Our State's Best Family (Fishing) Vacations

Here are six places throughout Hoosierland where families can get together for fishing adventures -- plus a whole lot more! Is one of these picks near you? (June 2007)

Catching a nice-size pumpkinseed, like this one, during a family vacation can get a youngster hooked on fishing for life!
Photo by Tom Berg.

It's summertime again! Warm weather and summer vacations are finally here. Families with school-age children wait all year for classes to be dismissed for the summer so that everyone can get away and have some fun together. With that in mind, Indiana Game & Fish publishes an annual family getaway guide, which details a variety of great places where families can go to relax and have an enjoyable time away from the rigors of regular life.

When making your plans, it is important to think of places and activities that will interest everyone in the family. Fishing is always a favorite activity for many outdoors-oriented families, so be sure to choose a spot with excellent fishing nearby. Other water-based pursuits to keep in mind might include boating, swimming or skiing. If your clan loves the water, you'll definitely want to be near a lake or river!

If your family would like to include some wildlife viewing, hiking, horseback riding, camping or sightseeing in their plans, that should be no problem at all. Indiana's state parks and public properties offer endless opportunities. Historical attractions are located all over the state, too, and might include famous homesteads, buildings and a diverse array of state historic sites.

Families interested in doing some serious camping while on vacation are really in luck. There is an abundance of state parks and other state-owned properties where reservations can be made in advance. Reservations can even be made online, so log onto the Internet and check the Web site at www.camp.in.gov. You can also call toll-free: (866) 622-6746.

Here are our choices for this year:


Clifty Falls State Park

Clifty Falls State Park (SP) in extreme southeastern Indiana's Jefferson County is a great destination for vacationing families. The park contains magnificent waterfalls and rocky gorges, surrounded by thick woodlands and lush vegetation. Visitors can see a total of four different waterfalls. These waterfalls range in height from 60 to 83 feet!

This state park property is located right on the western edge of the historic town of Madison, which is situated on the shores of the Ohio River. Using the park as a base camp, families can plan their activities around hiking and exploring the park, with day-trips to Madison, the Ohio River, and other surrounding attractions.

Campers can pitch their tents at their choice of one of the 106 Class A or 59 Class C campsites within the park. For less adventurous families, excellent modern accommodations are available at the newly renovated Clifty Inn inside the park. This beautiful inn overlooks the Ohio River and is equipped with its own full-service restaurant.

Hiking in the park can be rewarding but strenuous. Some of the waterfalls can be seen after only a short hike, but most of the trails here are quite rugged. June is a great time to view the waterfalls, though, because their flow is still fairly strong from the end of the spring rains.

Anyone who is interested in fishing will have no trouble finding a place to wet a line around here. The Ohio River is wide and deep, and offers some of the best angling for catfish in the entire state. There are also plenty of other finned adversaries, like largemouth bass, striped bass and white crappies, just to name a few.

Channel catfish are plentiful in the river, and they can either be caught from shore or from a boat. Riverfront Park in Madison is equipped with boat-launching facilities, so bring your own craft if you like. Huge blue catfish are usually found in the deeper channels and are best pursued from a boat. The average-sized blue cat will weigh only several pounds, but don't be surprised if you catch a trophy in the 20- to 30-pound class!

If the gals prefer to do some shopping or sightseeing while the boys are out fishing, downtown Madison is only minutes away. The shopping district features an abundance of antique shops and specialty shops. The Lanier Mansion, the Schroeder Saddletree Factory and many other fascinating sites will interest sightseers.

If the kids have never gone horseback riding, nearby Shilo Farms (ShiloFarms.com) is the perfect place to get them on a horse for the first time. Owner Rod Asher takes pride in teaching guests about horses and how to ride 'em. He provides plenty of personalized service.

For more information about Clifty Falls SP, contact the park office at (812) 273-8885. For info about Madison and the surrounding area, check out VisitMadison.com.

Brown County State Park

Indiana's largest state park is Brown County SP in south-central Indiana's Brown County. It covers more than 15,000 acres, and it is the perfect vacation spot for families. With activities like fishing, camping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and swimming, Brown County SP can satisfy family members with almost any outdoors interest.

