Paddling the Pigeon River
The Pigeon River flows through the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area, providing many opportunities for viewing wildlife and taking in beautiful scenery. Get on the river in early October to catch the fall colors. Spring and summer see moderate use, so don’t excpect to be completely alone. The best times to float the river are during the week when the crowds are smaller.
Pigeon Creek starts at Pigeon Lake in Stueben County, Indiana becomes the Pigeon River when it joins Turkey Creek in Mongo, IN. It flows into Michigan for a short while and eventually empties into the Elkhart River. The Little Elkhart River is also a tributary of the Pigeon. Pigeon Creek and the Pigeon River have over 40 miles of floatable length. Since it is not a very fast moving river it is suitable for beginners, while twists and turns keep it from becoming boring. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources clears much of the river of downed trees, however storms may down new trees overnight. Check at the livery or at the Pigeon River FWA check station for current conditions before heading out.
Points of interest: Mongo, Nasby, and Ontario Dams. Former hydroelectric dams, these are now notable portages. Mongo Dam is regulated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to keep the Mongo Millpond at a specific depth. The other dams no longer regulate any millponds. You must portage your canoe at these sites. At Mongo Dam paddle under the road near the dam and over to the parking lot. This will make the portage short and you will not have to cross a highway. DO NOT attempt to run the “V” at Nasby Dam. Many canoes have been ruined by doing this. The actual quote from someone who has seen this is “It will crush a boat like a pancake”. It is NOT safe to run ANY dam. There is no swimming at any of the dam sites due to safety concerns.
The Pigeon River is a release site for River Otters. I’ve seen otter slides at Mongo Dam.
I have also seen a Bald Eagle over Mongo Mill Pond in winter time.
If you are going to drink alcoholic beverages, be aware that Conservation Officers patrol the river since it flows through a Fish and Wildlife Area. They will write tickets if you don’t have a life jacket (Indiana Law requires boaters to have life vests–a seat cushion alone will not do).
- 327 to Mongo. 16 miles. 5.5 hours.
- Refuge Bridge to Mongo. 13 miles. 4.5 hours.
- Spero Bridge to Mongo. 10 miles. 3.5 hours.
- Silver Bridge to Mongo. 4 miles. 1.5 hours.
- Mongo to Nasby Dam. 4 miles. 1.5 hours.
- Mongo to Curtis Creek. 7 miles. 2.5 hours.
- Mongo to Ontario Dam 10 miles. 3.5 hours.
- Ontario Dam to Scott Mill County Park unkown milage/time
Of course, these can be combined or broken up to suit your tastes.
Portions of the Pigeon River are closed during waterfowl seasons. Ask at the Pigeon River FWA headquarters or the livery for restrictions.
Nearest town: Mongo, Indiana. The Pigeon River is located in Northeast Indiana and lends its name to the Pigeon River State Fish and Wildlife Area.
How to get there
From Lansing, MI From I-69 South take exit 148 (Angola/LaGrange) and turn east toward LaGrange. Follow US 20 for approximately 12 miles to the junction with SR 3. Take State Road 3 north to the town of Mongo, IN (3 miles).
From Ft. Wayne, IN From I-69 North take exit 148 (Angola/LaGrange) and turn east toward LaGrange. Follow US 20 for approximately 12 miles to the junction with SR 3. Take State Road 3 north to the town of Mongo, IN (3 miles).
From South Bend/Goshen/Elkhart, IN Follow US 20 east through the town of Lagrange, IN for about 15 miles. At the junction with SR 3 turn north to the town of Mongo, IN (3 miles).
From Angola, IN Follow US 20 east through the city of Angola. Follow US 20 for approximately 12 miles after the junction with I-69. At the junction with SR 3 turn north to the town of Mongo, IN (3 miles).
From Kalamazoo/Grand Rapids, MI Follow US 131 South to the village of White Pigeon. Follow US 12 east to Sturgis. At M-66 turn south toward LaGrange, IN (at the state line this will become SR9). At the town of Howe turn east and follow SR 120 for about 12 miles. At the junction with SR3 turn South to the town of Mongo, IN (3 miles).
- Pigeon River Canoe & Camp. 3490 S. 325 W. Pleasant Lake IN 260-475-5512. Easy access from I-69 between Angola and Ft. Wayne, IN. Offers trips ranging from 2 hours to all day. Has primitive camping. Also services the Fawn River in Indiana.
