Angola is a gateway to winter fun
By CJ Woodring
Throughout summer and into mid-autumn, Steuben County showcases 101 sparkling lakes (give or take a few), a pristine playground for year-round residents and seasonal vacationers.
In winter, Indiana’s northeasternmost county becomes a wonderland. Visitors from throughout the region arrive to sled, ice fish, cross-country ski and ride the refrigerated, twin-track toboggan run, an iconic fixture at Pokagon State Park since 1935.
Getting to Angola, less than 200 miles northeast of Indianapolis, is an easy drive up Interstate 69. Historic U.S. 20 — traveling more than 3,300 miles from Massachusetts to Oregon, and the country’s longest highway — runs through the city’s Public Square, intersecting with U.S. 27 to create a crossroads at the downtown landmark.
The action-packed friendly city (population 8,600) is filled with fun places to eat and shop, historic sites to visit and unique family destinations to discover. Regional natural preserves also draw guests who enjoy year-round outdoor activities.
Angola is home to Trine (formerly Tri-State) University, an undergraduate school of engineering founded in 1884. Opened last year, Trine’s new ice arena offers public skating.
The city boasts a Carnegie library and the renovated Brokaw Movie House, a 1931 Art Deco theater that presents shows 365 days of the year. The Angola Commercial Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, showcases notable architecture that includes the county courthouse and jail.
According to Maria Davis, downtown services coordinator, “The city of Angola continues to actively work on making sure the downtown looks nice through facade grants, and we also partner with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, which announced a Historic Renovation Grant Program last December.”
A visit to Angola, Davis says, is definitely worth the trip. “We’re growing, we’re vibrant, and new things are happening all the time,” she says. “Even if you’re just driving through, check out our Public Square. It’s right at the crossroads and at the heart of our downtown.”
The city’s downtown, in particular, is a unique environment to stop and shop for specialty items or take in dinner and a movie. “There are easily 60 businesses there, not necessarily all retail, and new business is cropping up on the east side of our historic Public Square,” Davis says.
Some retail owners change hours during winter and a few close for the season. But most are open all year.
Finding Mother Nature
Pokagon State Park is five miles north of Angola, just off I-69 near Fremont. One of Indiana’s original 32 state park properties, the 1,260-acre park snuggles up to Lake James and Snow Lake.
The park’s most popular wintertime attraction is Indiana’s only refrigerated toboggan run, which sends about 90,000 riders speeding downhill each season. The quarter-mile course offers a total vertical drop of 90 feet; the 30-second thrill ride can send riders blasting along at 42 mph. The toboggan run opens, with or without snow, in late November. Pokagon is also open for sledding and tubing, ice fishing and skating on Lake James, and cross-country skiing.
Nicki Ball, an interpretive naturalist at the park, says it’s a central location for tri-state and Midwest visitors. “We have great crowds during winter and get a lot of older and retired folks, especially on weekdays. Last winter we had more than 6 inches of snow, so were able to offer cross-country skiing for the first time in several years,” she says.
Woodland Window, a nature center, is a must-see while at Pokagon. Highlights include weekend interpretive programs and on-site viewings of local avian denizens. The center is open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday throughout winter.
Visitors often opt to wander throughout the county, where ACRES Land Trust offers 12.5 miles of trails, open dawn to dusk daily, on eight trail systems. Both Wing Haven and Beechwood reserves are adjacent to Pokagon. Hiking trails, forests, meadows, birds and wildlife present a stunning panorama all year.
Stop to shop
Northeast Indiana is renowned for small cities, large antique shops and humongous flea markets that have gained national fame. Angola ranks high among the northeastern shopping destinations, offering locally owned and operated specialty shops and a plethora of antique malls.
The Public Square is home to many locally owned and operated retail destinations, including Bent Fork Art Studio, Calicos & Collectibles and Not Too Shabby. New quilt and bicycle shops recently joined the mix.
For antiques aficionados, Then and Now Antique Mall showcases three floors of antiques and collectibles purveyed by more than 50 dealers. Wild Hare Antique Mall is housed in a mid-century Chevrolet dealership, and Remember When Vintage Mall is home to more than 25 vendors.
Eight miles northeast, The Outlet Shoppes at Fremont is home to more than two dozen manufacturers’ stores offering brands that range from American Eagle Outfitters to VanHeusen.
Many offer senior and military discounts.
Visiting with 20 or more friends? Contact the Outlet Shoppes 24 hours in advance for special deals and discounts.
Meet, greet and eat
Angola eateries range from Potawatomi Inn’s historic Dining Room at Pokagon State Park to Caruso’s, a local icon serving family recipes. Lakeside settings include The Captain’s Cabin and Mad Anthony’s Lakeview Alehouse & Reception Hall.
For fine downtown dining next to a cozy fireplace, visit The Hatchery. Also consider Sutton’s Deli, Mulligan’s Restaurant & Pub, established in 1998 on Lake James Golf Course, and 6 Autumns Food & Spirits.
Visit Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee Co., or toss down a hand-crafted beer at Chapman’s Brewing, which frequently hosts Saturday night musical performances in winter.
In Fremont, you can warm up with homemade soup at Timbuktoo’s, which has draft beer on tap. And be sure to visit nearby wineries. Opened in 2001, award-winning Satek was the region’s first winery. Also in Fremont, Briali Vineyards was founded in 2012. The winery will be closed Jan. 1 through April 15.
Eleven miles south of Angola in Ashley, third-generation Hartland Winery sells small-batch, handcrafted wines. Popular beyond the northeastern corner of the state, Hartland was named the 2018 Indy International Wine Competition Winery of the Year.
Play and stay
Although several chain hotels are located within 20 miles of Angola, a majority of visitors stay at the 138-room Potawatomi Inn in Pokagon State Park. The inn showcases two restaurants, including the historic Dining Room, a library, gift shop and indoor pool.
General manager Emily Burris says the inn, originally opened in 1927, is a destination hotel to which families return year after year. “We host family reunions, weddings, work and Christmas parties, business conferences. We pretty much do it all,” she says. “Several families bring their gifts and stay here every Christmas.”
Annual events include a Santa Claus brunch, Christmas holiday buffet and New Year’s Eve party with snacks and entertainment, included with stay; the inn books two years in advance.
For rustic lodging, rent a cabin in the 186-acre Trine State Recreation Area in Fremont. Abutting Gentian Lake, Marsh Lake Wetlands Conservation Area and Wing Haven Nature Preserve, the setting offers hiking and bike trails, along with ice skating and cross-country skiing in winter. Family cabins sleep up to seven.
Also in Fremont, a bed-and-breakfast and a gift shop, both open year-round, are popular at the 400-acre Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve, where you can meet and greet buffalo in their habitat, then enjoy a cozy winter’s night rest on the range.