Sure, everybody knows about Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. But it might surprise people to discover that Indiana is no slouch either — and is actually a lake-lover’s delight! An exact count is hard to get, due to a great number of the Indiana’s “lakes” being man-made reservoirs, but one telling statistic is that two counties, Kosciuko and Steuben, each have more than 100 lakes apiece.
To give you an idea why Hoosiers love their lakes, here are some samples of what you can find — from shores lined with attractive homes to lakes boasting nothing more than natural, pristine, undisturbed surroundings.
We’ll start in the northeast section with the state’s largest natural lake, Lake Wawasee. Known as the “Jewel of Kosciuko County” and connected by a channel to Syracuse Lake, the lake is about 3,400 acres and has 25 miles of shoreline with lots of bays. Ninety percent of the shoreline is developed, dotted with over 1,000 homes, condos and rentals.
The Main Channel Marina, Wawasee Boat Company, Inc. and Griffith’s Wawasee Marina take care of the boaters. The Frog Tavern, Channel Marker and the Pier and Back Porch restaurant at the Oakwood Resort take care of their hunger. Other amenities include a yacht club, sailboat racing and 10-acre family fishing area. And you can’t miss “The Sandbar,” where hundreds of boats congregate on weekends.
Lake Wawasee is also home to a very active wooden boat fleet that has a parade every Sunday morning after a boat-in worship. It leaves from the popular Oakwood Resort and Inn.
Webster Lake is arguably the best walleye fishery in Indiana and the home of Dixie, Indiana’s longest running sternwheeler. Just south of Wawasee, Webster Lake is 774 acres and doesn’t get too crowded. Clarks Marine, Inc. rents pontoons and Socks Marina rents kayaks and canoes. Most of the shore is lined with residences, and vacation rentals are available along with some fishing camps and a nearby motel. Pizza King is on the lake.
Just west of Lake Webster is the 851-acre Tippecanoe Lake. It is the deepest glacial lake in the state at 123 feet, called Lake Tippy by generations of the same families. There is a very active property owner’s association that works to preserve the health and beauty of the lake that many of the current members’ grandparents loved. There is a lot of tasteful shoreline development, with a mix of early 20th century cottages and modern craftsman-style mansions.
You’ll find an annual all-you-can-eat fish fry, a mermaid festival and boat-in worship on Sundays. Boaters use the Tippecanoe Boat Company, Patona Bay Marina and Resort and head to Pie-Eyed Petey’s marina bar and restaurant.
The water quality at Lake James is ranked among the best in Indiana. Located in the far northeast corner, the 1,229-acre lake is part of a connected chain to other lakes and has 18 miles of shoreline, which is mostly developed.
It is a well-known waterski lake and has a sandbar in one basin that is very popular. Boaters will find Clauson’s Boat House and Sowles Bay Yacht Club here. There are multiple ramps, weekly sailboat races and the annual Seaplane Pilot’s Association Seaplane Splash.
For food, there is the Waterfront Bistro on a channel as well as Mad Anthony’s Lakeview Ale House and Reception Hall. The lake is bordered on one side by Pokagan State Park, which has the very popular Potawatomi Inn and its variety of attractions and amenities.
Salamonie Lake is 25 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, Ind. This 2,665-acre lake differs from some others in that it is part of an Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) site, so land here is not developed along the 47-mile shoreline. There are lots of bays and coves that are popular with houseboaters who keep their boats at Pirate’s Cove Marina.
It is described as a family-friendly, all-purpose lake that is unspoiled and relaxed. There are multiple launch ramps at various sites that require permits. Lodging choices include campsites or motels about 13 miles away.
The Whitewater River Valley in the eastern part of the state is known as one of the most picturesque and historically significant in Indiana. One of its attractions is the 5,260-acre Brookville Lake, offering 61 miles of shoreline. Said to be one of Indiana’s “cleanest, quietest and prettiest” lakes, it is about 35 miles northwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, and owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and leased to the Indiana DNR to manage.
Brookville has two recreational areas, 10 boat ramps, two marinas, a boat storage and valet service, a sailing association and two swimming beaches. The Sagamore Waterfront Resort attracts a lot of visitors, and Kent’s Harbor Marina boasts about having “Indiana’s premier boat rental fleet.” Ainsley’s Cafe and Bar overlooks Kent’s Harbor. The state-run Fairfield Marina is another choice.
