Does spending an afternoon on the lake swimming, kayaking, or fishing sound like a wonderful day? If you answered yes, then I’ve got an Indiana State Park you’ll love.
Chain O’Lakes gets its name for the 13 natural lakes within the park property, 9 of which are connected by small tributaries. You can kayak or canoe from one to another, enjoying a leisurely day on the water.
Read on for my official review of the Chain O’Lakes and my recommendations for planning the best trip to this gorgeous state park!
Getting to Chain O’Lakes State Park
Chain O’Lakes is about thirty minutes north of Fort Wayne, Indiana and right off I-69 making it a very straightforward drive from Indianapolis. It’s also right next to the Trine State Recreation area so there are tons of outdoor options available in the region.
There is free parking available onsite throughout the park, though you do have to pay an entrance fee of $7 to get in to the park. If you’re walking or riding your bike into the park, the fee is only $2.
Where to stay at Chain O’Lakes
Within the park, there is a campground that will give you easy access to the entire park. There are also family cabins you can reserve if you want to stay on site, available mid-April though October. Each cabin is 850 square feet with a main bedroom and second bedroom, which offers bunk beds; you’ll find a living room, kitchen, shower, and screened-in porch. The cabins are equipped with basic cooking supplies, but you’ll need to bring your own table settings and linens for the beds.
Check out their brochure for information on reserving campgrounds and cabins.
That said, Chain O’Lakes is not exactly overflowing with accommodation options in the nearby vicinity. If you’re looking to stay in a hotel with your classic amenities, I’d recommend looking for something in Fort Wayne and driving in to the park the next day.
Pokagon State Park is not a far drive either which offers the Potawatomi Inn.
When I visited with my mom, we were coming from Salamonie and Mississenawa Lake, southeast of Chain O’Lakes. We stayed in Wabash at the Hampton Inn Wabash so we would be near enough to some enjoyable dining options. It was affordable, clean, and included a decent breakfast spread which allowed us to get on the road a bit earlier. We did not book a room in advance, which I’d recommend if it seems like there is plenty of availability. We saved about $15 that way at the Hampton, spending about $125 for a room with two queen beds instead of the $140 we were seeing online.
You can also find some AirBnB’s in the area, but we were searching for a place to stay within a week or two of our visit, and I was honesty unimpressed by all of the listings. I am not a huge fan of the vintage, rustic vibe and most of the airbnbs I was finding offered very little in the way of aesthetic appeal.
The main attractions
Chain O’Lakes gets its name for the literal chain of 9 lakes within the park, connected by small streams. You can do the 9 Lakes Challenge and canoe or kayak through all nine if you’re feeling particularly ambitious. We made it from the boat rental through five lakes and back, which we estimated to be around 8 miles.
We were pretty wiped by the time we got back.
There’s a beach right next to the dock if you just want to swim or sunbathe, plus several places to launch your own boat if you have one.
We saw quite a few people fishing throughout the park too. I can’t speak to how many fish were actually caught, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
In addition to the natural lakes, there’s a historic schoolhouse that houses the nature center (open the Saturday before Memorial Day-Labor Day until 5pm each day), and 23 miles of hiking trails. Trail 8, their self-guided interpretive trail, takes you around the glacial kettle lakes.
Chain O’Lakes State Park sits about 19 miles north of Fort Wayne, in Noble County. Inside its borders are 13 kettle lakes, formed by receding sheets of ice, in this case from glaciers dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch. It is these melted glaciers that are also responsible for the topography of hills and bogs throughout the park.
In more recent history, the current park grounds were likely traversed by Miami or Potawatomi tribes, both peoples who occupies the land which is now Noble County. A mound was found near Bowen Lake (formerly Indian Lake) which is believed to have been constructed by one such tribe. Another 30 wigwams were found inside the park, along with other temporary villages throughout Noble County.
A treaty in 1828, title the Treaty of Carey, transferred the land which includes Chain O’Lakes from the Potawatomi to European settlers. William Bowen was one of the first to settle here, after whom Bowen Lake was renamed.
You can read more about the history of Chain O’Lakes State Park here.
The best time to visit Chain O’Lakes State Park
While the park is open year round, summer time is definitely the best time to visit. July and August tend to be the hottest months and the most enjoyable season for water sports if you intend to get in the water. The nature center and family cabins are only open during the warmer months.
Fishing is a popular activity, but if you do want to visit in the winter you can give ice-fishing or cross-country skiing a try!
How much does it cost to rent kayaks/canoes/boats?
Kayaks: $5 per hour / $20 per day
Canoe rentals: $2 per hour / $20 daily (Fridays, weekends and holidays only)
Paddleboats: $5 per hour / No daily rental (Fridays, weekends and holidays only)
Rowboat rental: $5 per hour / $20 daily
Note that on the weekends and holidays, you can only rent by the hour since there is such a high demand for rentals.
What to pack for a day on the lakes
- DRIVERS LICENSE & CREDIT CARD/CASH – I would say these are the only things you really NEED to have in the park if you want to rent a kayak/canoe/boat. When you rent the boat, they’ll hold on to your ID until you return it. Of course, you’ll have to pay for your rental too.
- Sunscreen – I put sunscreen on my shoulders and chest, but decided to wing it on my legs for some dumb reason. My mom also decided it was too hot for sunscreen because she HATES the oily feeling she gets. We both got some gnarly sun burns.
- Protective sun gear – I was happy to have a hat and sunglasses on our kayak trip and wore them both nearly 100% of the time.
- Bug spray – It wasn’t terrible when we were there, but the woods are thick and the water attracts some bugs so it’s a good idea to have bug spray on hand. Bug spray will be essential if you’re camping overnight.
- Water shoes or flip flops – if you’re kayaking, canoeing, or renting any kind of boat on the water, your shoes WILL get wet. My mom preferred water shoes because flip flops can get slippery, but I only packed tennis shoes and borrowed her flip flops instead, and found them to be just fine.
- Water – You can buy sodas and waters at the vending machines in the park near the boat rentals and beach, but a reusable water bottle will save plastic and money.
- Snacks – Whether you’re kayaking, swimming, or just laying out in the sun on the beach, you’ll work up an appetite. Bring some snacks so you don’t wind up starving once you’ve kayaked all the way out to your fifth lake.
- Backpack – It’s nice to have a small backpack to store your gear. You’ll have space in any boat or the back for it.
- Fishing gear – If you’re fishing, bring your own supplies. You won’t find them here.
I won’t get into camping gear because that’s an entire other set of equipment. If you’re just visiting for a day trip, this list should be fairly comprehensive.
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Final Park Notes & Nearby Attractions
We got there around 11 on a Sunday in late July and we seemed to have caught them on an unusually quiet day. There were plenty of single kayaks available for rent when we got there and no line at the boat rental shack. The person working the boat rental shack said typically there would be a line for rentals on a usual day though. We’d heard from other Indiana locals that on holiday weekends, the park could see close to 100,000 visitors.
By the time we finished kayaking around 3pm, it seemed like the only equipment left to rent were canoes.
If you have your heart set on a specific activity – kayaking, paddle boating, whatever – it’s best to get to the park as early as you can. That said, during the summer hours the sun doesn’t set until around 9pm and people can only kayak for so long. You might have a bit of a wait, but you can probably get the gear you want if you’re willing to wait a bit.
Access the park brochure/map here.
Access the Trail 8 Self-Guided Interpretive Walk brochure here.
Pokagon State Park and Oubache State Park are within an hour or so of Chain O’Lakes.
There is also an animal sanctuary – Black Pine Animal Sanctuary – that is nearby, housing rescued or retired animals including big cats, bears, camels, and more.