If you want a state park with easy access Pokagon State Park is the one; it has its own exit, and it is literally about two minutes from Interstate 69. Pokagon is best known for winter activities, as it features the only refrigerated toboggan run in the state, but its location on the shore of Lake James, along with two beaches and a boat rental make water activities readily available.
We stayed in a cabin, but camping and rooms at the Potawatomi Inn are available. The cabins are nearer to the lake than the inn, and a short, smooth gravel path provides easy access to the lake. Access is also available near the boat rental shed, but you have to drop off your boat and park in the main lot.
Almost the entire shore line of the 1,200-acre Lake James is developed, and the number of powerboats docked around indicates it is probably pretty busy on weekends, (see this photo) but we paddled out on Thursday evening and Friday midday without a lot of traffic. Lake James also connects to Jimmerson Lake on the west, Snow Lake on the north, and Big Otter Lake and Little Otter Lake on the northeast. All of these lakes are mostly developed, but we paddled across to Jimmerson and it was quiet the day we were there. One website says all the lakes combined make up about 2,200 acres, so there is plenty of water available in the area. There are 105 lakes of various sizes in the county, and many have public access, so the paddling options are numerous.
We didn’t see much wildlife aside from a few swans, and two sandhill cranes on the lawn of the inn, but it was still nice to paddle in water that was clear enough to see several feet down. And what’s not to like about a lake with a donut shop you can paddle to? Tom’s Donuts is located just off the channel between Lake James and Jimmerson Lake, and has a couple of slips and a gravel area where you can get out & grab a donut. A couple of cafes, a pizza place and a Mexican restaurant are at the same intersection, so you should not go hungry if you stop in there.
Another recommended stop if you’re looking for a place to eat is Timbuktoo’s on SR 120 just northeast of the park. A friendly staff and excellent food, combined with a casual setting really added to our trip. We had the black & blue salmon and the pecan crusted walleye, and both were excellent.
While I wouldn’t recommend Lake James and its contiguous neighbors as a destination for someone looking for a nature paddle, it was nice to paddle on a large lake with clear water and new scenery, even if it was mostly of the architectural type. And hey, there’s a donut shop you can paddle to!
Pokagon State Park /Trine State Recreation Area: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2973.htm
Tom’s Donuts: https://www.facebook.com/theoriginatomsdonuts/