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Go Now: 5 Great Indiana Lakes
For those who dream of taking the plunge, a guide to buying your Indiana lake home. (And a primer on renting, for those just testing the waters.)
Editor’s Note, July 25, 2013: As part of our July issue‘s cover package, we’re featuring five fantastic lakes in the Hoosier State. Stay tuned for one last lake to follow on July 31—and see even more Lakes coverage here.
If it’s lake frontage you want, you’re out of luck at Patoka: Private development is forbidden within 300 feet of the average high-water mark. But for the sportsmen and outdoor types this wilderness tends to attract, the lack of a lakefront market is the reservoir’s strongest selling point. Along mile after mile of unspoiled shoreline—with dense forest, serene meadows, and rugged hills—you’re more likely to spot bald eagles, osprey, and river otters than a McMansion.
The key to vacation-home shopping at Patoka is getting close to the water and its access points. Although much of the land surrounding it is national forest, appealing subdivisions have sprung up on private property nearby. South of the lake, Woodland Hills (Birdseye, 812-482-1144) and Patoka Meadows (Birdseye, 888-819-6916) offer newer homes and build-to-suit lots on rolling, partially wooded terrain; nearby Indian Cove (Birdseye, 812-972-3837) accommodates a forested community of custom-built log cabins.
Pontoon boats and cruisers crowd the surfaces of many Indiana lakes, but trailer-drawn angling rigs dominate the water here in spring and fall—appropriate, since Patoka is considered one of the best bass-fishing holes in the state. A boat ramp is never more than a few minutes away. If you pilot a craft that requires a boat slip, consider home-shopping on the south or west ends of the lake for proximity to one of the two marinas—Patoka Lake Marina (County Rd. 1060 S in Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area, 888-819-6916) and Hoosier Hills Marina (East Lick Fork Marina Rd., 888-678-3373). The facilities also rent small fishing vessels and pontoons, and Patoka Lake Marina runs sightseeing tours as well as beer- and wine-tasting excursions.
Rustic-but-modern rental cabins are the bread-and-butter of temporary lodging in the area. At Patoka 4 Seasons Resort (7886 W. State Rd. 164, Eckerty, 888-329-0467, rooms from $131), cabins range from cozy little A-frames to larger cottages with fireplaces and outdoor hot tubs. Just up the road, Patoka’s Overlook Cabin (11530 E. State Rd. 164, Celestine, 812-639-9034, rooms from $100) features a rare lake view.
Many of Patoka’s attractions are concentrated on the south side of the lake, around the Newton-Stewart State Recreation Area (N. Dillard Rd., Birdseye, 812-685-2447), with its pretty beach, rock-strewn hiking trails, and 18-hole disc-golf course. On the way in, Patoka Lake Cafe (8767 W. State Rd. 164, Eckerty, 812-685-2508) entices with a big potbelly stove, sassy waitresses, and The Jimbo—biscuits layered with fried eggs, sausage patties, and gravy. For a nightcap, locals gather at Terry’s Pit Stop (2458 N. Dillard Rd., Birdseye, 812-685-2282), a friendly roadhouse that serves cheap beer and great catfish. After all, even on an unspoiled lake like Patoka, it’s good to have a dinner plan for when they’re just not biting.
Contact: Rich Boling, 502-741-5730
This upscale cabin boasts spectacular lake views and backyard access to a huge wilderness area. And while Patoka can feel fairly secluded, you can stay connected here with satellite TV and wireless Internet. Or soak in the hot tub while the kids play a game of pool, foosball, or air hockey.
Home price range
Lots from $9,900; homes from $59,000
13.8 square miles
Largemouth bass, walleye
It’s a 15-minute drive to French Lick Resort and Casino, and a 30-minute drive to Paoli Peaks ski resort
In the patchwork of lakes in northeastern Indiana’s Kosciusko County, Tippecanoe doesn’t so much stand out as it leisurely reclines back. It’s the state’s deepest glacier-made lake and perhaps one of its most beloved. Many of the people who live on Tippecanoe today came to this lake as children and have fond memories of swimming in the glassy waters, fishing off the side of Grandpa’s boat, and learning to slalom on old lacquered-wood water skis. The atmosphere is slow and family-friendly—the kind of place that hosts an annual all-you-can-eat fish fry, a Mermaid Festival, and Fourth of July fireworks over the water, as well as a boat-in worship service on Sunday. Imagine Mayberry with waterfront property.
