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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Some visitors opt to canoe through Chain O' Lakes State Park's nine connected lakes.

  • File At Ouabache State Park in Bluffton, bison reside on 20 acres of land. Some of the bison are descended from those at Yellowstone National Park.

Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Area's state parks heat up in summer

Trails, swimming among numerous seasonal activities

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

Northeast Indiana residents have three state parks to wander – and each has its own character.

There is a $7 entrance fee for all of them.

Chain O' Lakes

First up is Chain O' Lakes State Park in Noble County. It's more than 2,700 acres and about 200 of that is water.

“That is the big pull for people. Seven miles of shoreline,” Chain O' Lakes interpreter Kaitlyn Sproles said.

There are 11 lakes but nine are connected, and she said many visitors like to start on one end of the chain and canoe or kayak all the way through the nine to the other side of the park. At a casual pace, this can take about three hours.

She said the lakes were shaped by glaciers and are considered kettle lakes.

There are also beach areas, concession stands and modern restroom facilities. Chain O' Lakes also has 23 miles of trails, picnic tables and grills.

If you want to stay overnight, there are 413 camp sites with 18 modern family cabins. Sproles said the cabins have beds and basic cooking supplies along with a refrigerator and hot showers. There is no air conditioning, but there is a screened porch area and plenty of shade.

Summer is, of course, the biggest season for the park, which brings in more than 324,000 visits a year.

“One of the really unique things about our property is we have a historic one-room schoolhouse,” Sproles said. “When you come in it's kind of like a step back in time.”

The schoolhouse was constructed in 1915, and is the fourth school in the same location since 1888. The park has a lot of interpretive events in the building, which has a wood stove, bench seats and a slate blackboard.

The park was established in 1960.


While Chain O' Lakes thrives in the summer, Pokagon State Park in Steuben County is known for being a winter wonderland with cross-country ski rental, sledding, ice fishing and a twin-track toboggan run.

Nicky Ball, naturalist for Pokagon, said the obvious draw is the toboggan run – one of only two in the Midwest.

It was built in the 1930s and is about a quarter-mile long. People usually reach up to 35 mph on the ride, which is refrigerated so it can run even if temperatures get above freezing.

The park draws about 750,000 visitors every year, including about 90,000 toboggan riders. 

But the park has more than the famous toboggan run.

Ball said the Potawatomi Inn has lodging and a conference center for retreats.

Summer is still the busiest – with five campgrounds and cabins. She said there are 13 miles of hiking trails and a paved bike trail.

The park has two beaches – a small one behind the inn and a larger one off Lake James. Concessions, kayak and paddle board rentals are available.

Ball said the hidden gem is probably the saddle barn offering horseback riding April through October. The Inn also offers a boat tour on Lake James with history on the area.

The park was originally called Lake James State Park when proposed to be the fifth Indiana state park in 1925. The name was changed to Pokagon State Park to acknowledge the rich Native American heritage of the state and region. Leopold and Simon Pokagon were father and son and the last two most notable leaders of the Potawatomi.

Being one of the state's original parks, Pokagon features the unique work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose members lived and worked at Pokagon from 1934 to 1942. The “boys of the CCC” built the stone and log structures that dot the park landscape and provide accent to the rolling wooded hills, wetlands and open meadows.


Finally, there is Ouabache State Park in Bluffton. It is pronounced like “Wabash” – the river that forms the southwest boundary for the park. It is the French spelling of an Indian word.

The state DNR website says Kunkel Lake offers excellent fishing. During the summer, a naturalist will provide information about the natural wonders of the park. A lodge recreation building is ideal for special gatherings and is available all year.

In addition, the state park is home to bison, which stay in a 20-acre area. Before Ouabache became a state park, the property was managed by the Wells County State Forest and Game Preserve in the 1930s and '40s. The preserve had raccoons, rabbits, quail, bears and bison. Some of the bison are descended from those at Yellowstone National Park.

On June 30, the park will host the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Patriotic Pops Concert – one of five free concerts this summer in the region. 

The park also has recreation options including basketball, volleyball and tennis courts along with the more traditional hiking, fishing and picnicking.