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Indiana's Outdoor Family Vacation Getaways

Indiana's Outdoor Family Vacation Getaways

With the price of gas these days, it's even smarter to find great family (fishing) vacations that are closer to home -- and Hoosierland has plenty to offer. (June 2006)

Summer is here, school is out and it's time for that long-awaited family vacation! To coincide with the vacation season, Indiana Game & Fish publishes an annual family getaway guide that highlights a variety of ideas and destinations that might interest everyone in the family. Whether the whole gang is keen on fishing, boating, or any number of other outdoor pursuits, there are plenty of places to go within a few hours drive (or less!) of home.

Fishing is one of the favorite activities for many outdoors-oriented families, so it makes perfect sense for them to choose a vacation hotspot with excellent fishing nearby. Indiana's lakes, reservoirs and rivers offer topnotch fishing for a huge variety of species, so keep that in mind when deciding on a vacation spot.

There are plenty of other outdoor activities besides fishing, too. If your clan loves boating or swimming, there are locations that are perfect for them. If camping or hiking ranks high on the list, many of these same spots (or others) will fill the bill nicely. Would Mom like to do some sightseeing while the boys are out fishing? There are historical attractions all over the state. Wildlife viewing or photography are both possibilities, too. State parks and fish and wildlife areas (FWAs) abound with options for the entire family to enjoy.

If you are interested in staying at one of Indiana's state parks, reservoirs or other state-owned properties, camping reservations and cabin rentals may now be made online well in advance. On the Internet, check out the Web site at It is active 24 hours per day. You can also call toll-free at (866) 622-6746.

So start making your plans now. If you need a little help, read on to see our choices for this year. You may find one that sounds just right for you and your family.


Willow Slough FWA


Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) near Morocco is the perfect place for families that enjoy fishing and camping. Situated on nearly 10,000 acres in northwest Indiana, Willow Slough provides visitors with a 1,200-acre fishing lake, mature oak forests, wetlands, marshes, ponds and a wide variety of wildlife for the nature enthusiast.

J.C. Murphey Lake is the focal point for much of the activity on the property, and it was recently renovated to improve the fishing prospects. Over the last couple of years, the lake was drained, dredged, and undesirable rough fish were destroyed. Then the lake was filled and restocked with game fish.

"I think families should come back to Willow Slough this year," said assistant property manager Mike Schoonveld. "We stocked most of the fish here in December of 2004, and they have been growing like weeds. We stocked large numbers of a variety of fish -- redear sunfish, largemouth bass, bluegills, channel catfish and northern pike. I'm not saying the fishing won't get better in the future, but it should be pretty darned good this year."

J.C. Murphey Lake is unusual in that it is extremely shallow. The average depth is only 2 to 3 feet, but there are deeper channels and other spots where fish can hide. There is an abundance of weedy, brushy cover, too, since land-based vegetation had an excellent chance to grow while the lake was drained.

Note that no outboard motors are allowed on the lake, and boaters are limited to electric trolling motors only. Fishermen should also keep in mind that J.C. Murphey Lake has some new regulations starting in 2006. Anglers may keep a total of 25 panfish per day (a total of 25 bluegills, crappies or redears in any combination). There is also a two-bass bag limit, and an 18-inch minimum size limit for bass. These regulations should help maintain a quality fishery.

Campers will find 75 Class B sites at Willow Slough, and camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis. A picnic area is also provided. There is a shooting range located north of the lake, complete with a range officer and stations for rifles, handguns and trapshooting.

Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will be pleased with the diversity of birds and animals that can be seen on the property. White-tailed deer, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels and muskrats are a few of the mammals that might be seen. Bird watchers may see a variety of ducks, geese, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, owls, osprey, woodpeckers, quail and a host of songbirds.

For more information about Willow Slough FWA, contact the property office at (219) 285-2704.

Patoka Lake

Patoka Lake in southern Indiana is an outdoorsman's paradise. At 8,800 acres, it is the second-largest lake in the state and it offers unparalleled recreational opportunities for Hoosiers. Fishing is the most popular pastime here, but waterskiing, sailing, and camping also draw many visitors.

Fishermen flock to Patoka Lake for the excellent angling opportunities that are available here, and they keep returning year after year. Crappies regularly weigh more than a pound, and it takes one in excess of 2 pounds to raise many eyebrows. Bass fishermen love the submerged weedbeds and timber-choked coves, and largemouths exceeding 7 pounds are caught by Patoka anglers every summer.

