Our Great Outdoors

15 treks to fit every purpose

Pokagon State Park on Lake James Upper Basin, photography by Mary A. Markley
Turkey Run State Park Trail 3 view, photography by Whitney Lake
Steve Linsenmayer kayaking on Cedar Creek, photography by Ellie Bogue

Over the river and through the woods
ON FOOT

There’s something very satisfying about being out in the woods, something primal and nourishing for the spirit. We in Northeast Indiana are fortunate to have a wide variety of places where we can get out and commune with nature. ACRES Land Trust has a host of nature preserves where hiking is permitted and where you’ll see all sorts of natural wonders. Indiana’s state park system offers camping opportunities within an easy drive of Fort Wayne.

EASY: Bicentennial Woods. Located on Shoaff Road near Huntertown, Bicentennial Woods is bisected by Willow Creek and features two walking trails totaling 2.6 miles. The hilly preserve was carved by glaciers and features towering oaks, hickories and sycamores, plus wildflowers.

HARDER: Blue Cast Springs. The site of an early 1900s sanitarium near Woodburn that bottled the blue-green waters from a deep well near the Maumee River, the nature preserve was acquired by ACRES in 2013, and the nearly 88-acre preserve features 30-foot-high bluffs that were probably used by Native Americans to monitor river canoe traffic, according to ACRES. Deep ravines mark the landscape, where you’ll also find blue herons, various songbirds and riverine habitats.

WORTH THE DRIVE: Turkey Run State Park. Weird and wonderful natural features abound at the 99-year-old park near Marshall, Indiana, about three hours from Fort Wayne. Deep sandstone ravines carved by glaciers and streams like Sugar Creek offer challenging hiking. Unusual hemlock trees, remnants of a colder climate, can be found at Turkey Run, along with its neighboring park Shades State Park, about 15 miles away. Boulders known as “glacial erratics” were carried into the area by glaciers and are not from the same material as the underlying bedrock, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Exposed bedrock dates from the Mississippian Period, about 250 million years ago. Fossils can be found in abundance to the astute observer, but keep your eyes on the trails, too, as they are often wet from the numerous springs in the area. Fun fact: The park provides overwintering space to the largest population of bald eagles in the state.

 

And onto the
WATER

We’ve got three highways cutting through the heart of the city that most people have never even traveled on. Make this summer the year you get out of the car, off the street and onto the rivers. With a renewed interest in Fort Wayne’s downtown riverfront, now’s the perfect time to experience the city from a new perspective. Cara Hall, owner of Fort Wayne Outfitters & Bike Depot, offers hourly, half-day and full day rentals of canoes and kayaks at her shop tucked into the old Cass Street train depot just east of Wells Street. There’s a spot along the St. Marys River adjacent to the shop where you can put in. Newbies to canoeing should check out the Fort Wayne Outfitters “paddle socials” where you can join in with other newcomers and some experts to try out your paddling skills. Call the Outfitters at (260) 420-3962 for details and times.

EASY: St. Marys River from Wells Street Bridge to the confluence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers. A great way for beginners to experience kayaking or canoeing (or even stand-up paddleboarding), this short trip offers an unparalleled view of Fort Wayne as you wind around the bend at Headwaters Park and under the bridge by the Old Fort. It’s a sight that more people will experience as our riverfront plans commence. The Outfitters offers livery service, so you can have your canoe or kayak brought to you and taken back to the shop without breaking a sweat. Kayaker Katie Hiebel suggests putting in at Guildin Park for a bit longer of a trip. There’s a concrete boat launch there, and it’s very quiet. She also likes heading upstream to Foster Park, a seven-mile round trip that takes about three hours.

HARDER: Spencerville to downtown Fort Wayne. Hall said this approximately half-day trip down the St. Joseph River offers both rural and urban vistas in the 20-mile journey. Put your canoe or kayak in at the covered bridge in Spencerville and then enjoy the flora and fauna of the river and the Cedarville Reservoir. Will you see a bald eagle? Probably, plus river otters and blue herons, mature sycamore, cottonwoods and tulip trees. Watch out for log jams.

WORTH THE DRIVE: Chain O’Lakes State Park. About 25 miles northwest of Fort Wayne, Chain O’Lakes State Park offers both hiking and boating options in the interconnected series of small (and somewhat larger) lakes. Boat rental and put-in are located on Sand Lake, where the nature center and concession stands can also be found. From Sand Lake, go either north to Bowen Lake or northeast to Weber and Mud lakes. You can camp on the banks of Rivir Lake or choose one of the cabins near Long Lake. The lakes, dubbed “kettle” lakes (so called because they were formed when partially buried ice blocks left over from glaciers melted and filled with water), offer birdwatching and fishing. A caution: blue-green algae found in some of the lakes means you should try to avoid getting water on you in some of the lakes. Check with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at www.in.gov/idem/algae/ for updates.

 

BIKE THIS

Fort Wayne has been bicycle crazy in recent years, with bike-friendly traffic lanes unrolling downtown and throughout the city, keeping pace with the rapid growth in our trail system. The “Bike Fort Wayne” plan calls for increased use of bicycles as regular transportation, reducing air pollution while getting residents on a path to fitness. Amy Hartzog, Greenways assistant and a regular bike rider, said the increasing infrastructure will help further expand the popularity of biking as a way to enjoy the great outdoors.

