I’ve found my new favorite winter activity and you need to go; Pokagon State Park in Angola has refrigerated quarter-mile toboggan chutes.
Growing up outside of Chicago, my mom and I would sometimes brave the Swallow Cliff toboggan runs south of the city. I remember the lines more than anything – they were always painfully long and it was usually painfully cold. The Chicago-area closed all of its toboggan runs a few years back for liability reasons and lack of funding. They were fun, but they didn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness at Pokagon.
Pokagon State Park is located about an hour and ten minutes east of South Bend. When we arrived, I was pretty nervous. I have a major fear of heights and I absolutely hate the butterfly feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach on roller coasters or carnival rides. We paid the gate fee to enter the park and drove over to the chutes. They were impressively long and my anxiety was on the rise. We rented our toboggan – I believe it was $13 for a three to four person toboggan for the hour – and started climbing the stairs to the top of the runs.
The operation is impressive. You get to the top of the runs and the workers place your toboggan on a platform of rollers. A wooden beam placed in the roles prevents your toboggan from sliding down the chute while you climb on. Sitting on the toboggan is a bit of an acrobatics act. The first person sits cross-legged and raises their arms while the second person climbs on the sled and wraps his or her legs around the first person. The third person then climbs on the sled and wraps his or her legs around the second person. The first two people are holding on to their friends’ feet for dear life while the person in the back holds on to canvas straps on the side of the sled. Once everyone is on the sled and the workers tell you to not remove your hands from their current locations for the duration of the ride (you don’t want to loose your fingers), they pull up the wood beam, and push your sled forward. A teeter-totter device engages, causing the rollers to roll your sled forward on the track.
And that’s when I started screaming – in sheer joy, of course.
It’s fast, cold, and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a bit bumpy, but that’s to be expected. There’s a radar gun and screen toward the end of the track to clock your speed. Our record speed was 31 miles per hour.
The track is long, but it’s not super steep, so I was happy to find that I didn’t experience the dropping feeling in the pit of my stomach. There were children of all ages going down the run and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Once you’re done, you grab your toboggan and walk it back up the hill. We went down the chutes four times in an hour, with a few photo stops in between. The line moved quickly.
The toboggan runs at Pokagon are only open for two more weekends. If you like winter activities, they’re definitely worth checking out. I look forward to exploring the park’s many other amenities (horseback riding, pontoon boating, cabins!) as the weather warms up.