Pokagon State Park, IN
By Maryhelen Mackin Chadwick
Imagine flying downhill at 40 miles per hour old school style on wooden toboggans – sounds fun, doesn’t it? No need to imagine it, you can experience it at the toboggan run at Pokagon (Po-KAY-gun) State Park in northeastern Indiana. Climb the 30-foot tower then shoot down a 90-foot vertical drop and ride by the seat of your pants through the woods for a quarter mile.
That kind of thrill was enough to inspire workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 556 to build the park’s first wooden toboggan run in 1935 in their spare time. According to park interpreter Fred Wooley, the workers were young men who cut blocks of ice from the nearby lake, hauled them several hundred yards up a steep hill then crushed and packed the ice into a primitive chute to experience some high-speed fun.
“They were just boys,” Fred says, “And boys like to play.”
The dual-lane toboggan run is refrigerated (no worries – you won’t be asked to haul ice from the lake) and stays open even if there is no snow. One of just three toboggan runs of its sort in the Midwest (the others are located in Strongsville, OH and Oakland County, MI), Fred says the Pokagon run is unique because it offers riders the thrill of the natural hill – you feel all the dips and drops.
“You feel like you’re riding off into the countryside,” Fred says, “This is a throwback to old-fashioned fun.” Of course, that fun also includes an old-fashioned walk back up to the top to try it again.
The toboggan operates weekends from the Friday after Thanksgiving through March 1. Park personnel may close the slide if the temperature falls below zero degrees Fahrenheit, but Fred says such closings rarely happen.
Pokagon also offers four miles of groomed cross-country ski trails (beginning to advanced) and a tubing and sledding hill. In warmer weather, Pokagon offers hiking, camping, horseback riding and swimming in Lake James.
Where it’s at: About three hours north of Indianapolis and Dayton; from I-69 just south of I-80, take exit 154 to IN 127 north. Turn left at IN 127/IN 727 and follow IN 727 into Pokagon State Park.
Contact: www.tobogganrun.com or (260) 833-2012; call ahead for hours of operation
Digs: Pokagon offers electric campsites year round ($17-$28) and rustic group camp cabins ($60-$240), www.camp.in.gov or 866-6CAMPIN; the Potawatomi Inn is near the toboggan run ($55-$167), 877-LODGES-1 or www.indianainns.com
Grub: Coffee, soup, sandwiches and a fire are available at the warming center adjacent to the tower where you begin your ride (picture a concession stand like at a high school sporting event, but with a really nice fire)
Gear and Outfitting: You must use the park’s toboggans
Cost: Daily park entrance fee is $4-$7; toboggans rent for $10 per hour and hold up to four people; cross-country skis rent for $5-$7 an hour