Labor Day weekend means the end of summer and, for a short six weeks, my husband and I can say we’re only a year apart in the age department.
Until I turn 40 next month and become the cougar I’ve always dreamt of being.
Just kidding. My dreams mostly involve books, good food, and very few people. But that’s not the point of this post. Sorry, I got distracted.
2021 was the year we fell in love with Indiana. Not so much the people or the politics or the low teacher pay, but the state parks.
We’ve been camping in Indiana state parks since we were dating. I’m not sure there’s a bad one. We ended up at an Illinois state park in the spring and were shocked at how not-great it was. Last weekend, we traveled to Chain O’Lakes State Park in northern Indiana and—what in the world?—how have we never been there before?
Did you know this gem existed? I had no idea.
It’s about a 3-hour drive from our house so that’s probably why we’re not more familiar with it. It’s near Ft. Wayne, almost to the Michigan border.
Here’s what most people don’t know about Indiana: the southern part is hilly and beautiful, filled with trees and places to climb. Southern Indiana is rolling hills and caves to explore. Northern Indiana is lush lakes and forests and looks more like Michigan than Indiana. The glaciers left some wonderful amazing places to see up north. Thanks, glaciers!
It’s just the middle—where we live, BIG SIGH—that is flat and what you imagine Indiana to be. But if you go north or south, it feels like you’re in a whole other world.
So we went north for Labor Day. The weather was perfect and the lakes were still warm. The days were sunny and slow. The evenings were cool and perfect for fires. We read books and took hikes. We kayaked for hours and explored lakes. We ate breakfast late because there’s no where to go and no rush to get there. We grilled burgers and ate tacos, road bikes and walked the dogs.
We did nothing and everything. It was to celebrate Chris’ birthday and to acknowledge we made it through another summer. We paused to acknowledge we’re still here even though the world feels harsh and full of pain and oftentimes too much.
Fall camping is my favorite. Sleeping with the windows open and putting a sweatshirt on in the morning as you stumble out of the camper with steaming coffee in your hand; there is nothing better than crisp early mornings in the woods. I will fight anyone who says different.
We’ve begun to lose the light in the evenings. It was dark by 8:30 after months of bright light until bedtime. It didn’t stop the girls from running to the playground for one last game of four square or make them park their bikes under the tree and sit still with us though. Summer nights at the campground are magical for independent girls with things to do and people to play with. Fall doesn’t change that.
It had been a minute since we’d hit the road. Summer camp and back to school and new routines made camping low on the priority list for late July and August. But September and October causes a reordering of things. Camping is on top again. We realize the end of the season is near so we scramble to not lose a second of the light we have left.
We always say we’ll camp in November. It’s not that cold yet; we have heat. We just need to make it happen.
But then we return from our fall break trip and we’re tired and ready to burrow into the couch and read books and watch movies by the fire for a season. We are ready for rest. Washing the bed sheets and packing for another trip loses its appeal after October.
But this weekend was so good.
Maybe we’ll camp in November this year.
Where we camped: Chain O’Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana
We were in spot #20 last week, and I think the loop we were on was the best place to camp. This is a huge campground (over 400 sites), and we were in an area that backed up to the woods so it was more secluded. We were also close to a trailhead 3 that took you to Sand Beach. It’s a nice little walk to the beach from the campground. It’s also where the boat/kayak rental office is. There are tons of great trails to explore, an old school house to tour, and plenty of stuff to do in the park. We pulled in on Friday night and entertained ourselves inside the park until we left Monday afternoon. We didn’t attempt the 9 lake challenge, but we made it to 5. That trek from Dock Lake to Long Lake is something else. Added perk: there’s very little cell phone reception in most state parks in Indiana so you don’t have to struggle to disconnect because you really don’t have any other choice.
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