Tucked in the northeast corner of Indiana along the shores of Lake James and Snow Lake, Pokagon State Park offers a winter adventure that I’ve been hearing about since I was a child – a 1,780 foot refrigerated toboggan run. This winter of 2021, I finally I managed a visit with my mom and her husband to see what all the hype was about.
Read on for my official review of the toboggan run my recommendations for planning the best trip to Pokagon!
Getting to Pokagon State Park
Pokagon State Park is just outside Angola, 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 at the Potawatomi Inn, at the top of the toboggan run, and in a few other places throughout the park.
Where to stay: The Potawatomi Inn
The Potawatomi Inn is located inside Pokagon State Park so it’s a perfect spot to stay for easy access to all the outdoor adventure.
If you want to be even more in tune with the great outdoors, there are campgrounds available too. You can make reservations for up to 14 consecutive nights.
Outside of the park, there are several other options for hotels. You’ll find a Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, Travelers Inn, and American Inn – they’re all in a roughly similar price range. You can get a room from between $65-95 a night in most cases.
I’d recommend the Potawatomi Inn over the other options as there is a lot more history, you’re closer to the park attractions, and you’re supporting a State Park rather than a chain hotel. Plus, the park hotel property is situated right on the lake and the toboggan tracks, so you’ll have gorgeous views in your backyard!
The main attractions
The quarter-mile toboggan run is definitely the park’s most popular feature, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit. Sledding, ice-skating, cross country skiing, camping, and ice fishing are all fair game in the winter season (provided the lake is sufficiently frozen).
In warmer weather, you can rent boats to enjoy an afternoon on the lake, go fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, or exploring alongside an interpretative naturalist to provide more info about the ecosystems.
Pokagon State Park gets its name from Leopold and Simon Pokagon, a father/son pair who were notable leaders of the Potawatomi people who first rule these lands. It is from this same Potawatomi peoples that the hotel borrows its name, in recognition of those who came here first. Is originally named Lake James State Park though, before they switched tracks and decided to acknowledge the rich culture of the Native American Potawatomi peoples.
It is one of the state’s first parks and you’ll find evidence of the CCC, the “Civilian Conservation Corps”, who lived on the park lands from 1934-1942. They left behind lovely stone and rock structures that have withstood the elements thanks to their meticulous craftsmanship.
Far further back, some 10,000-15,000 years ago, the lands on which Pokagon now sits were part of a giant glacier which covered part of Indiana and eventually melted. Steuben county, where the park sits, has more lakes than any other in the state because of it.
The best time to visit Pokagon State Park
Year round! There are always lots of options for outdoor enjoyment no matter the season.
However, the Toboggan is only open on weekends from Thanksgiving weekend (the fourth Thursday in November) through February with some extended hours during the holidays. I’d recommend checking the state park website to confirm before visiting, especially during COVID while things are still often-changing.
If you’re looking to enjoy the winter activities, Nov-Feb are your best bets. Snowfall has been inconsistent in recent years but these are the most likely chances to see any winter-wonderland scenes in the park.
Summertime around Memorial Day (May 31 this year) through Labor Day (September 6th) are the best times for visiting in warmer days. July and August tend to be the hottest months and the best time for water sports.
Is the Pokagon toboggan run worth it? Things you need to know
Yes! The Pokagon toboggan run is definitely worth a visit. There were people of all ages, with and without children, all enjoying the thrill of shooting down an icy track at 30+ miles per hour on a slab of wood! There aren’t many toboggan runs in the world of this length and speed, especially in the Midwest so this is a unique attraction.
How much does it cost to try tobogganing?
You’ll need to rent a toboggan from Pokagon which cost $13/hour for one. You can fit up to four people on a single toboggan so it can be quite inexpensive activity.
Due to COVID, only one of the two toboggan tracks were open and the park was operating at very limited capacity in this area. Only 25 toboggans were rented out at one time and they can fill up quite quickly! It’s best to get there as early as possible in the morning to put your name on the list.
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We got there around 12 on Saturday and the toboggan run was sold out for the day. Luckily we were staying at the Potawatami Inn on site so the next morning we got there around 9:30, an hour and a half before it opened, to be the first to sign up.
At least right now, the way it works is you put your name on the reservation list and leave a phone number. When they open and a toboggan is available, they’ll give you a text. You have 10-15 minutes to make it to the toboggan rental hut where you leave your drivers license, fill out a toboggan consent form, and get your gear.
What to bring for tobogganing
Bring your aforementioned drivers license (just one per rental). Otherwise, bring your warm weather gear and leave the rest at home so it doesn’t fly out of your pocket during the toboggan ride!
YOU MUST HAVE GLOVES AND A MASK TO RENT A TOBOGGAN.
Yes, gloves. It’s for your own good – the toboggan tracks aren’t super roomy and gloves provide much-desired protection between the tracks and the wooden fences alongside you so you don’t accidentally scrape yourself on the quick ride down!
Masks are required in the park at this time and will be required for unforeseeable future. You cannot rent a toboggan without both of these and they check that everyone has the required gear before rental, and before letting you ride.
Once you get your toboggan, you take it to line and wait your turn for your ride. There are staff at the top to help you board safely and launch you down the tracks!
You should also bring warm clothes! It was snowy when we visited, and we had snow boots, snow pants, a warm coat, gloves, a scarf, and a hat. We didn’t regret bringing any of it.
Can children toboggan alone?
It’s up to you to carry your toboggan back up the hill to the top for your next ride and when you’re ready to return your rental. Be warned, the toboggans are heavy. Probably 20-30 pounds. Grown adults can carry their own but we had two adults to carry one and it was very helpful. You should not expect children to be able to carry their own.
If you have a car that can fit a toboggan in the trunk or on top, you’re welcome to park at the lower lot near the foot of the toboggan track, and then drive your toboggan back to the top for your next ride.
We didn’t see any explicit age restrictions on tobogganing, and very young children were riding with parents. It’s probably not feasible for kids to do it alone though until they’re strong enough to carry the toboggan themselves – there isn’t any toboggan lift or staff to help.