Adventure Mom Fran Capo goes in search of a cool, cheap, winter adventure and stumbles upon an old-fashioned Toboggan Run at Pokagon State Park that plunges her down a vertical 90-foot drop. After working up an appetite, she heads into an ancient rescued church to eat among artifacts and at the same time help preserve Buffalo.
Fun Things to Do in Indiana
Although Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, has things to do all year around like swimming, hiking & bridle trials, boat rentals and camping and a gorgeous rustic historic inn with charm and appeal, my childhood friend, Viv and I were looking for a quick, cheap, outdoor winter adventure that wasn’t too far from her house in Ohio.
We found it at a refrigerated Toboggan Run that has a vertical drop of over 90 feet and zooms you at about 35 M.P.H. over a quarter mile in that very same gorgeous park. (Top recorded speed is 42 on that thing, so you could try to attempt the world record if you so wish.)
Quick Background on Pokagon State Park
So here’s the deal.
The park was created in 1925 on the shore of Lake James. In 1934 and over the course of the next 8 years, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) started building the Gate house, the spring shelter, the rustic saddle barn and the Historic CCC shelter.
With all that building going on, the men needed some fun things to do. So they built for their own amusement the Toboggan Run. Yes, they actually cut out and hauled chunks of ice from the lake and made a slide (and I thought shoveling out my driveway during the last snowstorm was bad!)
Anyway it was a lot of work for a 40-second ride. But it caught on. Eventually the track was straighten out to make it go faster, a refrigerated track was put in so it could be done with or without snow and it became open to the public.
Details and Tips on the Toboggan Run
So now this brings us to our personal adventure. Viv and I read the tips on the park’s website: It’s a first come, first serve basis (no reservations or group rates and no all day rentals so everyone gets a chance to ride). Still, the park suggests you get there when the slide opens, which on a Saturday is at 10:30 am. (Sundays at 11-5 p.m.) However even with being the early bird they say expect to wait. (The tobaggon run season runs from late November through late February, with or without snow.)
Why? Well there are only 96 sleds and a heck of a lot more people than that who want to zoom down on the ride. And the kicker is, you are only allowed to use the park’s sleds (So no cheating and bringing your own.) So we (Viv, her husband, Bill, and I) left early and got there at 10 a.m. At that point the line to get into the park was only about a 15-minute wait.
The entrance fee to the park is only $7. We had packed a lunch to eat later. There was a nice toasty indoor concession stand, but since it was a gorgeous 50 degree day, we hung out outside. Some people sat by the fire pit, others played ball but whatever you do…don’t throw a snowball! (BTW the park itself opens at 7 a.m. so if you wanted to get there really early, hike around on the trails etc. you could do that and already be inside the park when the toboggan opens.)
Next we went to the toboggan section of the park, parked the car, headed down hill to the ticket booth, and were greeted by the very nice and informative ticket takers Dave and Teri who told us what we needed to do. Obediently, we filled out some liability forms (you know every adventure has these), gave our drivers license (in case we wanted to abscond with a wooden sled), paid the $13 per toboggan hourly fee and were given a waiting number. The number is for when toboggans become available.
Your name will be announced a few times. If you don’t answer, the next person gets it. So word to the anxious: Make sure you are in listening range of being called. Not wanting to be sent to the back of the line like an absent kid at attendance call, we hung around watching others zoom down the slide.
There is a monitor that records your speed towards the bottom so if you’re the gambling type you can check out who you think would win. Viv & Bill (being scientists) and I (just being curious) were watching to see who went the fastest, the heaviest load of people or lightest.
There were people on those sleds as young as 4 and as old as 70. (As long as you can follow rules you are allowed on with an adult.) We watched but almost everyone clocked in at 35 mph so we were unable to come to any concrete conclusions. After a 30-minute wait, our number was up. We eagerly went inside with our ticket, and exchanged it for a 4-person sled.
Why the 4 person and not the 3 person wooden toboggan?
Being that we are not some Barbie sized people; we wanted to make sure we could fit on it. Nothing more embarrassing than falling off that thing, (although we didn’t see anyone do it) we didn’t want to start a trend, next thing we know we’d be a meme on the Internet.
