Canoeing Sugar Creek

Canoeing Sugar Creek

The mammoth van and canoe-carrying trailer rattled back up to the main road and left us standing with two canoes, paddles included, and enough gear for a half-dozen people, rather than our crew of four. 

Co-owner Ron Lambermont of Sugar Valley Canoe Trips promised he’d find us in a few hours at the takeout. Until then, it was just us, a beautiful early summer day and Sugar Creek. About 90 miles after coming to life in Tipton County, Sugar Creek eventually joins the Wabash River. In between, it knifes through northwestern central Indiana, including Shades and Turkey Run state parks. 

We floated the section that bisects the latter. Some argue that Sugar Creek is the most visually sweet waterway in the state, and with good reason. Its water flows through steep, rolling hills reminiscent of terrain farther south. But few of those proponents would claim that Sugar Creek is devoid of people. 

On a summer weekend with agreeable weather, the stretches around the two state parks fill with canoe traffic in the low triple digits. This is a case of natural beauty inversely affecting its tranquility, but some folks crave spending a day on the water, whether other canoeists and tubers surround them or not. As with many of the state’s natural areas, if you seek solitude, visit Sugar Creek on weekdays. 

For canoeists and kayakers looking for a wilderness experience, Sugar Creek may not be the best choice, considering that the two state parks are so close together and often well populated. But one of the reasons for the parks’ and the creek’s magnetism almost rocks your boat; that’s the terrain, some of the most eye-catching in Indiana. 

Anywhere on the creek around the two state parks, expect a clear, medium-sized stream with a rock and gravel bottom. The shoreline ranges from sandbar to rock bluffs to everything in between. The rock formations frequently lining the journey are a spectacle unto themselves. Sugar Creek flows fast enough to keep a steady pace without too much paddling, but not so swift that boaters can’t enjoy the scenery. 

At normal water levels, the speed is tame enough for novice paddlers. The forest on both sides of Sugar Creek is thick and rolling, though frequently broken by trails and walkways to keep those afoot out of the muck as they hike through the parks.

Consider making the best of these interruptions by taking a side trip on land if you’ve got time. Pull up your boat and stretch your legs. Many of these trails feature wonderful rock formations; when walking, you’ll have ample time to inspect them instead of floating quickly by. Many other canoe liveries can provide boats, drop-off and pick-up along the way in the Shades and Turkey Run area. 

This day’s outfitter, for one, provides plastic canoes that are quieter and cooler in the hot sun than aluminum versions. The nearest town larger than a tiny ‘burg to the two state parks is Crawfordsville, 50 miles west of Indianapolis on Interstate 74. Call Turkey Run at (765) 597-2635 or Shades at (765) 435-2810 for suggestions on livery services and water conditions.

Originally published in Outdoor Indiana magazine.

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