When you take the whole family fishing, it's always a smart move to target panfish to keep the kids' attention. Crappies, bluegills and longear sunfish are eager to bite, although the sunfish will be on the small side. The crappies, on the other hand, can be huge. Local fishing guide Tim Gibson said everyone can catch fish here. "You want the kids to catch plenty of fish," he said. "Use a small jig/minnow with a float and show the kids how to fish the timber and around the edges of the weedbeds." The results may surprise you.

Boaters who trailer their own craft will find that there are several launch ramps located conveniently around the lake, making it much easier to access different areas of the reservoir from day to day. Others can rent a fishing boat or pontoon boat from Patoka Lake Marina on the south side of the lake. The marina carries live bait and tackle, and starting this summer will feature a special tour boat that can accommodate up to 60 people for lake cruises (perfect for family reunions).

Sprawling Patoka Lake makes a perfect base-camp for family excursions to other nearby attractions in the area, too. Caves abound for those interested in spelunking. In nearby Jasper, there are plenty of antique shops and dining. In French Lick, families can visit the Indiana Railway Museum or take a scenic 20-mile train ride. They can also visit the historic West Baden Hotel a

nd see the famous dome.

Patoka Lake is adjacent to seven state recreation areas totaling 25,800 acres inside the Hoosier National Forest. Campers will find no shortage of campsites, with 455 Class A campsites (electric) and 45 Class C (primitive) campsites available. Let the kids bring their bikes and burn off some energy on the bicycling trails. There are also miles of hiking trails, picnic areas and even an archery range.

If you prefer to sleep indoors, local lodging is available for non-camping families at several places in the area. Families interested in staying right on the water should call Patoka Lake Marina. You can rent a floating cabin near the marina that accommodates six people and includes a private boat slip. Houseboats are also available. For details and other lodging possibilities, visit their Web site at


Cagles Mill Lake/Lieber SRA

Cagles Mill Lake and the Lieber State Recreation Area (SRA) in the west-central part of the state is another good place to go for family fun and great fishing, too. Cagles Mill Lake (also known as Cataract Lake) is a 1,400-acre reservoir that provides excellent fishing opportunities for walleyes, crappies, channel catfish, huge flathead catfish and several other species.

Located in Owen and Putnam counties and nearly due east of Terre Haute, Cagles Mill Lake and the surrounding property offer many outdoor recreation possibilities. The lake is a perennial favorite among fishermen, especially catfish lovers. Anglers pursuing channel catfish will use night crawlers and chicken livers. Trophy-seeking fishermen target behemoth flathead catfish with live bluegills and other live baits.

The water-based fun does not end with fishing, however. Boaters use the lake on a daily basis for boat rides and waterskiing. You may trailer your own boat to one of the launching ramps, or you can rent a fishing boat or pontoon boat from the local concession.

Camping is popular in the adjacent Lieber SRA, and there are 120 electric sites in the Poplar Grove campground. There are also 96 non-electric sites in the neighboring Sunny Acres campground. Visitors may use the picnic areas or rent one of the shelters for larger gatherings, and there are playgrounds and an activity center, too.

Family members interested in a short hike can explore the Wildflower Trail (one-half mile) or the three-quarter mile Nature Trail. The shorter trail is considered easy, while the nature trail is rated moderately difficult. A quick ride in the car will bring you to nearby Cataract Falls SRA, where another nature trail awaits between Lower Cataract Falls and Upper Cataract Falls.

For more information about this property, call the office at (765) 795-4576.

Summit Lake State Park

Summit Lake State Park (SP) in Henry County is located a few miles north and slightly east of New Castle. The state park contains 2,680 acres, with 800-acre Summit Lake centered on the property. Activities here include fishing, boating, hiking, swimming and camping -- but fishing is always the most popular.

The fishing on Summit Lake has been outstanding for many years. Bluegills, yellow perch, crappies and largemouth bass are some of the most popular species. Channel catfish are also present, and although they are not extremely common, the fish that are caught are usually quite large. A fish-cleaning station is located on the property.

Fishing may be done from shore or from a boat, and boat rentals are available at the lake. There are three different boat-launching ramps located around the lake if you bring your own boat, but keep in mind the fact that outboard motors are permitted to operate at idle speed only (5 mph). Since the lake is typically quiet, canoe trips are popular with some visitors.

