Western Indiana recreational area offers up variety

Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area is one of those special Indiana properties that has it all.

Situated in a picturesque woodland setting, the recreation area has a campground, reservoir, creek, hiking trails, picnic areas, wildlife watching and more. It’s a place any outdoor enthusiast should enjoy.

Located just east of Rockville on U.S. 36 in west-central Indiana, the recreation area is composed of 4,065 combined acres of land and water. It has all the modern amenities one could want but also lets you easily escape into the backcountry. It is located close to many of the famous covered bridges of Parke County and could serve as your hub during the annual Covered Bridge Festival.

Cecil M. Harden Reservoir is the main attraction for most visitors. It’s a beautiful body of water offering a multitude of angling opportunities. For those who would rather just boat and relax, the 2,060-acre lake is plenty big enough to allow for pleasure boating. Numerous coves allow for anchoring and swimming.

The reservoir has an average depth of 24 feet and a maximum depth of 70 feet. There is good access to the water for both shore and boat anglers. With five public boat ramps on the lake, it is easy to find a location to launch your craft.

The reservoir is home to numerous species of fish, including crappie, bluegill, white bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, catfish, perch, walleye and carp. Crappie is likely the most sought after fish in the lake. In the fall, look for crappies around natural structure and rock banks on the narrow, north end of the lake and in all the coves and bays.

Trees fallen over in the water and submerged brush piles are key locations. Brush or bushes partially in the water may also hold crappie. As far as bait goes, for me, it doesn’t get any better than crappie minnows under slip bobbers. Of course, jigs and spinners also produce fish.

If you’re interested in pursuing larger fish, try catching channel catfish roaming the flats after dark or fishing for walleyes along the dam. Walleye are one of my favorite fish to eat, and since not too many Indiana lakes or reservoirs offer walleye, Cecil M. Harden is one of my go-to reservoirs.

I like slow trolling crankbaits for them at dawn and dusk along breaks and drop-offs.

Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area has excellent camping. There are electric, non-electric and primitive campsites. Since the park is so popular, the campsites fill up rather quickly, and it can be hard to find a site during the peak camping months of summer. You might want to make a reservation. They are available through the Central Reservation System.

There are a number of other amenities on the property, too. There’s a camp store with necessary supplies. A beach with a great swimming area and nice area for lying out. And onsite boat rental is offered.

I’ve spent many wonderful weekends camping with my family at Raccoon Lake. This property always has been one of my father’s favorites; so naturally, it is also one of mine. Once you visit the beautiful reservoir and state recreation area, you’ll know why it could top just about any list of favorite places to spend a relaxing weekend enjoying outdoor activities.

See you down the trail.

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.