January 7, 2016
Hike number two for 2016 took us to Pokagon State Park in Steuben county, Indiana. Our herd today consisted of Lyndy and myself. Pokagon became a state park in 1925 and many of its trails and structures were built by the CCC. The park’s original 707 acres has grown to 1260 and there are now 11 miles of trails. In addition to hiking, the park offers camping, swimming, nature programs, a horse stable with guided rides, pontoon, paddle boat and rowboat rentals and a beautiful lodge complete with a nice restaurant. It is a premier winter destination with cross-country ski rentals, ice fishing and a quarter mile toboggan track that runs from the weekend after Thanksgiving through February. It is a great year around park!
The Hell’s Point Loop, trail #3 on the map, is listed as a 2.2 mile, “moderate” hike. It starts at the north edge of the lower parking lot for the lodge. The trail is wide, with a few easy hills and is well marked. Most of the trail intersections include a “you are here” trail map so don’t fret if you realize after you start that your trusty trail map is still in your car. Of course things like that never happen…
This is a loop trail so of course you can hike in either direction. We chose to go to the right after crossing the boardwalk just off the parking lot. Part of the trail travels through the Potawatomi Nature Preserve and there is any area for you to brush off your boots or shoes prior to entering. This is to dislodge any weed seeds that happen to be hitchhiking which in turn protects the preserve from invasive species. Takes just a few seconds so be sure to make this quick but important stop!
Just a little ways into the hike will you will come to a spur trail to Lake Lonidaw. This is one of my favorite spots in all of Pokagon and only adds about 2/10 of a mile to your hike. You should take the short walk to the floating dock, it’ll be worth your effort! There are benches on the dock to sit and contemplate life. I’ve seen people fishing from here but can’t vouch for their success. Good fishing or not, it would be a great place to spend a sunny afternoon! The lake generally freezes in the winter, most normal winters anyway, and my kids have spent many a frosty afternoon slip-sliding around on the ice. It goes without saying that you should make very sure of the ice thickness before venturing out on it. The 2016 El Niño has kept the ice at bay thus far this year.
Shortly after passing the spur trail to Lake Lonidaw, the trail becomes boardwalk. This trail wasn’t always a boardwalk though. Years back, when I first started exploring the park, this was a dirt trail. Some busy beavers created a dam that eventually flooded the trail. Being a nature preserve, things were left to, well, nature. A boardwalk was built so people could still enjoy this area of the park. This was always one of my favorite trails and I was at first disappointed when it was flooded. I have to say though, I now enjoy it even more with the boardwalk and the surrounding marsh. The red bark of the red twig dogwoods along this section give it a nice splash of color, especially when there is a snow-covered backdrop.
There is are benches on the boardwalk that give you a look back towards Lake Lonidaw. At times, you can see fish and frogs in the water. There are often an interesting variety of birds and ducks.
After leaving the boardwalk, the trail crosses over State Road 727 and meanders up and down several small hills through the woods. There are a number of other loops that can be accessed off this trail that I’m sure will be explored throughout the year. Near the half-way point of the loop, the trail climbs to the top of Hell’s Point. At 1,123 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in the park. There is a nice overlook here that is very pretty in the fall. Coming in from the direction we did, a boardwalk leads to the overlook followed by a series of steps leading down from the park high point.
After hiking down from Hell’s Point, the trail begins its loop back towards the lodge. It continues through the woods eventually coming into an area of tall pines. One of the many benches along the trails is located in the pines. Take break on a warm afternoon to sit on the bench and take in the sweet aroma of pine!
The trail eventually wanders back across 727 and back to the lodge. Even with taking your time, stopping for pictures and taking breaks, this trail can easily be done in an hour or so. With it’s varied habitats and opportunities for bird and wildlife watching, it is not a trail that is meant to be hurried. If you want a longer hike, there are plenty of options that loop off of this trail. This is a popular trail for trail runners and dogs on leashes are welcome. It would probably not work well for strollers due to the steps at Hell’s Point. This is one of my favorite Pokagon hikes and my go to when I am limited on time but need that shot in the arm than only time in the woods can provide.