The northwestern corner of Indiana, along the southern shore of mighty Lake Michigan, is an area that offers visitors a wonderful variety of cities, charming small towns, stretches of rural peace and natural beauty. From Hammond, on the edge of the great Chicago metropolis, to the small-town charm of Michigan City, the shore itself is a delight, but don’t neglect to explore further inland to see the farms and little towns that provide so many opportunities for fun and relaxation.
The South Shore is justly famous for its magnificent parks along the lake, including the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes State Park. Stretching from just east of Gary to Michigan City, the combined 15,000 acres include dunes, oak savannas, marshes, prairies, rivers and forests, including more than 350 species of birds and 1,100 kinds of flowering plants. Go hiking, biking, fishing or just go swimming; in the winter enjoy cross-country skiing or view the beautiful shelf ice that builds up on this great lake. If you want to camp, there are 200 sites available, ranging from primitive (tent) areas to RV sites with electrical hook-up. Cabin rentals are also an option, or stay at a local motel while you explore the area. Washington Park, near Michigan City, is a local favorite, with life-guarded swimming along the sandy beaches, boating and fishing. The park also includes the South Shore’s only operating lighthouse, a historic rock garden and a splash park. There is even a charming 7-acre zoo—be sure to visit the river otters, where the children can go into an underwater tunnel with viewing windows so they can watch the otters at play.
Not a season goes by without something special to see and do. See the Sand Sculpture Contest at the Dunes State Park, experience the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival and the weekly cruise night of classic cars in Crown Point. There’s also the Lake County Fair and the Pierogi Fest in Whiting. Go-kart tracks, mini-golf and Maple Sugar Time celebration in the Dunes park are also great family fun. Of course, any time of year there are opportunities for great food and drink. The area is known for its many farm-to-fork restaurants and cafes, and you can also experience fine dining with a different twist in restaurants like Asparagus in Merrillville (pan-Asian cuisine), the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cedar Lake and Lucrezia Ristorante in Crown Point. Looking for a microbrewery with a great pub to sample their wares? There are so many that there’s even an app to guide you along the South Shore Brewery Trail, including news on upcoming brew festivals. The South Shore is Indiana’s special secret, but don’t keep it to yourself. Whether you’re on a road trip with friends or looking for a destination for a family vacation, the area offers a unique mix of natural beauty and small town charm, as well as heaps of things to see and dishes (and pints!) to taste.