Outdoor Adventures in Indiana State Parks

Family vacations can sometimes present dilemmas. Parents often dream of connecting with their children during a magical life-changing trip to a faraway wonderland. Children often have their own vision of the ideal getaway, too. Their idea is many times shaped by fantasies from TV commercials showing seemingly perfect places they have never been to but have to go because “every-one else does.” But what more and more families are discovering every year is that they don’t have to travel to “faraway lands” to create that magical experience or the perfect getaway. That’s because these families have discovered camping—right here in Indiana. Pat Sherwood, and his wife Martie, are grandparents from Wheatfield, Indiana, who’ve camped in most of Indiana’s state parks and in many places around the country.

Pat offers some friendly Hoosier advice to those contemplating a vacation. “You can take your kids to Disney World,” he said. “You can take your kids to the Grand Canyon. You can spend thousands and thousands of dollars on these great big grand vacations. You take your kids camping and that’s what they are going to talk about the rest of their lives.” These days, the Sherwoods usually go to nearby Tippecanoe River State Park, which means the rest of the family can join them more often. But Pat recommends any and all of Indiana’s parks. “You can travel the entire United States looking, but nobody has the number of beautiful parks like Indiana,” he said. “People we’ve met from all over the United States have said ‘yeah, I camped in an Indiana state park.’ So I’ve always been proud of our parks.”

The variety from the far north extreme at Pokagon State Park to the southernmost parks like Harmonie, Lincoln and O’Bannon Woods offer an assortment of terrain and activities within an easy drive of most Hoosiers. DNR Reservoir properties offer prime camping, too, with the added attractions of multiple water sports and in-season hunting. If you’ve visited a park or reservoir but haven’t stayed overnight, add it to your list of must-do’s. You can take the time to better appreciate the natural world around you, no matter if you’re from the city, the country or in between. You’ll not only see the treasures of the rural landscape far beyond the farms and factories visible from the highway, you’ll get to become part of them. “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 Christie Sorrels, business services program director for DNR State Parks. “The smell of the crackling firewood mixes with the cool evening air, and slowly the stress begins to seep out of you.”

It doesn’t matter whether your style is a small pup tent or a 50-foot RV or if you’re staying the night, a weekend or a week, camping offers the chance to share stories, family photos and grilled food with neighbors who’ve just become friends, or soon will be. And staying in a state park or reservoir campground adds something else that many other places can’t offer — acres and acres of nature to fish, hike, bike, view wildlife, learn and explore. The abundant natural beauty of these places is accented by the many organized activities offered year-round, most of which are free. A few examples this spring and early summer include Earth Day festivals, wildflower weekends, mushroom festivals, Welcome Back Weekend, birding days, National Trails Day celebrations, arts in the park, and so much more. Halloween is still months away but camping during that time of year, decorating campsites and trick-or-treating through the campground has become a tradition at many parks.

f course, there are always Memorial Day weekend activities to enjoy while kicking off the official unofficial start to summer. Check out the list of options by going to www.stateparks.IN.gov and selecting “programs.” If you are worried about a lack of expensive gear for going camping, don’t be. “You just have to get out and do it,” Sorrels said. No matter if you’re a beginner or a veteran, camping is a learn-as-you-go experience. “Some of the best trips include little to no planning,” Sorrels said. “People just pick up and leave one Friday afternoon, with a trunk full of lawn chairs, sleeping bags, a tent, some food, and other essentials; and don’t return home until Sunday morning.” As the Sherwoods have learned, part of the joy in camping comes from the tales built from not knowing what to expect. The camping scene at Indiana State Parks caters to people young and old, from all different backgrounds, having a variety of preferences and priorities. These campgrounds are some of the only places in Indiana that are located within a uniquely historical piece of property, surrounded by a deep cultural and natural resources-rich environment.

“The places are ripe for making America healthier, physically and mentally,” Sorrels said. “Relax. Unwind. Breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the beauty around you.” Options at many places include various types of cabins; primitive, no-frills camping; full hookups, sites with electricity; sites without electricity; and special camping for horse riders and canoe or kayak paddlers.

For more information about the many different options for camping at Indiana State Parks, visit www.stateparks.IN.gov. Once you figure out where to go, make reservations at www.Camp.IN.gov or call (866) 622-6746.