Story by Amy Lynch, Photos: Visit French Lick-West Baden
With 26,000 acres of land and water to discover, southern Indiana’s bucolic Patoka Lake makes an ideal summer vacation destination whether you happen to be seeking adventure or low-key relaxation. The 8,800- acre lake just to the south of French Lick and east of Jasper is the natural centerpiece of this Indiana State Park property, boasting unspoiled shorelines and scenic territory for boating, fishing, wildlife observation and other water-based recreation.
These are just a few fun suggestions for ways you can experience the stunning beauty of Patoka Lake this season:
Boating and Cruising
The lake itself is the biggest attraction, of course, serviced by two marinas where visitors can rent houseboats, fun-and-play pontoons, fishing boats and party barges for all sorts of celebrations. Stock up for any outing with pizza, hot and cold groceries, picnic supplies, ice and other sundries at the local floating store, operated by Patoka Lake Marina.
If you’d prefer to let someone else do the driving, sign up for a scenic wildlife cruise aboard the 60-foot Patoka Voyager or the double-decker Patoka Pride, offered seasonally on Wednesdays from June through October. Passengers enjoy plentiful opportunities to glimpse osprey, eagles, loons, beavers, river otters and other wildlife in its natural habitat during these leisurely outings.
Casting a line and waiting to see what bites is a great way to spend the day at Patoka Lake. One of the best bass and crappie lakes in the state of Indiana, these angler-friendly waters are also home to catfish, bluegill, walleye and striper. If you need one, you can get a fishing license at Patoka Station near the main entrance of the park or at the floating store while you’re loading up on bait and tackle.
At the southern end of the lake near the main entrance to the state park, Patoka Lake Winery manages a gift shop and tasting room where guests can sample the wares; kick back on a covered patio with glasses of dry, semi-dry, sweet and semi- sweet wines; and purchase bottles to take home. And don’t forget about the wine slushies! Romantic sunset wine cruises through the summer months and fall foliage cruises in September and October give Patoka Lake Winery and other Indiana wineries a chance to showcase their goods with a selection of hors d’oeuvres and desserts.
Can’t get enough? Make a reservation and spend the night in one of Patoka Lake Winery’s two luxury silo suites or three nicely appointed modern winery suites.
Camping and Accommodations
Plan a date with Mother Nature. Patoka Lake manages the largest state park class-A campground in Indiana with 455 electric camp sites in addition to 45 primitive sites. Patoka Lake Marina & Lodging offers a selection of rooms, suites and cabins that are available year-round.
For a truly one-of-a-kind lodging experience, guests can rent houseboats or two- and three- bedroom floating cabins with full baths, equipped kitchens, spacious furnished decks with gas grills, and private boat slips — the only accommodations of its kind in the state.
On Dry Land
The lake isn’t the only reason to visit Patoka; there’s plenty to do on land as well. Within the state park boundaries, visitors are welcome to explore hiking trails and paved bike paths, disc golf, picnic shelters, an archery range and a nature center that highlights a birds of prey display. The swimming beach sees plenty of visitors on sunny days.
A festive schedule of events throughout the year gives visitors even more incentive to check out Patoka Lake. The patriotic Thunder Over Patoka celebration and fireworks display always takes place on the Saturday closest to July 4. The park also hosts women’s wilderness weekends, a kids’ fishing derby, kayaking lessons, arts and crafts workshops, cruise-in/car shows, the Smokey Bear Birthday Bash and the Dash for the Glass 5K sponsored by Patoka Lake Winery each November.
French Lick/West Baden
Feel the need to break up your wilderness journey with a quick dip back into civilization? Complement the natural beauty of Patoka Lake with a jaunt up State Road 145 to the French Lick and West Baden Springs hotels. You don’t have to be a registered guest of the hotels to enjoy access to spa services, premiere golfing, horseback riding, restaurants, concerts and casino gaming.