Camping facilities include 125 electric campsites, picnic areas with two large shelters and a beach bathhouse. There is also a youth tent camping area. Many campers take advantage of the four hiking trails located around the lake. The Campground Trail is 1.25 miles long and is moderately difficult. There is also a short nature trail (three-quarter mile) and two other trails, including the two-mile Prairie Trail.

Various species of wildlife may be seen on the trails or from the lakeshore. The many species of trees (oak, hickory, beech, cherry, maple) attract all sorts of birds and other animals. Herons, ospreys and bald eagles are also seen searching for fish around the lake at times.

The phone number at Summit Lake SP is (765) 766-5873.


Whitewater Memorial State Park

Whitewater Memorial SP in Union County is located on the north end of Brookville Reservoir, about two miles from the town of Liberty. This 1,710-acre park features many amenities for visitors, including 199-acre Whitewater Lake for fishing, swimming and boating (trolling motors only). The park also touches the northeast shoreline of Brookville Reservoir, so the watery possibilities are almost endless.

Fishermen will be interested to learn that Whitewater Lake was drained and renovated in 2001, so the new fish populations are growing like crazy. Fish were stocked in both 2001 and 2002. Recent Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fish surveys showed bluegills up to 9 inches and longear and redear sunfish over 9 inches in length. Panfish lovers will definitely like the fishing at Whitewater Lake this summer.

Since outboard motors are not allowed on Whitewater Lake, family members who like to go waterskiing or tubing can make the short drive over to neighboring Brookville Lake to satisfy their need for speed. Pleasure boating is always popular on Brookville.

The camping and lodging facilities at Whitewater Memorial SP are extensive. There are 236 electric sites and 45 non-electric sites, and a separate youth tent area. Visitors with horses may stay at one of 37 primitive horsemen's sites. For families that prefer a cabin to roughing it in a tent, there are 20 modern housekeeping cabins available for rent.

Hikers and nature lovers will find five different hiking trails to explore on the property, ranging in length from one-half to 2.7 miles. These trails provide great opportunities to see a wide variety of birds and forest life, and the Veteran's Loop Trail offers an unforgettable view of Brookville Reservoir.

There are also nine miles of bridle trails for those visitors interested in guided trail rides (stop at the saddle barn) or horse campers who bring their own steeds. The bridle trails range in difficulty from easy to rugged. Keep in mind that horses must stay on designated bridle trails at all times.

For more information about Whitewater Memorial SP, call (765) 458-5565.

Monroe Reservoir

Monroe Reservoir in Monroe and Brown counties in southern Indiana is a fantastic place for families to stay on vacation. Indiana's largest lake covers more than 10

,000 acres, and is surrounded by another 13,000-plus acres of state recreation area property. Family members with almost any outdoors interest will be satisfied here.

Located just south of Bloomington, Monroe Reservoir is easily accessible to locals and visitors from other parts of the state as well. Many folks come for the fishing, since Monroe features an outstanding fishery for largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, walleyes and crappies -- just to name a few. Whether you prefer artificial lures or live bait, something is always biting on Monroe.

If you bring your own boat, the reservoir has nine different launch ramps where you can enter the lake. Have fun exploring the different creek arms from the water, although it is unlikely that you will have time to investigate them all! If you prefer to rent a boat, there are fishing boat and pontoon rentals available at one of the marinas on the lake.

The campers in the family will have no lack of campsites to choose from here. There are more than 200 electric sites and nearly 100 non-electric sites. Restrooms and showers are also available. If you would rather stay at the Fourwinds Resort and Marina, you can leave the tent at home.

Hiking in the state recreation areas has always been popular, and there are a variety of trails to choose from in the different state recreation areas. The Blue Bird Trail and Tree Trek Trail in Paynetown SRA are rated moderate and easy (respectively), and the Turkey Trot Trail in Allens Creek SRA is also moderately difficult. Bird watchers love these trails.

Sightseers and shoppers in the family can make a day-trip to nearby Nashville or Bloomington. Nashville features many craft and antique shops, and Bloomington is home to Indiana University, the IU Art Museum, the Bloomington Antique Mall, wineries and other attractions.

For more information about Monroe Reservoir, call the reservoir office at (812) 837-9546.

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