Winter Weekend Adventure at Pokagon State Park
If there is one thing to love about the current economy it is that we have all learned that sometimes the best family times can be spent close to home. Never was this more obvious to my family than when we took a recent trip to Indiana’s Pokagon State Park.
Located near so many natural lakes, summer is a great time to visit the Park as fishing, boating and swimming abound. But, my new favorite time to visit is winter, more specifically, the Friday after Thanksgiving until the last weekend in February. Why then, you might ask? One reason, the Toboggan Run !!
Pokagon State Park was built as part of the Civilian Conservation Corp project during the Great Depression. For their own entertainment, the young men of the corp built a toboggan run for sledding fun. Year after year, the “boys” made improvements to the run increasing its speed and thrill factor. The winter tradition was dependant solely on the weather — no cold or snow, no run.
As the old wooden track began to deteriorate, a new tower was constructed. Improvements have been made over time and in 1998, becoming only one of three refrigerated toboggan runs in the Midwest, the modern, dual tracks and warming/snack station were open for business.
For $10.00 an hour, guests rent a toboggan that will fit 4 people, and as I will describe to you in a minute, I would advise these to be relatively close friends. After renting your toboggan, your party will begin the climb up the 30 foot tower to reach the top of the run. This can be somewhat difficult as the long, bulky toboggan begins to catch the wind near the top.
Once at the top you will enter an open-faced shed — picture the ski events at the winter Olympics– where your toboggan will be taken from you and placed on one of the two open tracks. Your party will step up and be placed, or shall I say nested together, #2’s legs around #1, #3 around #2 and finally #4 around everyone! Remember, I said you would want to go with close friends!! Keep in mind that you are bundled up in snow gear and boots so agility and pride are out the window!
It is at this point that you will begin to hear cries of those who are now getting a look down the track, from this height, and have decided it might not be so fun. The expert staff, very quickly, reassures the fearful that it will be fun and showing no mercy, lift the wooden slat that has been holding you in place and send you hurling on your way.
Sound a little harsh? You must know that it is estimated that over 90,000 visitors zip down these runs every year and with the line backing up, there is no time for coddling! The quarter mile track with a total vertical drop of 90 feet has recorded a top speed of 42 mph and is actually too fun for words and once at the bottom, I stopped crying and loudly declared “Let’s do that again!!”.
The quarter mile walk back to the tower is filled with laughter and recollections of the trip down and stops at the bonfire to warm your hands. It is on the third trip as we are panting, pulling the toboggan behind us, that we understand why many people opt to park their vans or trucks at the bottom of the hill and drive the sled back up to the top.
At the base of the Toboggan Run stands the Potawatomi Inn and it was here that our family stayed for our weekend adventure. Being a newbie to the whole state park experience, I didn’t realize how lucky we were to get a room here, as most rooms are booked two years in advance. Our stay was in a “Historic Double Room” located in the older section of the Resort and Conference Center. While not fancy, it was very clean and comfortable, reasonably priced and served our purpose well.
Ready to warm up a bit from your outdoor winter fun? Head to the lower level of the Inn where you will find the game room and indoor pool, hot tub and sauna. Also located here is the craft room, where for an extremely reasonable price, anyone can create craft items to take home as a souvenir. One of my daughters painted a jewelry box, while the other made a bracelet with glass ladybug beads. The price for both crafts was under $5.oo!
Our favorite warm up spot became the library, full of a variety of books, magazines (not the most recent, I must admit) and jigsaw puzzles, all in front of the welcoming fireplace. Down the hall was a “beverage station” with 24hr hot coffee, hot water for tea and cocoa and a small microwave. A vending machine sold bags of microwave popcorn, hot chocolate mix and a variety of snacks.
Hours were spent in front of the fireplace with hot chocolate building a jigsaw puzzle, and even though I had researched many things to do and dining experiences in the surrounding community, we never left the Inn!
Upon our arrival on Friday, we shared a pizza from the Courtyard Cafe and while waiting to be served played a board game we had borrowed from the front desk. After our morning of sledding, we were more than ready to indulge in the buffet lunch at the Historic Dining Room, which held us over until dinner. Oh, I guess I am forgetting the late afternoon snack of Root Beer Floats.
The park also provides cross country skiing with special Sunday morning Ski-Ins and naturalist interpretive programs educating through fun activities like identifying wildlife tracks in the snow.
Does this weekend adventure scream family fun or what?! While not being one that generally enjoys cold weather, I was amazed and thrilled at how much fun we had and before we left we had a list of friends we couldn’t wait to bring along next year.
Photo Selections: IN.gov