Indian Lake State Park is a public recreation area located on the shores of Indian Lake in Luce County, Michigan. The state park encompasses 1,872 acres (746ha) and has more than 5 miles (8.0km) of shoreline. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Indian Lake-to-Lake St. Clair State Park in 2017. Indian Lake State Park features 188 campsites divided into tent or trailer sites, 6 camper cabins, modern restrooms, showers, water fountains, boat launch, picnicking facilities, playgrounds, ballfield, sledding hill, snow tubing area, cabin store, marina, archery range, disc golf course, pistol firing line, bike path, and canoe rentals. Hunting is permitted in season in an adjacent 140 acre parcel known as Indian Lake Wildlife Management Area.
The park contains three main entrances with varying degrees of difficulty. The main entrance, located on M-211, is easily accessible by car. Toilets, hot showers, and a holding tank dump station are available. No fees are charged for using the park. The park’s secondary entrance, located on M-37, requires climbing over barbed wire fences topped by electric posts. Access by road is possible but narrow, rutted gravel driveway make access by vehicle difficult. The entrance is only open April through mid-October. Visitors needing transport to the main entrance can utilize the park’s limited shuttle service for $5 per person each way. The park’s primary entrance, located on M-211, is considered the most scenic and desirable because of its proximity to Interstate 75. Motorists have easy access to the highway in both directions, allowing travelers to stop for gas, food, or rest breaks.
The park is well marked with signs and information kiosks. Parking lots are full on game days, especially Sundays, but free on other days during the off-season. Entrance fees are waived on Sundays from May through October. Hikers need to bring their own lawn chairs since no seating is provided. The park does provide drinking water, basic hand tools, and a lending library filled with books, periodicals, and newspapers. Visitors requiring medical attention must sign release of liability forms before receiving treatment. The park closes at dusk, so the park and its lakes are for daytime use only. Canoes may be paddled across either lake, but boaters cannot take them beyond the boundaries of the park.
Boats are allowed on either lake, though motorized boats are prohibited. Indian Lake has two boat launches, one being the historic Burr Blockhouse Boat Launch. Built in 1873, the blockhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Located near the middle of North Pond, the launch allows smaller boats like rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats to enter the pond without having to portage around a dam or tunnel. The second boat launch is located south of the Burr Blockhouse.
In 1871, William Pryor opened up land for logging along what would become the southern border of what we now call Indian Lake. At first white pine logs were floated down the river Raisin towards sawmills at Sault Ste. Marie. Later lumbermen cut red pine and hemlock trees from this area which were sent to mills at Prescott, Wisconsin. Eventually all the trees had been logged out of the area excepting those that were too old or diseased to be used. These tree stumps were left behind to dry. The passing steamboat captains noticed the odd lake shaped by the forest fires and named it Indian Lake.
A mill was soon built on its northern bank and lumbermen began to arrive to harvest the red pine and hemlock. By 1886 there were about 200 men harvesting pine in the area. The forests slowly grew back with red pine and hemlock taking over where the white pine had once stood. This transition was not complete until around 1920 when most of the harvested timber had been processed into lumber. Once again the passing steamboats brought new loggers to the area. They arrived in search of red pine and hemlock which they quickly took off the docks and headed inland to the mountains.
Only one small mill remained at Indian Lake. Ownership of the land was transferred from William Pryor’s family to the federal government through the United States Department of War in 1917. With the end of World War I veterans were demobilized and went home. There was little interest in maintaining a large army post in an area so remote and with such difficult terrain. So, too, did many of the young men who had made their living fighting overseas come to think of themselves as “home on leave.” When these factors came together, the last mill closed in 1923.
Soon after, the stock market crashed and the mill lay abandoned until 1929 when local citizens encouraged the DNR to build a recreational facility on the site. An undeveloped campground, picnic areas, and trails were among the amenities planned for the future park. Development started in 1935 under the Public Works Administration. PWA workers were housed at a nearby resort called White Pine Camp. Their presence helped speed development of the park facilities, which were completed within two years. On May 17, 1936, less than four months after its dedication, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) also commenced construction on the park. CCC workers were housed at another nearby resort called Rustic Lodge. Their work included building footbridges, roads, shelters, fire rings, and observation towers. After the CCC departed, maintenance of the park fell to local residents employed by the WPA.
One such resident was George Anderson who worked on the park during summers while attending college. He later became superintendent of the park and wrote the history of the park for the Michigan Historical Record. His account of life at Indian Lake was published in 1940 as part of the series Tales of Two Camps. The publication credited him with several discoveries including the fact that rustic style lodge had been constructed prior to the 1930s. Further research showed that some buildings still standing were constructed by the CCC. Because of his historical studies, Anderson is sometimes referred to as the father of Michigan’s state parks.
In 1941, the CCC turned over its duties to the WPA men and women who continued to staff the park throughout World War II. WPA reports issued between 1944 and 1946 described Indian Lake as containing “a beautiful beach, excellent fishing, good hunting, camping grounds, cabins, bathhouses, comfort stations, bowling alley, gift shop, skating rink, playgrounds, picnic sites, pool, hiking paths, horseback riding stable, toboggan run, ski jump, cross-country course, softball field, soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball court, archery range, golf course, tennis courts, and racquet club.”
The report noted that attendance had fallen below expectations due to poor weather conditions, war rationing, and a general decline in outdoor recreation. The WPA employees were replaced by military personnel upon reoccupation of the area in 1945. In 1947, civilian workers returned to develop a swimming beach, day use area, parking lot, and trail system. Additional improvements were made in 1960, 1969, and 1973.
The park offers:
- mountain biking
- disc golf
- cross-country skiing
Winter activities like:
- ice fishing
- ice skating
- horseback riding
The wildlife refuge provides space for:
- white tail deer
- black bear
- eastern gray squirrel
- wild turkey
- peregrine falcon
- bald eagle
- Canada geese
- American white pelican
- cottontail rabbit