- Trading Post Canoe, located just west of SR3 in Mongo on CR 300N. They offer canoe and kayak rentals and a variety of day trips. For more information and rental rates visit their website or call 260-367-2493. They have an area for private boat launching/landing, but you will be charged a fee for its use.
- Trading Post Canoe. CR 300N West of Mongo. 260-367-2493
- Pigeon River Canoe & Camp 3490 S. 325 W. Pleasant Lake IN 260-475-5512
- Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area. 44 primitive sites. Sites are available on a first come-first served basis. CR 300N East of Mongo. 260-367-2164. There is a shooting range near the campground and this may be disturbing for some campers.
- Pokagon State Park near Angola. Modern sites (some electrical hookups). Open year-round. Reservations are required and at least one person must be 21. 1-800-6CAMPIN
- Gordon’s Camping RV hookups and showers. SR3, South of US 20. 260-351-3383
- Circle B Camping US 20 between Angola and Mongo. RV hookups, showers, camper store, open year-round. (260) 665-5353
- Twin Mills Campground SR 120 just west of SR9. RV, cabins, and modern. ph. (260) 562-3212
Note: there is no backcountry camping available along the Pigeon River however between the liveries, public, and private campgrounds, there is a possibility to make this a multi-day canoe camping trip.
- Super 8, SR9. ph. 260-562-2828
- Holiday Inn Express, SR9. ph. 260-562-3660
- M&N Bed and Breakfast, SR9. ph. 260-463-2699
- The Brick House Inn, SR 9. ph. 260-463-2961 or 260-463-2699
- 1886 Inn, just off SR9. ph. 260-463-4227
- Atwater Century Farm, US20. ph. 260-463-2743
Since the Pigeon River flows through the 11,000 acre Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area, hunting and fishing opportunities are abundant.
Primary species of fish include catfish, crappie, bluegill, northern pike, smallmouth bass, redear, largemouth bass, rough fish, trout, and yellow perch.station. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources stocks the river with fish each spring. There is a 14-inch minium on largemouth bass 12-inch minium size for smallmouth bass on Pigeon River. Shore fishing is available on Beaver Dam Lake, Stayner Lake, Little Stayner Lake, Massassauga Marsh, East Pool, Rainbow Pit, Catfish Pond, and Troxel, Mongo, Nasby, and Ontario millponds
Hunting for furbearers, deer, quail, rabbit, squirrel, waterfowl, dove, pheasant, and wild turkey is common. Special hunts include youth waterfowl, daily waterfowl drawings, drawings for turkey hunts, and put-and-take pheasant hunts. Copies of full hunting and fishing regulations as well as licenses are available at the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area check station in Mongo.
Most fishing areas and portions of the Pigeon River are closed during waterfowl seasons. Ask at headquarters for restrictions.
The Mongo Tavern (aka Sarge’s) in Mongo offers typical pub faire along with some house favorites and offers cold carry out. You must be 21 to enter due to alcohol being served on the premisis. Accross the street is The Mongo Country Store with a rotating selection of hot and cold sandwiches and drinks, and snacks, plus warm carry out beer. Next to the Country Store you can get ice cream, and the Family Affair Restaurant (next to the post office) serves many small town favorites (“Nothing special, but everything’s really good!”). It opens for canoe season and closes at the end of deer firearms season.
The Town Square Restaurant in Howe (SR3 north to SR120, east to Howe) is famous for cinnamon rolls and pies, but don’t hesitate to try anything on their menu. Also in Howe on SR 9 near the state line is the Golden Buddha restaurant, which features Chinese cuisine.
SR120 East from SR3 will take you to the town of Orland, home of the Great American Clydesdales. While you’re there, check out The Draft Horse Saloon and Chubby’s Fish & Steak. Both are local favorites. Stock up for your trip at the grocery store east of SR327. Get some great draft horse and other souvenirs at Great American Mercantile.
Following US 20 west and folowing SR9 north or south through LaGrange will lead you to a grocery store, a Dollar General, a McDonald’s, Subway, and Pizza Hut Bistro, as well as a large selection of local eateries. Foltz’s Bakery is known throughout the county for its baked goods, though the Author highly recommends Tom’s Donuts for donuts in the morning (it’s a local favorite, with several other locations including Angola and near the local lakes). Grossman’s Tap/Grossman’s Family Room is famous for its pizza and quesadillas (don’t miss karaoke on Friday nights–they also have live local music on occassion). You must be 21 after 9pm due to alcohol being served on the premises. Next to Grossman’s is the Detroit Street Bar and Grill. Detroit Street has karaoke Thursdays. Si Senor offers authentic Mexican fare with generous portions at reasonable prices.