Technically, the body of water consists of three attached lakes: Tippecanoe Lake, James Lake, and Oswego Lake (colloquially referred to as Big Tippy, Little Tippy, and Oswego). A winding little channel connects them, and they are conjoined to the Upper and Lower Barbee lakes, provided you have an outboard small enough to slip through a hand-operated lock. Not surprisingly, the lake’s culture has a pronounced nautical theme, and a typical summer weekend sees all manner of watercraft on Tippecanoe—from pontoons to sailboats to fishing boats.
The only boat-up restaurant is a little place called Pie-Eyed Petey’s (70 EMS T17 Ln., Leesburg, 574-453-9741), which hosts live bands on Friday nights. For homemade breaded-tenderloin sandwiches, folks drive inland to the Sleepy Owl Restaurant (11374 Indiana 13, Syracuse, 574-457-4840). An ice-cream cone at Sheila’s Sweet Treats (511 S. Main St., North Webster, 574-834-7550) or soft serve from the snack bar at Patona Bay Marina & Resort on the west shore (574-453-3671) cools off a summer day.
Two types of homes dominate the lakefront: early-20th-century cottages and modern Craftsman-style mansions. A good way to see both is by way of the annual self-guided Lake Tippy Cottage Tour on July 27, which invites boaters to dock at piers around the lake and tour about a half-dozen homes. The event benefits the very active Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation, organized to keep the lake as clean and as pristine as it ever was. —Julia Spalding
Contact: Ronna Hopp, 317-753-7235
With three stories, four bedrooms, two family rooms, and a full kitchen, this Cape Cod–style cottage features plenty of places to hang outdoors, too—be it a breezy screened-in lanai or one of two covered porches overlooking the water. It also lays claim to the largest dock on the lake.
Home price range
$350,000–$4 million for waterfront
1.4 square miles
Bluegill, perch, catfish, muskie
Hiking in the Edmund and Virginia Ball Wetlands Nature Preserve
In leisure as in business, Colonel Eli Lilly knew a good opportunity when he saw one. The pharmaceutical pioneer built his cottage on Lake Wawasee in 1887, and the state’s wealth has been congregating there ever since. Boldfaced names still dominate the beaches of Indiana’s largest natural inland lake: Lilly, Tobias, Hurst. But because the houses are situated so closely together, there are more than 600 of them on the waterfront. And the channels that feed the lake offer more-affordable homes. You don’t necessarily need to be a titan of industry to own one.
Spring-fed Wawasee is cleaner than most Hoosier lakes, despite the hundreds of high-end speedboats that traverse it in July and August. The expansive Wawasee Boat Company (6521 E. Cornelius Rd., Syracuse, 800-950-9292) sells, services, winterizes, and delivers, making it easy for the summer crowd.
Two events float to the top of the social calendar at Wawasee: the Fourth of July and the Cottage Tour on July 27. On Independence Day, barges loaded with fireworks provide the finale for the area’s biggest soiree of the year. And the annual Cottage Tour (wawaseepoa.org), a fundraiser for the partially complete walking trail around the lake, offers a rare welcome into fabulous homes along the water.
As for dining, the Channel Marker (5793 E. Pickwick Dr., Syracuse, 574-457-5900) offers local seafood, and The Frog Tavern (1116 S. Harkless Dr., Syracuse, 574-457-4324) is the place to drink. —Daniel S. Comiskey
Contact: Mark Heller, 260-403-4499
Scouting the area for a home has been tough in recent years—with few area hotels, your best bet for an affordable weekend is the lovely Kimmell House Inn (1397 U.S. 33, Kimmell, 260-635-2193, rooms from $79), 9 miles away. But the Oakwood Resort (702 E. Lake View Rd., Syracuse, 855-929-2733, suites from $250) reopened in May and boasts suites that—like the lake itself—rival anything we’ve seen in the state.
Home price range
$400,000–$3.3 million on the lake; $150,000–$575,000 on the channels
4.7 square miles
Bass, walleye, some northern pike
Ice boating, kite skating
A century ago, Indiana’s Lake Michigan shore was booming—not with summer visitors, but with industry. Midwestern manufacturers made smokestacks a more common sight than sailboats.
