Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore shares Lake Michigan with Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is 275 miles to the north. Indiana Dunes is a quilted landscape of sorts, interspersed as it is with industrial sites and a state park. Yet this lakeshore provides an escape to the beach and offers a cultural window into the past.
Despite the crowding of the surrounding urban environment, Indiana Dunes is a rich ecological island. Though it covers just 15 miles of beachfront, and 15,000 acres overall, the biological diversity here is among the highest in the National Park System.
Pinhook Bog, for example, is Indiana's only true bog. Here a layer of sphagnum moss floats atop an ancient lake and serves as the rooting medium for a forest. The Cowles Bog Complex is a mix of wetlands that is a small remnant of an area known as the Great Marsh, where an open body of water flowed into Lake Michigan 4,000 years ago. The bog is being restored with native plants with a goal to boost the lakeshore's biological diversity, provide a resting place for migratory birds, and create a rich outdoor classroom.
You can explore the lakeshore's environment by examining glacial moraines left behind 14,000 years ago by retreating Wisconsin glaciers, fishing the Little Calumet River, or strolling through an oak forest. Tours of Pinhook Bog are possible, too, though you have to go with a ranger.
Of course, summertime beckons visitors to the beach and the cool waters of Lake Michigan. Families should consider heading to the lakeshore's West Beach, which in 2011 was recognized by Parents Magazine as one of 'America's Ten Best Beaches for Families.' Kayakers can paddle along a 15-mile stretch of the Lake Michigan Water Trail that runs between Chicago, Illinois, and Michigan City, Indiana. When completed, the water trail is expected to loop along the entire 1,600-mile coastline of Lake Michigan.
If You Go
While Lake Michigan's waters can be refreshing, they can also be dangerous. Under extreme conditions the lake can take on the appearance of a sea, with high waves and dangerous rip currents.
Though it's been more than 70 years since the 1933 World's Fair was staged, you can still tour five historic homes from that World's Fair. The Century of Progress tours in October let you see the insides of the Cypress Log Cabin, House of Tomorrow, Florida Tropical, Armco Ferro, and Wieboldt-Rostone houses. Watch the lakeshore's website for details for this year's tours.
Head to Indiana Dunes in March and you can take part in Maple Sugar Time at the historic Chellberg Farm, when the pioneer art of boiling down sap in open iron kettles over wood fires is practiced.