State parks are traditionally associated with camping, cooking over an open fire and hiking, all activities that my 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, and I enjoyed during a trip this summer to Illinois’ Ramsey Lake State Recreation Area.

We also visited nontraditional White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis, where our entire family rode a pedal cart on the limestone paths that line the Central Canal.

White River State Park

As we drove toward Indianapolis last month, we were drawn to White River by brochures that advertised it as “America’s only cultural urban state park.” We subsequently pulled up to the visitors center at the 250-acre park and our attention was grabbed by the rows of pedal carts available at the nearby Wheel Fun Rentals kiosk.

My wife, Beckie, wanted to try something different to celebrate her birthday that day, Aug. 13, so we decided to try a pedal cart tour for the first time. Our cart of choice was a canopy-covered double surrey. This cart offered a basket-style seat in front for our two children and a bench-style seat in back, where the foot pedals were located.

With the first push of the pedals, my wife and I realized that we were in for more of a workout than we had expected. Still, this unplanned exercise was worth the effort. The front seat corralled our rambunctious 2-year-old son, Owen. He enjoyed sitting next to his big sister and taking in the sights, including a giant mastodon sculpture that he excitedly called “kitty.”

Our more than 3-mile round-trip along the canal took us through under passes lined with murals, past kiosks where pedal boats rentals and gondola rides are available, and by local landmarks, such as the restored Buggs Temple.

At the north end of the canal walk, we visited the U.S.S. Indianapolis National Memorial. This ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945, and its crew was adrift for almost five days in shark-infested water until they were rescued.

Many sightseers, joggers, and folks on lunch breaks at canal-side cafes shared the paths with us. We were a bit envious of the tourists who glided by us while standing upright on their rented Segways. We made a mental note to try these motorized, two-wheel vehicles next time.

After returning our cart, we cooled off nearby in the air-conditioned Indiana State Museum and dined at its Farmers Market Cafe. This eatery features food from Indiana, including a tasty turkey sandwich with blackberry preserves made by Dillman Farms of Bloomington, Ind. The cafe’s chicken fingers and yogurt bar were a big hit with our children.

Ramsey Lake State Recreation Area

This 1,980-acre state park, between Vandalia and Pana, provided a good halfway point last month to meet my friend Jeremy Sneddon, along with his sons Matthew and Jacob, for a camping trip. Jeremy arrived first and found a good site in the White Oak Campground overlooking the south end of the lake, as well as the spillway.

The spillway proved to be a popular destination for the boys and Hannah, who enjoyed climbing up and down the well-manicured grassy hill there. We hiked around the spillway and on a nearby tree-covered road before settling down at the campfire for supper. Hot dogs, bratwursts with apple sauce, and smores were on the menu.

Camping at Ramsey Lake provided me with the first chance, outside of our backyard, to try my new Coleman Instant Tent, which folds open with relative ease. The evening was warm enough that Hannah and I were able to snooze on top of our sleeping bags, providing some extra padding for a good night’s sleep.

A campfire breakfast of pancakes and bacon provided a hearty start to the following morning. Afterwards, we took a morning drive on the road that winds its way through the park and we stopped by the lakeside concession stand. The stand and its boat rentals had not yet opened for the day, but this spot provided a nice panoramic view of the east side of the lake.

Then, we explored Ramsey Lake’s main hiking trail and made an impromptu trip down one of the unmarked fire lanes that honeycomb the park. The fire lane we chose took us to a large clearing dotted by hay bales, a surreal but picturesque sight amid the surrounding wall of trees.

Wooded Ramsey Lake and urban White River are two totally different state parks, but both proved to offer great opportunities for spending time outdoors and creating memories.

This column and previous entries in the series can be found online at

Contact Stroud at or 217-238-6861.