There are two lake choices close to Bloomington, Ind., home of Indiana University (IU). One is Lake Monroe, 10 miles southwest of town, which is the largest lake in Indiana at 10,750 acres and 190 miles of shoreline. It is one of the state’s most popular summertime destinations.
The scenic reservoir features rolling wooded hills and limestone bluffs. There are state recreation areas, the Fourwinds Lakeside Inn and Marina and the Lake Monroe Marina. Restaurants include the Scenic View and Tradewinds Restaurant. There are also public beaches, luxurious lake homes, camping areas, launch ramps and boat rentals. There are even guided paddle trips.
Though there can be some serious partying on weekends by IU students, part of the lake is a wildlife refuge that prohibits motorized boats.
At the other end of the spectrum, about 10 miles northeast of Bloomington, is Lake Lemon. It is a scenic and tranquil 1,650-acre reservoir with 24 miles of shoreline and two parks. It has a much lower level of boat traffic, and as such is home to one of Indiana’s top bass fisheries — as well as the IU rowing team.
Amenities include the Lake Lemon Marina, residential development and two parks, but limited launch ramps.
The second largest lake in Indiana at 8,800 acres is Patoka Lake, referred to as the “Jewel of Southern Indiana.” It is located in the 200,000-acre Hoosier National Forest near the resort towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs in the southern part of the state.
Patoka Lake is operated by the USACE, and there are no houses here. Wildlife includes otters, bald eagles and even freshwater jellyfish about the size of a quarter. It is also one of the cleanest lakes in the Midwest.
The Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging and Hoosier Hills Marina serve boaters. Patoka has the highest density of floating cabins in the state, complete with boat slips and boat rentals. Houseboat rentals that stay dockside or for on-the-lake usage are especially popular. Another option is Gilligan’s Boat, a storage and boat valet service. There are also numerous launch ramps.
Cagle Mills Lake, locally known as Cataract Lake, is where the state’s largest waterfalls are located. At 1,400 acres, it is about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis. The Upper Cataract Falls drop 30 feet and the Lower Falls 15 feet, both creating impressive whitewater displays. They can be seen from either hiking trails or at the lower falls, by boat. There are two state recreation areas on the lake, and it has 37 miles of forested shoreline. There is a marina in the state recreation area, boat rentals, the Cataract Yacht Club, an aquatic center, two boat ramps and lots of water skiing and camping sites.
It might be a little bit of a stretch to consider Lake Michigan as an Indiana lake, but it does run along 40 miles of the northwest border with numerous towns and attractions. A premier one is Indiana Dunes State Park, which encompasses over 15 miles of shoreline including a half-mile swimming beach and 2.5 miles of nature preserve. The views of the lake and the Chicago skyline are terrific from the trails along the dunes’ ridges.
Lake Shafer is one of the twin lakes between Indianapolis and Gary. It is best known for the Indiana Beach Boardwalk Resort and Amusement Park. This retro amusement park is the largest in the state and one of the oldest in the country.
The 1,291-acre lake is about the same size as is sister lake, Lake Freeman, at 10 miles long. Stop in at Tall Timbers Marina, Lakeshore Marina and Boat Rentals and Pirate’s Cove Resort. Jake’s Beach House is a popular restaurant, located at the highly rated Blue Door Cottages. There are no free launch ramps but five that require permits.
The summer population here more than doubles the year-round number of residents.
Lake Freeman is a little larger, at 1,500 acres, and is more residential. It boasts “the best sandbar in Indiana,” where up to 400 boats gather on weekends. It has waterfront dining and numerous camping options.
Highlights include another Tall Timbers Marina, the historic Sportsman Inn and Susan’s Freeman Bay full-service marine gas station. There have been some problems with low lake levels, so adequate rainfall is important.
The second-largest natural lake in Indiana is Lake Maxinkuckee, about 50 miles south of South Bend. With 1,850 acres and 10 miles of shorelines, it is deep and clean enough for scuba diving. The lake also happened to be one of the state’s best walleye fisheries.
Culver Marina has a fully stocked board shop; other facilities include Culver’s Portside Marina and the Maxinkuckee Yacht Club. Lakefront dining is available at Papa’s, the Boardwalk Bar & Grill and the Lakehouse Grill. Public launch access is available, and so are vacation and cottage rentals.
Tourism is promoted in nearby Culver, where the well-known Culver Military Academy is located.
Large lake, small lake? Quiet lake, party lake? Pristine natural shorelines or shorelines packed with residences to gape at while idling by? Indiana offers every sort of option.
So, what is your preferred choice?