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Patoka Lake lies nestled within the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana. Authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the lake by impounding the Patoka River with construction of the Patoka Lake Dam from 1972 to 1979. Built primarily for flood control, Patoka Lake also provides drinking water to 65,000 people in nine counties, fish and wildlife enhancement, and recreation. With 8,800 surface acres, Patoka Lake is the second largest reservoir and the third largest body of water in Indiana.
The Patoka Lake area is a four-season recreation destination. Warm weather pursuits include fishing, boating, swimming, water skiing, wake boarding, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, and wildlife viewing. Water enthusiasts can choose from small fishing boats to large houseboat rentals. The fun doesn't stop when temperatures turn colder. The lake area is alive with cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, and ice fishing during the winter. Colorful dogwood blossoms bring spring to life, and the dazzling fall foliage makes autumn a season to remember at Patoka Lake.
Patoka Lake is a fisherman's haven with many coves worth exploring. The lake is loaded with largemouth bass, striped bass, walleye, crappie, redear sunfish, and bluegill. Patoka Lake is well known as Indiana's best bass and crappie fishing lake. It hosted the 2008 Crappie USA National Classic. The lake is also heavily stocked with channel catfish and flathead catfish. The "channel cats" average 5 to 10 pounds, but often grow to reach 15 to 20 pounds. Bank fishing is popular along roads bordering the lake. Adventurous anglers can try fly fishing for hybrid striped bass.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates seven State Recreation Areas (SRA) around Patoka Lake: Newton-Stewart SRA, Jackson SRA, Lick Fork SRA, Little Patoka SRA, Painter Creek SRA, Walls Lake SRA, and South Lick Fork SRA. Newton-Stewart is the most developed SRA with a visitor center, marina, campgrounds, and a 1200 foot-long swimming beach with diving tower, bathhouse and solar-heated showers. The recreation areas provide 10 boat launch ramps for lake access. DNR hiking trails range from leisurely 1/2-mile interpreter-conducted walks to a rugged 6-1/2 mile trek through pines, ferns, and rock overhangs. DNR campsites include 450 electric sites, a Fisherman Campground with primitive camping, and Youth Tent camping. Additional DRN offerings include picnic areas and shelters, 17 miles of paved bike trails, an archery range, a disc golf course, and year-round programs at the Patoka Interpretive Center.
Indiana DNR also provides ample opportunity for hunting of deer, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, quail, dove, and migratory game birds. There are separate deer hunting seasons for archery, gun, and muzzle loader. All hunters must register with DNR. In years past this area was full of buffalo that created well-worn paths during their annual migrations. Early settlers used these paths as primitive roads.
When visiting Patoka Lake, make sure to save some time to explore the surrounding 200,000-acre Hoosier National Forest. The forest offers more than 260 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. About 170 miles of trails are available for mountain biking. The lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, and wetlands of Hoosier National Forest provide ecosystems for 50 species of mammals, 142 bird species, 36 reptilian species, 28 amphibian species, and 125 fish species. The U.S. Forest Service identifies wildlife and wildflower viewing areas with "Watchable Wildlife" signs, so bring your binoculars and cameras to maximize your viewing adventures.
Patoka Lake spans across three counties: Orange, Crawford, and Dubois. Orange County is well known for its striking architecture (including the West Baden Springs Dome), mineral springs, and recreation. A train ride through a tunnel in the Hoosier National Forest is a fun adventure for the whole family. Winter visitors enjoy 15 machine-groomed slopes for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Adults can try their luck at a new casino.
The southeast part of Patoka Lake is in Crawford County, widely known for its scenic byways. Enjoy caving year-round at Marengo and Wyandotte Caves, where the temperature remains 52 degrees. Rent a canoe and float down the Blue River, one of Indiana's best known rivers. Hemlock Cliffs and O'Bannon Woods State Park provide additional venues for hiking and biking.
No wonder Patoka Lake is referred to as the "Jewel of Southern Indiana," with the scenic beauty of forested hills, rocky ravines, and limestone bluffs. Outdoor adventures await the entire family.
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