By DNR Staff
Three summers ago, the Grosh family of Muncie endured a nearly 4-hour drive and triple digit temperatures to camp at Lincoln State Park in southwest Indiana.
Despite the heat and distance, the trip remains a fond memory for Stacey, her husband Gannon, and their three teenage daughters, two of whom have since left home for college.
“The location was ideal,” Stacey said. “There was so much to do in a small geographical area.”
The amount of activities available within a walk or short drive of your campsite is part of what makes camping at an Indiana state park unique. And when you are ready to unwind for the day, you are surrounded by the most beautiful scenery in Indiana.
Indiana has 32 state park and reservoir properties, distributed across the state. All but Fort Harrison in Indianapolis and Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville offer some form of camping. Daytime activities range from world-class mountain biking, to hiking and wildlife viewing, horseback riding, swimming, boating, fishing and more.
Electric campsites are available at every State Park except Shades State Park in Waveland, where the camping is a bit more rustic. With almost 7,000 improved and 600 primitive campsites statewide, campers have plenty of options.
“There is something that changes inside you when you sit by a campfire, sipping coffee or roasting hot dogs, looking up at the stars and listening to the creatures of the night speak their own language,” said Indiana State Parks business services program director Christie Sorrels.
The reservable camping season at Indiana State Parks generally runs from late April to early November. Campsite reservations can be made up to six months in advance. Indiana State Parks is test-piloting an earlier reservation season start date for five properties in 2017. They are Charlestown, Indiana Dunes, Prophetstown and Shakamak State Parks and Salamonie Lake. Reservations are allowed for arrival dates as early as March 29, 2017.
Those hoping to camp on a weekend, especially a holiday weekend, should book a reservation as early as possible. While competition can be tight for holiday and weekend accommodations, available campsites are usually plentiful during the week, Sorrels said.
Another tip for those seeking a more subdued camping experience is to visit a more low-profile property. Examples include Summit Lake State Park in eastern Indiana, Ouabache State Park in northern Indiana, Hardy Lake in southeastern Indiana, and Lincoln State Park.
Summit Lake offers 120 electric sites, some of them on the wooded shoreline. “One of our biggest draws is that campers can pull up to our premium sites and be right on the lake,” said property manager Nicole LeCrone.
You can cast a line from your premium campsite. And if you have a boat, you can launch it at one of three ramps and motor it to your site. Even if you don’t have a boat, sunsets over the lake are spectacular.
The property just a few miles north of New Castle is known for excellent bluegill, crappie, bass and walleye fishing in the clear blue waters of the 800-acre Summit Lake. Hiking, birdwatching and swimming are also popular there.
LeCrone warned that premium sites tend to book about a month in advance. Campsites are more available during weekdays than weekends. A premium site at Summit costs only $2 more than a normal site. On a weekend, the price would be $32. Ouabache is on the banks of the Wabash, just outside Bluffton. The park and the river have the same pronunciation, although many people pronounce the park Wa-batch-ee, and that’s okay, too. The main attractions here are the 25-acre Kunkel Lake, recently restored to improve fishing, and the bison enclosure.
The park has 12 bison in a 25-acre enclosure. The herd dates to at least the 1930s, when what is now the park was the Wells County State Forest & Game Preserve by the Department of Conservation, DNR’s predecessor.
Hardy Lake offers 164 campsites on the west shore of the lake. The property is conveniently located in southeast Indiana’s Scott County, and a short drive from Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati. In addition to boating and fishing, campers can shoot at an archery range or visit the only raptor rehabilitation center on a DNR property to learn about hawks, eagles, owls, falcons and vultures.
The campground at Lincoln State Park is an affordable overnight option for people visiting Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, six miles to the east in the town of Santa Claus, and the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and Living Historical Farm, which borders the state park. But there’s plenty to do and see inside the park too. It’s home to ten miles of trails, and you can visit a pioneer cemetery where Abraham Lincoln’s sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, is buried.
The Groshes visited the amusement park and national memorial. They cooled down by swimming and boating in Lake Lincoln, inside the state park, and stayed up late sharing stories and making s’mores around a campfire.
“Camping allows us to get away from the craziness of everyday life,” Stacey said. “We love to relax and take the time to enjoy one another’s company.”
Information about the many different options for camping at Indiana State Parks & Reservoirs is at stateparks.IN.gov. Reservations can be made at Camp.IN.gov or call 1-866-6-Camp-IN (1-866-622-6746).