Since Brown County SP is adjacent to Hoosier National Forest land, there is no need to worry about feeling the pressures of city life here. The oak, maple, hickory and beech trees go on for miles. Wildlife enthusiasts love this park, and bird watchers are particularly pleased when they look through their binoculars. Blue jays, finches, woodpeckers, owls and crows are common sights. Pileated woodpeckers are even seen in the park.

Campers can set up their tents at one of the 401 electric campsites or 28 non-electric sites, and visitors with their own horses can use the Horsemen's Campground. For the non-camper, the Abe Martin Lodge offers all the comforts of home. There are also 20 housekeeping cabins available.

Fishermen in the family have several choices when staying at the park. Ogle Lake (17 acres) and Strahl Lake (7 acres) are located inside the park. These diminutive waters offer excellent fishing for largemouth bass and bluegills. For anglers who trailer their own boats, Indiana's largest reservoir (Monroe Lake) is just a short drive away. Monroe is home to one of the state's best largemouth bass populations, and the crappie fishing isn't bad, either!

There are more than 18 miles of hiking trails on the property, and some 70 miles of bridle trails. The hik

ing trails range in difficulty from easy to rugged, and the longest trail is 3.5 miles in length. Bird watchers and nature photographers use these trails extensively.

There are plenty of other things to keep the family busy, too. The park's nature center has many exhibits and naturalist services, which can keep the kids entertained all day. There are also tennis courts, a playground and a swimming pool. For family members who would like to do a little shopping or exploring, the quaint town of Nashville is just down the road.

For more information about Brown County SP, call the park office at (812) 988-6406. For Brown County tourism information, go online to BrownCounty.com.


Ouabache State Park

Ouabache SP, in the northeastern part of the state, is another good place to go for family fun and relaxation. Ouabache is the French spelling of an old American Indian word, and it is pronounced "Wabash." Some people still call it O-Ba-Chee instead of Wabash, and as long as you are having fun it doesn't matter.

This 1,104-acre state park is located right on the shores of the Wabash River, just a few miles from the town of Bluffton. There is plenty to do here, from camping and hiking to fishing and boating. There is also an Olympic-size swimming pool with a waterslide and diving boards. Kids can ride their bikes on a paved bike trail that is nearly three miles long.

Sports-minded visitors can play tennis or basketball on one of the available courts, or play a game of softball with other families on the softball diamond. There is also a 100-foot-high fire tower, which can be climbed for a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. If you still have energy, try one of the easy or moderately difficult trails in the park.

Fishermen can try their luck for bass and panfish at the 25-acre Kunkel Lake inside the park. Shoreline access is available for shore-fishing around the entire lake, but boats are also allowed. Private boats can be launched (electric trolling motors only), or rowboats and canoes can be rented from the concession.

Excellent catfish angling can be had on the Wabash River, but shoreline access in the park is limited. A better bet would be to trailer your own boat and launch it outside of the park. The Wabash has a fantastic catfish population, dominated by channel catfish and flathead catfish. The flatheads can be huge, too. Just keep an eye on the shallow bottom to protect your boat and motor from gravel bars and underwater logs.

Campers have their choice of 77 electric campsites or 47 non-electric sites at Ouabache SP. There are two modern picnic shelters, which may be reserved, and there are plenty of picnic tables and charcoal grills.

For more information about Ouabache SP, call the office at (260) 824-0926.

Westwood Park

Westwood Park and Westwood Run Lake are located in Henry County, about four miles from New Castle. The park was created by the Big Blue River Conservancy District and opened to the public in 1974. Activities here include fishing, boating, hiking, biking, horseback riding and camping -- but fishing is always among the most popular activities.

Westwood Run Lake is the focal point of the park, and it is a 173-acre impoundment that features excellent fishing for largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish, crappies and channel catfish. Bluegills up to 10 inches, channel cats up to 8 to 10 pounds and bass up to 5 pounds are reported every summer. A boat ramp and courtesy dock are available for the use of visitors, and a fish-cleaning station is provided, also.

The campground is relatively small (38 sites), but each campsite is equipped with electricity, fresh water, a picnic table and a fire ring. There is also a rally campground for equestrians, which is available to clubs or organizations.

Hikers will find trails that range from easy to moderate in difficulty. Trail 3 is nearly 6.5 miles long and is the longest trail in the park. It is a shared trail, as it combines with the 6.2-mile bridle trail as it circles the lake and follows the park's outer property line. Hikers and riders should use caution and be courteous when using this trail.

