Once the only way to travel before roads, and when thick forests carpeted our state, now Indiana’s waterways—winding rivers, inland lakes and even a long stretch of Lake Michigan coast—still beckon us to journey in ways of yore. So climb aboard—the water’s great—whether it’s a wine cruise on Patoka Lake, navigating past the grounds of an old hotel where Al Capone stayed on the Dixie, Indiana’s oldest sternwheeler paddleboat, or a voyage along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore with Captain Ed’s Big Deck Charters.
In Fort Wayne, Captain Black’s Pontoon Tours depart from Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot for a two-hour “guided history” tour traveling on the St.Mary’s and St. Joseph rivers in downtown Fort Wayne.The standard tour is $250 for a group of 12 passengers maximum and the Deluxe costs $350 for the group and includes food and drinks which must be ordered 48 hours in advance.
The Deck at the Gas House (this longtime favorite restaurant in downtown Fort Wayne earned its name because its located at the site of a 19th century gas plant) offers 20-minute rides along the St. Mary’s River Thursday through Saturday beginning around 6 p.m. You can also call to make a reservation.
During the season in Koskiusko County, the Wawasee Tour Boat Co. offers daily tours on the Oakwood Tour Boat, which holds 40 people, of the 27-acre Lake Wawasee, Indiana’s largest natural lake, named for Miami Chief Wawasee. For those staying at the Oakwood Resort in Syracuse, where the boat is docked, the tour is free; otherwise the one-hour trip costs just $10 per person. The boat is also available for private charters.
Combine brunch, lunch or dinner with a voyage on the S.S. Lillypad II, a two-story, houseboat. At 70 feet long, it’s the largest boat on Lake Wawasee and accommodates groups of up to 110 people. The boat can be booked for private parties, and offers several public cruises each month for varying lengths— two, three or four hours. The vessel’s big-screen TV also accommodates parties for viewing Notre Dame football in late summer and early fall. Each year the S.S. Lillypad II features themed parties such as Gilligan’s Island or Margaritaville.
For decades, The Dixie, the state’s oldest sternwheeler paddleboat, has traversed the silvery blue waters of Webster Lake just blocks from the downtown of North Webster in Northern Indiana. On the National Registry of Historic Places, The Dixie offers 90-minute cruises starting Memorial Day weekend. “Before there were good roads and cars, people would stand on the pier and wave at the boat so they could get a ride,” says former Dixie owner Dan Thystrup. He also noted the original boat, the City of Webster, was built in 1908 and functioned as a floating blacksmith, lumber, post office and grocery ferry, visiting the piers of houses that lined the shore of this 500-acre lake in North Webster, a small old-fashioned lake town. Replaced in 1928, this Dixie has been updated over the years, offering regularly scheduled cruises as well as being available for private charters.
The 135-foot-long Madam Carroll, the largest licensed United States Coast Guard approved vessel in Indiana, was built in August of 1976 and has run continuously for the last four decades. Available for both public and private cruises on the 1,500-acre Lake Freeman in Monticello, Madame Carroll’s public cruises sail each Saturday night and some Friday nights from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Cruise options include sightseeing, dinner or special events and last between two to three hours.
Thick woodlands surround Indiana’s second largest manmade lake, 8,800-acre Patoka Lake, making bald eagle and other wildlife sightings (osprey, deer, wild turkeys) a common occurrence. So climb aboard one of the two tour boats which dock at Patoka Lake Marina in Birdseye. Tour options include sunset wine and beer cruises, Wednesday nights and select Sunday afternoon rides.
For more information visit:
American Queen: 888-749-5280; americanqueensteamboatcompany.com
BB Riverboats: (800) 261-8586; bbriverboats.com/thunder_over_louisville.html
Broad Ripple Boat Company: (317) 254-2628; broadrippleboatco.com
CaptainBlack’s: (260)420-3962; fwoutfitters.com/rental-info/captain-blacks-pontoon-tour/
Captain Ed’s Big Deck Charters: (219) 363-2909; michigancitycharters.com
The Deck at the Gas House: (260) 417-3249; donhalls.com
The Dixie: (800) 566-2551; ridethedixie.com
Madam Carroll: (574) 583-3545; madamcarroll.com
Oakwood Resort Tour Boat: (574) 457-7100; oakwoodresort.com
Patoka Lake Marina: (812) 685-2203; patokalakemarina.com
S.S. Lillypad: (574) 529-3300; sslillypad.com
Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides: 812-701-1155; rockinthunder.com
Queen of the Mississippi: 800-460-4518; americancruiselines.com/cruises