EASY: Trek the Trails weekly rides. Every Tuesday from the beginning of May to the end of September, bicyclists can join together to explore the city and county on rides that average less than 10 miles. Hartzog said the Trek the Trail rides are a good way to get used to riding if it’s been a while (of course you never forget how to ride a bike, right?), plus the 70 or so bikers who show up for these weekly rides provide both critical mass and companionship.  Find out where the next ride is by consulting our monthly events calendar (beginning on page 53) or calling the Greenways office at (260) 427-6228.

HARDER: Staying within Fort Wayne’s city limits and finding a place to challenge yourself on two wheels isn’t hard. Just head up Sherman Boulevard to Franke Park, where trails offer different levels of difficulty. Diana de Carranza is president of the Northeast Indiana Trail Riders Organization (NITRO). She said mountain bike trails feature the same safety designations as do ski slopes: green (easy), blue (more technically challenging) and black (scary!). While Franke doesn’t have any black trails, it does offer some challenges, including 90-degree turns, rocks and tree roots (and plenty of humps and bumps). The trails are different lengths, and if your only exposure to Franke Park is the zoo or the Foellinger Outdoor Theatre, you may be surprised at the variety of terrain and the flora and fauna you see (and you might even hear Bill the Lion roar!).

WORTH THE DRIVE: Head west to Winona Lake, de Carranza recommended. Because the soils are different west of Fort Wayne, you get a whole new feel and terrain to bike on. She said the 10 miles of trails in the Winona Lake Trail System are more “flowy” than the ones in Franke Park, but with landmarks such as “Deadman’s Curve” and “Puke Point,” you should exercise caution. (Need we remind you to always wear a helmet?) Winona Lake is about 40 miles west of Fort Wayne on U.S. 30. 

 

THE HORSE
knows the way

It may surprise you to learn that there are more than 5,000 horse-related businesses in Indiana, and while many of them are related to horse racing or agricultural production, many are stables that house horses owned for recreational purposes.

EASY: The easiest way to get started on a trail ride is to head up to Pokagon State Park, where for $25 you can ride along Pokagon’s beautiful trails escorted by experienced riders. Trail rides are offered from early April to the beginning of November, and riders must be at least 8 years old and 52 inches tall. Pony rides are available for $4.

HARDER: Several other state parks allow you to bring your own horse to ride the trails, and Salamonie Lake in Andrews offers both bridle trails and overnight camping for you and your horse. Salamonie can lean towards muddiness, making trails a bit slippery, but the views across the lake are stunning. 

WORTH THE DRIVE: Fort Wayne resident Andi Adams and her family enjoy riding horses throughout the region, and she recommended The Bluffs in Camden, Mich., as a good place to enjoy both horseback riding and camping. The primitive campground (read: pit toilets and no showers or electricity) means you’ll really get back to nature while enjoying a covered bridge, winding trails and beautiful landscapes. Call The Bluffs at (517) 368-5834 for information and reservations. Camden is just across the Indiana/Michigan/Ohio state lines north of Angola.

SEE THE USA
In your Chevrolet (or Prius, whatever; we don’t judge)

Taking a weekend trip often means piling the kids and a picnic basket in the car and throwing darts at a map. For a pleasant day away from the Fort, try one of the following trips.

EASY: U.S. 33 from Fort Wayne to Ligonier. This section of the old Lincoln Highway features curves and hills and beautiful farmland, plus access to a dozen or so small lakes – and Chain O’Lakes State Park. Stop for ice cream and a deep-fried cheeseburger at the Magic Wand restaurant in Churubusco. You can work off the calories at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Wolf Lake just off U.S. 33. There, you’ll find beautiful hiking trails, a learning center and a wide variety of educational opportunities. Once you hit Ligonier, you can’t miss a visit to the Annie Oakley Perfumery, 300 Johnson St., the only USA-based perfumery. Visit www.annieoakley.com for a schedule of tour times and costs.

HARDER: U.S. 30 from Fort Wayne to Indiana 49 to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. What makes this a harder trip is the long stretch of farmland from Fort Wayne to northwestern Indiana. There’s not much of interest there, but in this journey, the destination is the goal. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers the most “ocean-like” coastline we can get here in Hoosierland. And while Mount Baldy is still off limits due to a number of cave-ins, there’s still plenty to do. Hiking, birdwatching and of course swimming in Lake Michigan are popular activities, but you can also explore the nearby town of Chesterton, where on Saturdays you can visit Chesterton’s European Market (just two miles south of the Dunes) from May through October. There you’ll find artisan pastries, handmade soaps, scrubs and “liniments,” plus jewelry, clothing, fresh produce and flowers.

WORTH THE DRIVE: Indiana 46 from Bloomington to Nashville in Southern Indiana is a glory to behold. Twisting, turning and tons of trees line this 20-mile jaunt that’s a beauty to behold in summer and fall alike. Fall’s “leaf-season” is wonderful, with the added bonus of ending up in Nashville, which has dozens of unique shops filled with wonderful holiday gift ideas. In summer, head out from Bloomington to enjoy the drive to Brown County State Park, where you can stay overnight in the rustic cabins or in the (slightly less) rustic Abe Martin Lodge. The drive through the park is stunning, with nearly 16,000 acres of rugged hills, ridges and gullies. There’s even an indoor water park at the lodge, should the weather prove too hot. And if you’d like, you can enjoy escorted horseback trail rides through the park. Nashville is about 3.5 hours south of Fort Wayne.

First appeared in the July 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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