One of the best-kept secrets of the Midwest is that you can go to the beach for a day trip, and it is almost like being in the Atlantic, Pacific or Caribbean. Where? Lake Michigan, and specifically, Indiana Dunes State Park and the adjoining Indiana Dunes National Seashore. It’s only 45 miles east of America’s Second City, Chicago, in Chesterton, Indiana. There, you can go camping, hiking, sunbathing, swimming, and all of it with views of the beach and of the shimmering waters of the Great Lake.
The State Park offers 2,182 acres to explore. Begin at the new visitor center. It will help you get the lay of the land. You can see the routes of the great hiking trails, and find out about interesting programs offered at the nature center.
Hikers will want to take the Three Dune Challenge and climb up the three highest dunes in the park. Up there, the views are breathtaking (so is the climb). Trails 9 and 10 begin by the swamp behind the dunes, and they take you up to the dunes’ ridges. From the top, you can see the towers of Chicago’s skyscrapers far across the lake. Dune Head Trail is a short but pretty lollipop-shaped loop.
Not only is the park scenic, it is also a biodiversity area with large sand dunes, Lake Michigan beaches, and lovely forests. You can find forty-six species of mammals, including whitetail deer, coyote, and raccoons, as well as 18 species of amphibians, 23 species of reptiles, 71 species of fish, 60 species of butterflies, and 60 species of dragonflies and damselflies.
For most visitors, it is all about the beach, which is clean and quiet except on those summer holidays and weekends. There are shelters for family picnics, available if you make a reservation in advance. Changing facilities, food concessions, lifeguards on duty—these are some of the features that make park-goers happy. Of course, you can bring along your own provisions, as well as your beach blankets and chairs.
Next door is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the only National Park System location that makes maple syrup. It also features the homestead of the first non-native Northwest Indiana resident: the Bailly Homestead. A National Historic Landmark, the Bailly Homestead was the home of Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein (1774 – 1835). An independent fur trader, Bally was among the first to develop this part of northern Indiana. The Bailly Homestead complex is the last remaining site of its kind in the Calumet Region.
For one of the best meals in the region, drive the 30 miles to the Heston Supper Club, near LaPorte, order steak and have all the great trimmings that make Heston’s a long-time favorite of the famous and the discerning.