My first trip to Indian Lake happens by accident, as I’m en route to someplace else. I’d heard of a fabled amusement park that once drew rich and famous visitors from across the Midwest to Russell’s Point, and I had also heard sailboating enthusiasts call Indian Lake a boater’s paradise, tucked away in the fields and rolling hills of Logan County, halfway between Lima and Columbus. I’m curious, so I check my time and make a detour.
I find the old iron bridge that spans Russell’s Point Harbor, the last remnant of the park which closed in 1975.And I see what Indian Lake has become since the park was razed: a pleasant,shoreline neighborhood centered around boating, water skiing, swimming and great views.
The lake is man-made but old. It was once a bunch of small lakes and marshes, merged into a single 5,800-acre lake when the area was dammed in the 1850s to create a feeder reservoir for the Miami & Erie Canal. Today it’s lined with attractive homes, getaway cabins and festive bars and restaurants.
My accidental tour took me on a drive along the shore — a warren of inlets, islands, small harbors and points with names like Turkey Foot and Sassafras. I settled onto the grassy lawn at Moundwood Marina and watched the boats scoot in while sailboats cut the waves off in the distance. Before me lay the archipelago of romantically named islands that stretch across the lake — Artist, Wolf, Orchard, Tecumseh, Sunset and Hermit islands, among others. It’s a lovely marine vista —and it’s smack in the middle of Ohio.
Indian Lake lends itself to both family outings or grown-up fun, as you choose. This is a place where you can pull your boat right up to the bar, and there are taverns aplenty.
I happen to be alone this time, but whether it’s just the two of you or you’ve got the kids in tow, the best way to see things outside of a boat is on foot. The paved walkways around Indian Lake make a walking tour easy and enjoyable. The path you want starts at Indian Lake State Park and picks up the Cherokee Trail, a three-miler that takes you through brushy-terrained wildlife areas, wooded wetlands and some of the best lake views you’ll find.
Indian Lake is a cottage and rental-condos sort of place. If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the fresh air for a few nights, there are lots of affordable places, from the Frontier Cottages to Newland’s Resort to the Oak Island retreat. My favorite are the cabins at Indian Lake State Park, which cost just $50 a night and house up to five. Call ahead, though — there are only three. Camping, on the other hand, is easier. You won’t have any trouble finding spots for your tent or trailer.
While you’re at the state park, take the kids to the Nature Center and plan a swim at Old Field Beach. It’s a beautiful quarter-mile of clean sand beach. There are lifeguards, a couple of fishing jetties and a number of snappy-looking red-roofed shelterhouses to enjoy a picnic there, too. If you’re around, this is where the locals go for their July Fourth fireworks, though the display is visible from all around the lakeshore. But the best way to watch is from a boat, and there are plenty of places around town to rent one.
If you want to go sooner rather than later, the park’s sticky-sweet Maple Syrup Festival is the third week in March, featuring pancake-and-sausage breakfasts and family-friendly demonstrations on how trees are tapped and syrup is made.
However, the weekend not to miss is the Sunday before Labor Day. Since the early 1960s, residents around the lake have lit flares and fires to mark summer’s end. This Ring of Fire celebration was started by the manager of the old amusement park, who heard that American Indians once used to mark harvest time by setting up lit torches around lakes.
The park is gone but the tradition lives on, and it’s a marvelous sight on a warm, end-of-summer night.
If you go: Indian Lake State Park, 12774 state Route 235 N.; dnr.state.oh.us/parks; Frontier Cottages, 10991 state Route 366; indianlake.com/frontiercottages.htm; Newland’s Resort, 11262 Road 266; indianlake.com/newlandsresort.htm; Oak Island Retreat,(614) 560-3859; indianlake.com/island.htm.
is the biggest cave in Ohio, a wonderland of colorful stalactites, stalagmites and other complex formations. Tours last an hour and the caves are always a cool, moist 54 degrees. 2210 E. state Route 245, West Liberty, Ohio; ohiocaverns.com
Piatt Castles might surprise you: Scottish-style Gothic stone mansions in central Ohio? Yep. Built in the 1800s and open to the public for tours and family-oriented programs on history, art, nature and geography, they’re a good rainy-day diversion. 10051 Twp. Road 47; 2319 state Route 287, West Liberty, Ohio; piattcastles.org
like its smaller cousin Indian Lake, is another man-made reservoir. But at 13,500 acres, it’s Ohio’s largest inland lake. Nearby Celina and St. Marys provide an abundance of options for food, entertainment and lodging. Be sure to check out the pair of lighthouses there, too. St. Marys, Ohio; grandlake.net