Courtesy Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources
Eager participants sit down on a small toboggan and then take off in a flash. For a quarter-mile, they zoom down the toboggan track at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour with nothing between them and the icy ground except a sled. This is not your average sledding expedition.
Pokagon State Park’s popular Toboggan Run is one of many standout outdoor adventures in the Illinois and Indiana area. Most outdoor experiences you can name can be found in those two states, including hiking, cycling, caving, rock climbing, kayaking and toboggan running. The wide range of landscapes keep things interesting for active explorers discovering Illinois and Indiana’s natural beauty up close.
Toboggan Run at Pokagon State Park
One of three refrigerated toboggan slides in the Midwest, Toboggan Run at Pokagon State Park provides thrills for about 90,000 riders a year. Built for recreational fun by the Civilian Conservation Corps Company in 1935, the ride soon became a winter tradition for the park. After many updates, including a 30-foot tower that creates a higher elevation for participants, the ride now goes through dips and valleys for a total vertical drop of 90 feet.
The twin-track ride lasts from 20 to 35 seconds, depending on the toboggan’s speed. For the rest of a group’s winter stay, the park also offers cross-country skiing, sledding and ice fishing.
Toboggan Run is open only from the Friday after Thanksgiving through February; during the warmer months, the 1,260-acre Pokagon State Park has numerous other activities. Guests can rent paddleboats, rowboats or pontoons on expansive Lake James and Snow Lake. Guided hikes, horseback riding, camping and a nature center also keep parkgoers busy while teaching them about the local flora and fauna.
Canoeing at Starved Rock State Park
Guests can paddle through slices in the earth created by giant glaciers at Starved Rock State Park. From the water, people can marvel at towering sandstone cliffs, forests, waterfalls and wildlife.
“The park is in a very unique place because it is surrounded by flat prairies,” said Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, director of marketing for Starved Rock State Park. “You don’t expect to see these canyons and waterfalls. The rocks here tell American history. You can see the layers of glaciers and other elements working in the sandstone rocks.”
Visitors can choose to canoe the calm waters of the Illinois River, kayak the smaller Fox River or white-water raft the Class III rapids on the Vermilion River with Vermilion River Rafting. Groups of various experience levels can choose any of these options, including the Vermilion River, which is ideal for rafting beginners. Some activities, though, are not offered year-round due to river levels.
All three rivers show off the area’s incredible sandstone rock formations. Alert paddlers might also glimpse some of the park’s plentiful wildlife, such as fox, beaver, wild turkey and deer. The park lies in northern Illinois on the Mississippi Flyway, so visitors looking skyward could glimpse some of the 224 bird species migrating through the park.