Following alongside the bed of what was once a 37-mile stretch of the Nickel Plate Railroad, a line that once encompassed a large swath of Northeastern and Great Lakes states, the Nickel Plate Trail connects Rochester, Indiana to the north with Cassville at its southern end. Along the way, this wide paved trail, perfect for hiking, biking, running, cross country skiing and walking, passes through such small communities—some of which you may never have heard of–like Bunker Hill, Bennetts Switch, Miami, Peru, Denver, Deedsville, Birmingham and Macy. Future sections of the trail will travel from Cassville to Kokomo and Bunker Hill, where it crosses Pipe Creek, to McGrawsville and then to Amboy. In an interesting aside, tiny Bunker Hill, with a population under 900, is the hometown of talk show host Tavis Smiley.
Along the way, the trail crosses several waterways including the Eel River in Denver and the Wabash in Peru which is of course known as Circus City as this is where the circuses used to winter until the 1930s or so when somebody suddenly connected the dots and realized Florida was a lot warmer during that season than Central Indiana. But the Miami County Museum has artifacts from those days and there’s also the International Circus Hall of Fame as well as the Circus City Festival Museum. The home of Cole Porter, who was born and raised in Peru, is now an inn.
In Rochester, known as the center of the Round Barn Capitol of the Midwest, the trail head is near Lake Manitou, a 775-acre manmade lake created by the Potawatomi Native American tribe in 1727. The spring fed lake is popular for fishing, swimming, boating and the surrounding nature preserves and park is abundant with wildlife and draws birding enthusiasts. The name Manitou meant, in the tribe’s language both evil and good spirits, though it is said the Potawatomi believed that a giant fish or spirit lived beneath the water. Even after their lands were taken from them and the Potawatomi were moved to Kansas, the settlers who lived and hunted nearby called the waters Devil’s Lake.
But spirit or not, by the early 1900s, sprawling hotels and resorts lined the lake and tourists flocked from all over the state and even Chicago to swim, boat and fish as well as dance to some of the big name bands who played here.
Those are gone now but Lake Manitou still makes a perfect place to start or stop a journey on the trail.
For more information, nickelplatetrail.org.