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Explore These 7 Waterways in Northwest Indiana

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Photo via Flickr by Vanerpaddel

Northwestern Indiana is a paddler’s paradise. There are many popular and hidden gems of streams, creeks, and lakes to explore, whether you want to spend a day fishing on a lake or get out on your kayak. From the shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the upper reaches of several smaller creeks that flow through deep-wooded forests, there’s a waterway for all ages and skill levels. When you want to go paddling in the Valparaiso, Indiana, area, check out these seven waterways.

Kankakee River National Water Trail

With several public access points along its 133-mile length, the Kankakee River National Water Trail runs through northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois. The Kankakee River National Water Trail was established in 2016 and carries the National Water Trail designation. It begins  near South Bend, Indiana, and meets the Des Plaines River in Illinois.

The upper part of the river runs calmly through wetlands and a floodplain forest. As the river gets closer to Illinois, the gradient increases, and paddlers experience turns, bends, and rapids that create an exhilarating workout.

The river trail meanders through scenic wetlands, forests, and the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area. As you paddle along, keep a lookout for beavers, deer, sandhill cranes, and numerous other local and migrating birds. Anglers enjoy fishing the Kankakee River for smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, rock bass, and northern pike.

Salt Creek Water Trail

Just 6 miles from Valparaiso is the serene Salt Creek Water Trail. This 24-mile long tributary of the East Arm Little Calumet River begins south of Valparaiso and empties into Lake Michigan. Paddlers can fish for steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and coho salmon that run up Salt Creek from Lake Michigan. The water trail has three distinct sections to paddle, with the last 9 miles running through beautiful forest preserves. There are many public access points along the length of the river, and a couple of spots need portage over a dam.

The upper section of Salt Creek passes through the Creekside Golf Course, and along the latter part of the creek’s run, water flows through the 480-acre Bemis Wood Preserve. It’s easy to pull your boat on to shore to enjoy a picnic or to rest while paddling through the preserve. The Salt Creek Water Trail is great for bird watching, and you can also spot deer, muskrats, beavers, and riparian wildlife.

Rogers-Lakewood Park

Beginner paddlers can learn kayaking or canoeing skills at Rogers-Lakewood Park in Valparaiso. The calm waters of the two lakes within the 122 acres of the park are a great place for all ages to paddle since the water is calm and easy to navigate. After a day of playing on the water, enjoy a hike on one of the trails, or have a picnic under one of the shady shelters.

Cedar Lake

The 794-acre Cedar Lake, about 25 miles from Valparaiso, is a great place to kayak, though you may want to stay close to shore since this is a popular lake for boating. Cedar Lake happens to be the largest natural lake in northwestern Indiana, and many people have stunning vacation homes along the shore of the lake. You can take your own boat out on the lake from a public access site, or you can rent a boat for the day. 

There are several places to pull a boat onto shore to enjoy picnicking, swimming, or fishing for bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, and crappie.

Deep River Water Trail

Beginning in Lake George and ending in Lake Michigan, the 16-mile Deep River Water Trail is a fun and scenic paddle for all skill levels. The river runs through beautiful forests, grasslands, and marshes where you can spot numerous waterbirds, riparian wildlife, deer, and birds of prey. Considered one of the area’s hidden gems by members of the Paddling Association for its scenic beauty along unspoiled shorelines, paddling the Deep River Water Trail makes for an enjoyable and memorable experience. Find access points at Festival Park, Riverview Park, and Liverpool Park.

Stone Lake

Located in Soldiers Memorial Park is the 140-acre Stone Lake. The clear waters are ideal for watching largemouth bass hunt for food along the shallows or observing beavers and muskrats along the shoreline. On the eastern side of the lake is Stone Lake Beach where you can pull the boat onto shore and take a dip in the refreshing water. Enjoy a snack from the concession stand, take a rinse in one of the showers, or cook some lunch on the available grills.

East Branch Little Calumet Water Trail

From seasoned paddlers to beginners, the East Branch Little Calumet River offers a variety of paddling experiences, from floating on calm waters during the summer to running rapids after a spring rain. The water trail begins just south of the Valparaiso area and empties into Lake Michigan.

Closer to the lake, paddlers encounter larger boats and faster waters, while the upper levels of the river are calm, narrower, and have less boat traffic, making them good areas for kayaking and canoeing. The 6-mile loop from Portage to the National Lakeshore-Lakefront Riverwalk winds and twists through wetlands and floodplain forests. Migrating waterbirds frequent the river as do the mammals that live nearby, such as beavers, muskrats, and deer.

In 1980, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore established a portion of the East Branch Little Calumet as a blue heron rookery, and to this day, you can see over a hundred nesting pairs of these magnificent birds as you paddle along. Anglers will enjoy catching Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and coho salmon that run up the river from Lake Michigan to spawn.

We hope you enjoy exploring these seven lovely waterways to kayak and canoe on in northwestern Indiana. If you have a favorite spot or would like to add a location to this list, feel free to leave a comment or contact us so we can check them out ourselves and recommend them to our water-loving adventurers.