A new mountain bike trail was completed in 2005 and is considered by many to be one of the most challenging and difficult bike trails in the state. The trail is over 10 miles long and follows the edge of the lake.

If anyone feels the need to go to town during this relaxing getaway, New Castle is only a short drive away. There are restaurants and plenty of places to go shopping. Basketball fans should be sure to visit the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.

Visitors should feel free to call the Westwood Park office at (765) 987-1232, or check out their Web site at VisitWestWood.


Patoka Lake

Southern Indiana's Patoka Lake is a sprawling playground for anyone who loves fishing and boating. This 8,800-acre reservoir is located between the towns of French Lick and Jasper, and is the perfect family vacation destination. It offers tremendous recreational opportunities for everyone, whether you prefer fishing, waterskiing or even a slow evening boat cruise.

Fishing has been fantastic on Patoka for many years. Crappie fishing is really good in the spring, but by midsummer, the action cools a bit. Channel catfish take up the slack for crappies when the temperatures warm, and these whiskered fighters can be caught day or night. Largemouth bass fishing is also hot during the summer, especially early and late in the day.

Local fisherman Tim Gibson from Paoli likes to fish for bass during the summertime. Gibson is a full-time fishing guide on Patoka (812/936-3382), and he specializes in bass and crappie fishing. "In the summer, the best place to fish is around the grassbeds," he said. "A plastic night crawler works wonderfully, especially along the deeper edges."

Bass in the 4- to 5-pound range are not uncommon on Patoka.

If the weather gets too hot outside and the family wants to take a break from the water sports, go underground. Local cave tours are available at nearby Wyandotte Cave. Wyandotte's caverns are extensive and quite impressive, and the temperatures in the cave are cool enough to warrant a sweatshirt, even in August!

Family members looking for a little more excitement might want to visit the newly opened French Lick Resort and Casino located north of the lake. The luxurious West Baden Springs Hotel is scheduled to be open by the time you read this. While in French Lick, be sure to allocate some time to check out the Indiana Railway Museum.

Patoka Lake is located inside the Hoosier National Forest and is situated next to seven state recreation areas totaling 25,800 acres. There is no lack of campsites for campers around Patoka, with 455 electric camps

ites and 45 primitive campsites available. There are also miles of hiking trails.

If your family would rather rent a cabin than sleep in a tent, there are several options available near the lake. Call Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging at (888) 819-6916 to rent a small cabin, a large houseboat or even a floating cabin on the water. The floating cabins accommodate six people and come with a private boat slip. For other lodging, go online to PatokaLakeIndiana.com.

Raccoon Lake SRA

The opportunities for outdoors fun are never-ending at Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area (SRA) in Parke County. This state-owned property is located about seven miles east of Rockville and includes 4,065 acres, which contain a 2,060-acre reservoir: Cecil M. Harden Lake.

Fishing is the No. 1 activity on Harden Lake, followed closely by boating. Serious anglers may want to get up early in the morning to beat the pleasure boaters to the water, especially on the weekends. But there is plenty of room for everyone. The numerous coves and bays provide shelter and good fishing, too.

Fishermen target a wide variety of fish species on the lake, but white bass, striped bass, crappies and bluegills are always popular. Pure-strain striped bass are particularly sought-after, because they can grow to some pretty impressive sizes. Whenever anglers have a chance at catching a 20-pound fish, they get very excited!

Campers can choose from 235 electric sites and 40 non-electric campsites. There are also 35 primitive sites. The campground includes a camp store and a fish-cleaning station, playgrounds and modern restrooms.

Anyone interested in taking a nature walk can explore one of the hiking trails on the property. The trails are rated easy to rugged; the longest one is 2.1 miles long. There is also a special archery trail where visitors can shoot arrows at a variety of targets from various positions.

Other activities could include taking a driving tour of Parke County's many covered bridges, visiting nearby Rockville's charming antique shops and seeing the Mansfield Roller Mill State Historic Site. If your family is interested in experiencing an authentic turn-of-the-century village and farmstead, Billie Creek Village in Rockville is another good place to visit.

For more information about Raccoon Lake SRA, call (765) 344-1412.

Find more about Indiana fishing and hunting at: IndianaGameandFish.com

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