Have you ever paddled a water trail? We had no clue such trails existed, until last year when we learned of the 9 Lake Challenge at Indiana’s Chain O’ Lakes State Park. This unique challenge was created by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to get Hoosiers moving at its state parks and reservoirs. To complete the challenge, you paddle a 5-mile trail connecting nine picturesque lakes at Chain O’Lakes State Park. Here we detail our experience paddling the challenge and offer useful tips for anyone interested in taking the 9 Lake Challenge!
Chain O’ Lakes 9 Lake Challenge
At Road Trip 7 we love a good challenge! Whether it’s hiking a rugged trail with our entire family of seven. Or completing an entire year of hikes, as we did when we participated in the 52 Hike Challenge, we are always up for outdoor adventure.
In recent years, we have participated in the Indiana State Park Challenges; a series of fitness challenges designed to get Hoosiers hiking, biking or paddling at state parks and reservoirs. Of the challenges, our favorite is the paddling challenge at Chain O’ Lakes State Park. As the name implies, this state park has a chain of nine connecting lakes. These and four additional kettle lakes were formed thousands of years ago through the action of glaciers. Since boating in the park is restricted to electric-motors only, these peaceful lakes are best enjoyed by rowboat, kayak, canoe, or paddleboat.
We took the 9 Lake Challenge on a sunny, but mild August day, which was to our advantage because paddling 10 miles is a workout, indeed! From start to finish, the water trail is only 5 miles. However, we chose to rent kayaks and a canoe from the park’s boat rental, which is located in the middle of the trail. This meant that we paddled an additional 5 miles in order to reach the starting point and return from the endpoint. While our arms were certainly sore, we were able to enjoy each of the trail’s stunning lakes twice. If you love paddling and enjoy a challenge, this paddling trail will not disappoint!
A Description of the 9 Lake Challenge
Here is a run-down of what to expect when paddling the Chain O’ Lakes 9 Lake Challenge:
Distance: 5-10 miles, depending on where you start paddling
Time: Plan for the better part of a day
Starting Point: South edge of Sucker Lake
End Point: North edge of Miller Lake
Trail Map: https://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/files/chain_o_lakes_trail.pdf
The challenge begins in the park’s easternmost lake, Sucker Lake. The lake is on the smaller side, with an average depth of 5-10 ft. There is no boat launch on Sucker Lake. Thus, to reach Mile 0, you will need to launch your boat in neighboring Long Lake or paddle it from the boat rental located on Sand Lake. Either option will add some additional paddle mileage, from 0.5 – 2.5 miles.
From Sucker Lake, the trail leads northwest to Long Lake. At 40 acres, with a depth of 32 ft, Long Lake is one of the park’s larger lakes.
A long, meandering channel leads west from Long Lake. A small footbridge crosses the channel, marking the 0.75-mile point along the trail. A quick paddle to the north edge of 22 ft-deep Dock Lake leads to another channel and a second footbridge, marking the 1.0-mile point.
At 65 ft deep, Bowen Lake is the deepest of the park’s lakes. With less vegetation, Bowen Lake’s water is a sparkling sapphire blue. The paddle trail leads along the southern edge of the lake before entering a channel to the west. Again, a small footbridge crosses over the channel, marking the 1.2-mile point along the trail.
After paddling the winding channel from Bowen Lake, you’ll go under another footbridge, the 2.25 mile marker, before reaching Sand Lake.
At 47 acres, Sand Lake is the park’s largest lake and the halfway point along the trail. Located on the southern shore of the lake are the boat rental, nature center, beach, and concessions. They make an excellent place to stop for a snack or restroom break.
On the northwest edge of Sand Lake a channel leads under a footbridge, the 2.75-mile marker, before snaking up to Weber Lake. The lake is only 25 ft deep and rather small. After a brief paddle across, a channel leads from the lake’s western side to Mud Lake.
At only 8 acres, Mud Lake is rather small. While it takes its name from the muddy bottom, a more appropriate name might be “Muck Lake”. As you can see, the lake and the channel leading to neighboring Rivir Lake are covered in lake muck, at least in late summer when we visited. Forewarning, the muck makes paddling incredibly difficult in some areas.
Rivir Lake is larger, at 24 acres and deeper, at 32 ft, which allows for more water flow and hence, less lake muck. Paddling becomes easier, although it still requires plenty of effort to paddle across this very long lake.
On the western edge of Rivir Lake, a small channel leads to the ninth and final lake, Miller Lake. On the smaller side at 11 acres, Miller Lake has its fair share of lake muck as well. Thankfully, it’s only a short distance to the boat launch, which is the 5-mile marker for the challenge. If you brought your own boat, you can finish the challenge at this point. However, if you rented a boat from the park’s boat rental, you will need to turn around to paddle the 2.5 miles back to Sand Lake.
If Renting, Arrive Early. Chain O’Lakes State Park is a popular place, especially on weekends. If you plan on renting a kayak, canoe or rowboat from the park’s boat rental, it’s best to arrive early. For up-to-date operating hours, call the park directly at (260) 636-2654.
Pack Plenty of Water and Food. Paddling is a workout, indeed! To fuel yourself during the challenge, we recommend packing plenty of water, snacks, or even a picnic meal to enjoy along the southern edge of Sand Lake. If you run out, you can always purchase drinks and snacks from the concession stand at the beach.
Know Your Limits. With a paddling distance between 5 and 10 miles, this challenge is fairly strenuous in nature. It is best for older kids and adults who are at a minimum, moderately active. That’s not to say that younger children can’t participate. Our family of seven began the challenge together, in two kayaks and one canoe. After 5 miles, my husband and the four youngest kids opted to spend the remainder of the day hiking and fishing, while my 12-year-old and I finished the challenge. Everyone participated, to a degree, and everyone was happy!
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