It's night when we arrive at the entrance to Patoka Lake and the drive to the water's edge takes us through dark forests where we occasionally have to break for a deer crossing the road. It's as if we're miles from anywhere, having driven through the flat lands of Northern Indiana and into the hills and valleys of Southern Indiana where all the roads seem to wind and twist through small quaint towns, some dotted with historic courthouses and intriguing little restaurants.
Indeed, we had stopped at one of these in Paoli, Ind., known for its downtown square centered around the historic Greek Revival style courthouse which dates back to 1850, to eat at the Lost River Market and Deli which specializes in natural, organic and locally grown food.
From Paoli, we drove through the small towns of West Baden and French Lick, both with their marvelously restored early 20th century resorts and then followed the curving road that runs along the coastline of Patoka Lake.
The entrance was somewhat harder to find in the dark but we finally pulled into the parking lot of the Patoka Lake Marina. It was a quiet summer night and we could hear the halyards clanking against boat masts and the soft sounds of ropes pulling against the sides of the boats. The calm waters of Patoka Lake seemed to endlessly stretch into the distance and maybe they do - after all the lake is some 8,800 acres, making it the second largest reservoir lake in Indiana.
Evan and Nia, my college-age son and teenage daughter, looked around in dismay as we loaded up one of the carts left on the docks for luggage. They could see that the marine store, at the end of the T-shaped pier was already closed for the night. And the only lights came from the interior of the houseboats and floating cabins that lined the dock and a few over head lights.
"There's nothing here," my daughter whispered in dismay as thought we'd dropped her into an alien environment. "What are we supposed to do?"
What we were supposed to do was to board our houseboat to begin a three-night stay on Patoka Lake. And that was easy enough.
Transferring our belongings from the cart to the houseboat, I was happy to find that it was much more spacious than I had anticipated. There were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a large galley and a living area. There was also cable TV. And for my children who are melded to the computer - wireless Internet access. Relieved that they weren't totally cut off from the world, they plugged a movie into the DVD player and flipped open their laptops.
Leaving them wired, my husband and I poured a glass of wine and climbed up the narrow ladder that lead to the roof top of the houseboat. There, we sat in lawn chairs and looked up at the stars and the wooded edges of the lakeshore. There were occasional sounds of an owl somewhere in the distance and the splash of fish, but mostly there was just the peaceful softness of a summer night.
So far so good. But as most parents who travel with children know, it is sometimes an effort to keep them amused. I worried that they might find all this rusticity less then enchanting in the following days.
The next morning, we cooked breakfast from the supplies I had packed, visited the marine store where a fresh pot of coffee was brewing and bought bait for our fishing lines.
The marina, which had been so quiet the night before, now bustled with activity. Children fished off the sides of the pier while moms and dads drank coffee and chatted in the morning sun. Boats drifted in and out of the docks, filled up with gas and kids got together their flotation devices, eager to begin their day on the lake. There was also, we learned, a tour of the lake on the new 60-foot tour boat.
Grabbing a bag of ice, we loaded the cooler, started the engine, cast off lines and pulled out of the marina. The marina is tucked away in the southern section of Patoka Lake which branches off into many coves and inlets and so we head northeast towards the swimming beach and interpretative center.
There's no development along the edges of the lake, instead there are 26,000 acres of park with walking and biking trails and places to launch boats. The lake is dotted with small islands where osprey and eagles live. he shoreline is home to deer, rabbits and squirrels.
Because the houseboat, despite its size is easy to steer, both Nia and Evan take turns maneuvering it through the waterways. The marina had provided us with a good map so we easily steered our course and when we pull into the shallow bay near the sandy beach of the swimming area, we drop anchor.
Each of the houseboats has a slide so we took turns climbing to the roof of the houseboat and sliding into the warm waters. We floated on rafts and paddled ashore to visit the interpretative center. By mid afternoon we were ready to move on and motored to the only other "settlement" on the water, Hoosier Hills Marina. There, we bought sandwiches, cold drinks and ice cream and hung out on the outdoor patio that is shaded by beach umbrellas.
I knew the trip was a success when my kids asked if we could come back next year.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take Interstate 65 south to Indianapolis, I-465 West to SR 37 south to Orleans.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.patokalakemarina.com or call (888) 819-6916
YOU'LL LIKE: The magnificently restored French Lick and West Baden resorts just up the road from the marina. www.frenchlick.com or (812) 936-9300
KIDS WILL LIKE: Nearby, Big Splash Adventure Indoor Waterpark at Valley of the Springs Resort, a 40,000-square-foot water park is full of unique and exciting features.
AND DON'T MISS: The Indiana Railway Museum in French Lick. Take a train ride through 20 miles of Hoosier Forest and through the 2,200-foot Burton Tunnel, one of the longest railroad tunnels in the state. www.indianarailwaymuseum.org or call (800) 74-TRAIN.