Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Discoveries Along Southern Lake Michigan

sandy path through dune grass towards Lake Michigan
There's more to Indiana than just great beaches: hiking, history and fishing are also fun activities. Yesterday I took the kids and a friend up to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

First we stopped by the visitor center to pick up some maps and a pamphlet for the Junior Ranger beachcomber badge. One nice thing about this national park is that most of the park is free admission as the park intertwines with urban areas. We did pay $6 entrance to West Beach which includes lifeguards and a bathhouse in addition to great shoreline.

The park has implemented an aggressive reclamation program limiting access to the many sandy dunes that form the backdrop of the shoreline. But there are still several hiking trails available for those who want to climb a sand dune.

Our second stop was the Chellberg Farm for a quick picnic lunch. The farm is well kept and gives a glimpse into the lifestyle of early Swedish immigrants. This is the only national park location that harvests maple syrup! If you want a full tour of the farm, stop by on a weekend during the summer months.

We then made our way down to West Beach where we spent four hours soaking up sunshine, building sand castles, burying each other in the sand and swimming in a very cold Lake Michigan. Since it was a Monday, the beach was not very crowded. We did see a couple of patrolling rangers ticket a group down the beach and empty their entire cooler of beer.

Late that afternoon, we traveled north along the shoreline to the Kemil Road Access Point. The short (0.75 mile) Dune Ridge Trail takes hikers through sandy and wooded dunes with some great vantage points. It was just enough trail to satisfy the hikers and the grumblers in the group. We could see how controlled burns maintain the dunes ecosystem.

Just down the road is the Dunbar Access Point, which we decided would be a great place to return to. The beach had a few more pebbles but was more secluded. The parking lot was closer but there were only restrooms instead of a beach house. This beach is adjacent to the 1933 Century of Progress Homes. While these are private residences and only visible from the road and beach, they are still stunning examples of architecture.

On the way home, the fisherman in the family asked if we could stop by the Bass Pro Shop in Portage. More than just a giant retail store, they are animal displays throughout and two large fish tanks. We pulled into the driveway well after dark and totally exhausted. The cool weather and clear skies helped make it an enjoyable day for everyone.