You wouldn’t know it today. Preservationists won a series of battles with industry moguls in the 1960s to classify much of the beach as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Bit by bit, the natural beauty returned. Towering sand dunes give this federally protected area its name, but there are many other reasons to choose the adjacent shoreline for your lake home. Eight unspoiled beaches—with no lodging or restaurants—are within the park’s 15,000-acre boundary, resulting in a seemingly unending stretch of sand. For the easily sunburned, 45 miles of partially shaded hiking trails weave through dunes and woods, and the area draws 352 types of birds (including loons, cranes, hawks, and great horned owls). In the nearby beach communities of Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, Porter Beach, and Beverly Shores, you can enjoy not only the park’s amenities, but the oceanic expanse of the country’s third-largest lake. Clear-sky afternoons are best spent waterside, especially on July 13, when dozens of artists hit the beach to create serpents, mermaids, and castles for the annual Sand Sculpture Contest.
Nearby Chicago has had a tremendous influence on the area’s restaurant scene, and it’s not unusual to see customers lined up outside at Panini-Panini (1720 Franklin St., Michigan City, 219-873-1720), where husband-and-wife Chicago expats serve up excellent housemade quiches, salads, and pastries. For fine dining, Spire Farm-to-Fork (299 W. Johnson Rd., LaPorte, 219-575-7272) is just 15 minutes away.
While house-hunting, book a room at the newly remodeled DunesWalk Inn (1491 N. Furnleigh Ln., Chesterton, 219-728-6393, rooms from $125), just 3 miles from the lake. Be advised, though: Properties right on the water don’t come on the market very often. You might need to make a few trips. Try to suffer through it. —Trisha Brand
Home price range
Starting at $800,000 on the lake; $500,000 a few blocks inland
22,400 square miles
Coho salmon, trout, bass, perch, catfish
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding
Contact: Ted Reese, 219-629-1196
Dr. Scholl (of footwear fame) built this four-story Long Beach, Indiana, house in 1927. The beachfront estate now caters to the well-heeled who prefer sunning in style. Amenities range from marble baths and a cook’s kitchen to the formal dining room and study, all beautifully furnished.
Surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest and not far from Bloomington, Lake Monroe caters to three very different kinds of people: IU students looking to party, families with weekend homes, and retirees seeking a bucolic location for their sunset years. In truth, it’s two lakes. The portion east of State Road 446 prohibits motorized boats and serves as a wildlife refuge. The western portion hosts another kind of wildlife—usually the sort with a keg on board. Whether you’re kayaking in the peaceful great blue heron estuary or tying together the party boats, though, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t a lake at all just 50 years ago; the damming of Salt Creek created the reservoir that exists today. At a whopping 10,750 acres, Lake Monroe is the largest inland lake in the state. Today, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources manages the property and owns the shoreline up to an elevation of 560 feet above sea level, the “take line” for building. Areas of steeper topography allow homes and condos very close to the water, and while houses can’t sit directly on the shoreline, several privately owned docks provide lakefront access.
Not surprisingly, boating and fishing are huge draws. Fourwinds Marina (9301 Fairfax Rd., Bloomington, 812-824-2628, rooms from $144) offers boat rentals and last year renovated its resort. Sun-seekers tend to congregate at the public beaches of Paynetown, Fairfax, and Hardin Ridge state recreation areas. And the nearby Eagle Pointe community (2250 E. Pointe Rd., Bloomington, 812-824-4040) includes a championship 18-hole golf course.
The rustic Fairfax Inn (8660 S. Fairfax Rd., Bloomington, 812-824-8552) serves burgers and pub grub on the west end of the lake, where most of the residences lie. But the Scenic View Restaurant (4600 S. State Rd. 446, Bloomington, 812-837-9496), worth the drive to the east end, offers craft beer and a lake vista from a hill that has no business in Indiana—in other words, something that college students, families, and retirees can all enjoy. —Amy Lynch
Home price range
From $60,000 for one-bedroom condos to $3 million homes
16.8 square miles
Bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, bluegill
Birdwatching; deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting
Rate: $1,750/week Jeff Jones, 812-360-5050
Sitting on 19 wooded acres, this 3,600-square-foot contemporary home offers easy access to your own beach. Rent a boat from the adjacent marina or lounge on the two-level deck. Two fireplaces take away the chill on cool nights, while skylights allow for stargazing.
Photos by Tony Valainis; type illustrations by Jeff Rogers
This article appeared in the July 2013 issue.