Go Wild: An Indiana Dunes Adventure for the Whole Family

Great family adventures are waiting in Indiana Dunes Country

Go Wild: An Indiana Dunes Adventure for the Whole Family

By Joe Laing

I believe there are two types of road-trippers: those that push the gas pedal and the speed limits with sights only on the destination, and those that ease on the brakes to take in sights along the way. If you’re of the second school, then the Indiana Dunes region may be just the place for your next family voyage. Nestled in the northwest corner of the state between the larger cities of Chicago and South Bend, this natural wonderland boasts a sparkling freshwater shoreline, lush woodlands and prairies, and an abundance of adventures for you and the kids.

Porter County, Indiana, can be easily accessed from the East and West via I-80/90 (when mapping your trip, note that this is a toll road across the state) and from the South by way of I-65. Once there, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Campground, situated near Lake Michigan, makes an ideal (and inexpensive) hub for your RV stay. While there are showers and restrooms, true to the back-to-nature nature of this spot, the facilities do not include electrical hookups. But you will discover beautiful beaches for fishing and swimming, a 9.1-mile gravel bike trail, and ranger-guided activities for all ages. From this central base, you can set out in a variety of directions to explore the Indiana Dunes landscape. Wherever you choose to head, be sure to brake for the best sites!

Go west along Dunes Highway (Rt. 12):

Just beside the campground, you’ll find Cowles Bog, which boasts a marsh boardwalk perfect for spotting birds and wetland wildlife. Also tucked inside the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore are two historic residences, Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm. Stop off to learn what life was like for 19th-century farmers and fur traders. And to stretch your legs and your sense of adventure, head to Imagination Glen Park, which boasts a BMX racetrack, “The Dark Side” advanced biking trail, and a fabulous playground. Other highlights along the way include Miller Woods, for birding in savanna wetlands, and West Beach, which boasts 250 steps along its Dune Succession Trail.

Go southwest down State Road 49 then west on Rt. 30:

In the summer, dive into the Deep River County Waterpark, which makes a splash with the kiddos with its Rip Tide Wave Pool and collection of tube slides and river rides. Want to skip the wet but still go wild? Cruise over to the Broken Wagon Bison Farm to encounter the Koeppen family’s herd of 70-some buffalo. If you prefer flora to fauna, pay a visit to Taltree Arboretum and see 360 acres of formal plantings, plus the newly opened scale-model Railway Garden.

Go south via State Road 49:

Depending on how far down IN-49 you choose to travel, you can get a taste of each of this area’s three distinct regions (Dunes, Moraine, and Kankakee). At Coffee Creek Park, venture down the boardwalk trail and keep your eyes and ears peeled for songbirds. Your ears can also enjoy outdoor summer concerts at the nearby Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve amphitheater. (For a fun family photo, gather at the octagonal bandstand in the Chesterton Historic Business District and snap a souvenir shot.)

Travel a bit further to find prairie and woodland trails, as well as a demonstration crop garden, at Sunset Hill Farm County Park. And just off the stretch of highway between I-80/90 and U.S. 30, you’ll come across a number of parks perfect for picnicking.

Roughly an hour south within the Kankakee watershed stands the storied Dunn’s Bridge, supposedly built from steel salvaged from the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The bridge, spanning the Kankakee River, is open to pedestrians and definitely worth a walk across. According to the season, you might also drive over to the expansive Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area to witness flocks of migratory birds.

Go southeast by way of I-80/90:

Use your eagle eyes to spot animal tracks along the easy-to-traverse trails at the Zona Wildlife Sanctuary. And, to get a little more hands-on with nature, trot over to Pleasant Heights Stables. Whether your group includes experienced equestrians or first-time riders, visitors can saddle up their sensible horses for a scenic wooded trail ride.

Go east along Dunes Highway (Rt. 12):

With its 123-foot-high summit, Mount Baldy, the region’s largest living dune, might just be the climax of your trip. The shifting sands of this traveling dune have begun pushing inland over the past few years — annually migrating several feet south. Follow the trails to the top for a breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline and crashing waves on the shoreline below, and watch for endangered Karner Blue butterflies perching on the vivid blooms of the wild lupine growing there.

About the Author

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. You can see more great RV vacation ideas in their Monty’s Musings RV Travel Blog and be sure to check out their RV Camping Pictures.

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