Find Fun on the Shores of Lake Michigan in the Indiana Dunes
A beach vacation usually conjures up images of a long drive to Florida or the East Coast, but Hoosiers can experience sandy beaches and water recreation without leaving the state.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park encompass 15 miles along Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline, and the surrounding Porter County communities have plenty to offer both visitors and locals. No wonder more than 3 million people from around the world visit the dunes each year.
What to Do at Indiana Dunes State Park
Aptly dubbed “Nature’s Masterpiece,” the spectacular beaches provide opportunities for swimming, kayaking or just relaxing on the sand – but that’s not all. Seventy miles of hiking and biking trails wind through 15,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, savannas, forests and, of course, the dunes.
The National Lakeshore, overseen by the U.S. National Park Service, surrounds the smaller Indiana Dunes State Park. The 2,000-acre park, with three miles of beaches, also has the tallest of the dunes: Mt. Tom, 192 feet above lake level; Mt. Holden, 184 feet above lake level; and Mt. Jackson, 176 feet above lake level.
On the park trails, nature lovers can look for more than 350 species of birds and 1,135 plant species within the dunes’ intricate ecosystem. The Indiana Dunes are also well known for their “singing sands,” which occur when winds from the lake rub the grains of sand together on the dunes.
Visitors wanting to venture off dry land can charter a boat for salmon and trout fishing, take a helicopter ride to get a bird’s eye view of the dunes or go scuba diving to explore a shipwreck. Half a mile off the shore of the state park lies the wreckage of the J.D. Marshall, Indiana’s first underwater preserve. Scuba divers can explore the wreckage of the ship that sank June 11, 1911, after capsizing during a storm.
Visiting Porter County, Indiana
Dig even deeper into the area’s past at the Porter County Museum of History in Valparaiso. Known as PoCo Muse, it features a variety of exhibits ranging from mastodon bones found by a local farmer to Civil War artifacts donated by area veterans.
Sunset Hill Farm County Park, a former working farm, now spans 238 acres filled with antique farm equipment, a children’s garden, chickens, two horses and an apiary. It also hosts a variety of events and programs, including a summer camp for kids.
Chesterton’s European Market not only has farmers selling produce but also artists, live music, chefs and merchants from across the Midwest. The market opens from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from May through October.
Also in Chesterton, the Octave Grill offers gourmet burgers, while Port Drive-In makes root beer onsite daily and serves it in a frosty glass mug. In nearby Beverly Shores, the Rolling Stonebaker bakes wood-fired pizza in a restored Studebaker truck.
Sample locally made wine at Butler Winery in Chesterton, a satellite tasting room for the Bloomington-based vineyard, or Anderson’s Vineyard & Winery in Valparaiso. Located on a former orchard, Anderson’s specializes in light, fruity wines and also features a bakery, fudge factory and gift shop with locally made crafts.
A variety of bed-and-breakfasts welcome guests with a place to rest their head. Ken Kosky, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, recommends At Home in the Woods, the DunesWalk Inn and the Gray Goose Inn, all within two miles of Indiana Dunes State Park.
Indiana Dunes Festivals and Events
To add an extra dose of fun, time your Indiana Dunes trip to coincide with one of the summer festivals in the area.
- Portage Township Summerfest, June 13-15, Portage: a carnival with entertainment, food booths and a beer garden.
- Family 4th Fest, July 4, Porter: a parade, turtle derby, kids’ games and rides, food booths, beer garden, live music and fireworks.
- Sand Sculpture Contest, July 12, Indiana Dunes State Park: competition with 40 teams sculpting imaginative creations on the beach.
- Chesterton Art Fair, Aug. 2-3, Chesterton: creations by artists in 15 states.
- Glow: Art After Dark, Aug. 15-16, Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, Valparaiso: Glow-in-the-dark visual and performance art, lighted hula-hoop dance, nocturnal nature education, stargazing and activities for kids.
- Porkfest, Aug. 23, Kouts: Parade, arts and crafts booths, walk/run event, pig weight-guessing, cornhole tournament and pork-themed foods.
- Aukiki River Festival, Aug. 23-24, the Collier Lodge Site, Kouts: historic encampments, period music, dancing and children’s crafts.
- Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, Sept. 6: popcorn parade, live music stages, 250 arts and crafts booths, food booths and kids’ games in honor of Valparaiso native Orville Redenbacher.