had learned about in the Interpretive Center. Also on site is the home of military leader of the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark (brother of William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition). This was our first visit to this Indiana State Park and it’s worth the trip! Take note of the flood lines on the property that show you where the water from the Ohio River reached during the flood!
Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center
The Falls of the Ohio State Park is impressive by its own rite, but the Interpretive Center brings the ancient fossil bed to life. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the hands on, detailed exhibits. Kids will have an opportunity to make fossil rubbings, see fossils up close and magnified, touch replicas of artifacts and dress up. My kids loved the bird viewing room that allowed them to sit and watch as Indiana birds flew around an open habitat. Their sounds were picked up by a microphone and broadcast over the speakers in the viewing area. There were identification tools available for them to be able to name the birds and they got very excited when they found a match.
Big 4 Bridge
We stopped to visit the Big 4 Park to see the bridge while having lunch at Pearl Street Treats. The bridge is impressive and a nice walk to Louisville. My kids were excited to watch the activity on the water, see the other bridges across the water and know that were walking to another state. There were lots of other families out with their kids, pushing strollers, joggers, people walking their pets, it was a beautiful morning walk. Along the bridge there are signs with historical information about the bridge and the surrounding area. In the park at the bottom of the bridge ramp, there’s a fun park with playground equipment.
Our visit to the Howard Steamboat Museum was such a surprising highlight of our trip. The museum is within the home of the Howard family, famed steamboat builders and if you love anything about steamboats, miniatures, old homes or interior design, this museum is for you. A visit to the museum is self guided using a booklet, but if there’s ever an opportunity to have an interpreter go through with you, take advantage of that! We would have missed the intricacies and the stories if I had walked through with just my four children, however, we would have appreciated the beauty of the home and the different model steamboats displayed throughout the museum.
Mark your calendars for April 18, 2020, that’s when you’ll have an opportunity to experience Thunder Over Louisville in Southern Indiana. Hotel rooms fill up quickly, so you may want to start making your travel plans now. While you’re in Southern Indiana, check out some of these other places we spent time!