Unfortunately, the longer the apparatus, the heavier it is. They have a 2-person model weighing in at 30 pounds, a 3-seater at 45 pounds, and the 4-seater at 60 pounds. They do have handles so everyone can help carrying it, unless of course you have some lazy ass friend, then just stick him on the back and nudge him off for not helping (just kidding.)
Anyway, thank goodness we brought Bill, the walk up the hill is not so bad, but up the steps to the tower it does get a tad heavy. (And no there is no elevator, we checked, it’s like the manual water slides at Disney-human powered.)
What’s it Like Zooming Down the Toboggan?
At the top we were given the rules: “No photographs or videos (even Go Pros) no letting go of the toboggan, hands inside at all times, no waving at anyone. The first person holds the second person’s feet, the second person holds the third person’s feet, and the last person holds onto the sled.”
Here’s another useful tip, WEAR GLOVES! Even though it was 50 degrees that day, zooming down and holding the boots of your loved ones, your hands come close to the edge of the slide, so it’s best to have your hands protected so they don’t scrape the sides.
Then they say, “Ready?” and you go cascading down.
As we zoomed down the hill, everything was a blur; the sled glided down, did a few little bumps (wear butt padding if you are not well endowed there) and finally came to a gradual stop. As with anything the first time around you’re concentrating on doing it right and so we forgot to look at our speed. We were excited to do the next run.
So we trucked up the ¼ mile to the tower again. We did notice some people had parked their cars at the bottom of the hill and drove their sled back to the top (good tip). But we were trying to get our 10,000 steps in, so we welcomed the exercise. (OK, who am I kidding? We didn’t think of that idea. We were newbies.)
A Second Try
The second time around, we were pros. We had our gloves, got into position quickly, leaned forward to try to obtain more speed, and saw that we clocked in at 35 mph. OK, no world record but at least we were on par with everyone else. It was definitely a great ride.
With all the walking, our hour was already up, so we decided to leave it at two times the charm. Plus we wanted to explore the rest of the park.
We checked out the Historic Inn. Many were dining there on a delicious smelling lunch, others were playing cards by the fireplace, some were doing puzzles. It was such a relaxing atmosphere. (Reminded me of Mohonk in New Paltz, NY where we got married.)
We headed to the lake, ate our lunch, and then posed for a cheesy shot as some kids in the background unintentionally photo-bombed our picture.
After lunch, we hiked to Devils Tower. We saw some really cool trees and landscape. We left the park after a brief trip to the gift shop.
It truly was a great winter adventure on a gorgeous spring like day.
But WAIT, there’s more!
Father John and His Sacred Buffalo in Ohio
After working up yet another appetite, we could have eaten at the Gorgeous Inn. Instead, we decided to head back across state lines for a dining adventure in Byron, Ohio. Just 35 minutes away, Bill had heard about this relatively new (2013) unique restaurant called, Father John’s (Heavenly Devilish) Brewery Company. It’s famous for fresh, all-grass-fed bison burgers. (The restaurant has its own Buffalo preserve which people can get an “Into the herd” tour and spend the night in a teepee.
Always looking for a place with a great story, this abandoned historic Methodist Church was going to be torn down. But in comes Dr. John Trippy who decided he wanted to preserve the Church. But how? He decided to turn it into a combination restaurant, brewery, performance venue and sanctuary. It turned out to revitalize that section of Northwet, Ohio in the process. The place has much of the original church décor. You can explore the ancient ruins while you eat.
Cool stone walls, iron chains, stain glass windows, separate cubby rooms, high back King Arthur type chairs, complete with a sword in the middle of the table, adorn the place. It’s a dining experience. (The bathroom is really cool, too, but I’m not going to show you…you have to go.) As promised, the food was delicious. Fresh and reasonably priced.
In a Nutshell
So for a full day of unique experiences from jogging your outer body on a Toboggan Run to satisfying your inner body with tasty delights, do these two things in one day. It really makes for a perfect adventure.