The only party store in the area is Gay’s Hops n’ Schnapps in the US 20 Plaza just west of LaGrange, in Fremont, and two locations in Angola.
In Angola, Indiana, Kendallville, Indiana, and Sturgis, Michigan, each about 20 miles from Mongo, you can find multiple restaurants, party stores, hotels, movie theaters, and large chain and grocery stores such as Meijer, Wal-Mart, Tractor Supply Company, Rural King, Scott’s, and more. Angola is also home to Skip’s Party Place (on the circle), not to be missed if you are a Blues fan.
- Parkview LaGrange Hospital is located on Townline Rd. in LaGrange. ph. 260-463-2143.
- Cameron Hospital is located in downtown Angola on US 20 (just past the circle). ph. (260) 347-8700
- Parkview Noble Hospital is located on Sawyer Rd in Kendallville. ph. (260) 347-8700
- RediCare is located on SR9 in LaGrange. ph. 260-463-8855.
- LaGrange Veterinary Clinic is located on SR9 in LaGrange. ph. 260-463-2157.
- Pokagon Outfitters, SR120, Fremont, IN. 260-495-9436 (30 minutes) Canoes, kayaks, paddles, PFDs, bags, some day hiking equipment and other misc. This business is no longer in service.
- Earth Adventures, Ultd., Ft. Wayne, IN. 1-877-EAU-GEAR (45 minutes) Canoes, paddles, PFDs, hiking boots, some scuba and other misc.
- Gander Mountain, Ft. Wayne, IN. 260-416-0943 (45 minutes) also located in Coldwater, MI. 517-279-2900 (45 minutes) Focus on hunting equipment. Tents, clothing, sleeping bags, stoves, fuel, camp furniture, backpacks, hiking boots, some paddling equipment, lots of misc.
- Bristol Canoe & Kayak, Bristol, IN. (1 hour) 574-848-4465
- Lee’s Adventure Sports, Kalamazoo, MI. 269-381-7700 (1 hour, 30 minutes). Has backpacking, hiking, camping, winter sports, car racks, clothing, and much more. Right next door is Lee’s paddling shop, which will hook you up with anything you might possibly need to paddle local waterways, including the knowlege to help you. They also have classes and clinics for people new to outdoor recreation.
- Lunker’s, Edwardsburg, MI. 269-663-3745 (1 hour, 30 minutes). Lots of hunting, camping, paddling, and hiking gear. Boats, paddles, PFDs, packs, sleeping bags, stoves, fuel, and a TON more. Restaurant and art gallery inside!
Other points of interest
- The Pigeon River is near Shipshewana, famous for its country shops and home of the world’s largest flea market. Shipshewana, and most of LaGrange County, is home to a large Amish population. These attractions draw visitors from all over the world.
- The Amishland and Lakes bicycle tour makes its way through LaGrange county every summer, making a stop in Howe and the surrounding area. Another bicycle tour to check out is the Touring Ride in Rural Indiana
- LaGrange County Parks and Recrecreation maintains 8 county parks and nature preserves offering fishing, swimming, hiking, and picnicking. The department hosts David Rogers Days, a living history celebration which recreates LaGrange County from the 1800s.
- Olin Lake is the largest undeveloped lake in the state and is home to Olin Lake Nature Preserve which includes wildlife viewing areas and nearly 2 miles of hiking trails.
- The LaGrange Farmers Market on Spring Street in LaGrange runs every Saturday in the summer and into the fall. Local farmers sell fresh fruit, vegetables, cut flowers and more.
- Nuts, berries, and mushrooms may be gathered in the Fish and Wildlife Area.
- The Waterfowl Resting Area within the Fish and Wildlife Area provides many opportunities to see migrating waterfowl and Sandhill Cranes.If you have any questions about the individual businesses listed here, contact them by the phone numbers or websites listed. I have worked for some of the above establishments, but am not gaining anything by providing the information here. All information is provided as a service to people wishing to visit the Pigeon River area and I am not compensated for any business they receive from this guide.