The day I visited West Beach was overcast, but the moody atmosphere didn’t detract from the park’s appeal. The short road I took from the parking lot to the beach wound through picturesque sand dunes before arriving at the bathhouse, and visitors can explore them on one of the park’s hiking trails. There are more than three miles of trails and hikers can opt for majestic views of Lake Michigan from the top of a forested dune, a less strenuous stroll through an oak savanna or bird watching along Long Lake.
West Beach stretches along the Lake Michigan shore, and was named one of the ten top beaches for families by Parents’ Magazine. There’s a wheelchair accessible ramp down to the sand and during the busy summer months there’s a lifeguard on duty. My kids and I like to skip stones – my son holds the family record with 8 skips -so I gleefully collected an abundance of flat, smooth, perfect skipping stones from the beach and flung them into the water.
Beachgoers can take advantage of the showers and lockers in the bathhouse, which opens for the season during Memorial Day Weekend, as well as a concession stand during the season. The restrooms by the parking lot are open year round.
While the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park is the largest and most popular Lake Michigan beach in northwest Indiana, there are several smaller beaches in the area that are worth a visit. One of these is the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.
Part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Portage, Indiana’s Lakefront and Riverwalk is small, but pretty and picturesque. On a sunny morning one finds kids splashing in the water while their watchful mothers soak up the sun on a beach blanket, a fisherman perched on the pier casting his line, a motorboat slowly making its way from the river out onto Lake Michigan and couples wandering hand in hand along the riverwalk.
The lakefront is free, but parking is limited and can fill up quickly, so it’s best to get there early to find a good spot. Just off the parking lot is a modern, clean pavilion with a concession stand during the summer months, a meeting room, information desk and restrooms. Paths lead out to the fishing pier, the walkway along the 900-foot breakwater, and the beach. The Riverwalk begins at the pavilion and follows the Portage-Burns Waterway a half mile through dunes and a rare freshwater panne ecosystem.
Opened in 2008, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk lies next to a large steel plant and I actually got lost when looking for it because I didn’t believe my GPS when it instructed me to head toward the plant’s campus to get to the beach. A placard inside the pavilion details how the land was once polluted, but through the efforts of the National Park Service, the City of Portage and other partners, the lakefront was cleaned up, given a Clean Closure designation by the EPA, and turned into the scenic recreation area it is today.
If you’re a closet Da Vinci or just like to appreciate a work of art, a good time at the beach, or all of the above, the Indiana Dunes State Park’s Sand Sculpture contest might be right up your alley.
Each year teams descend on the Chesterton, IN beach and mold castles, dragons, whales and more from sand and water. Registration begins at 9AM, but eager sand sculptors can begin their projects at 7.
Judges award two prizes: one for teams of kids aged 15 and under, and one for individuals and families of less than 8 people. Judging begins at noon and prizes are awarded at 1PM. Bystanders can get in on the fun by voting for a Viewer’s Choice award.
The 2016 Indiana Dunes Sand Sculpture Contest takes place on July 9.
Games in Grand Haven and Michigan City take place over two days, Saturday and Sunday. The beach is divided into several soccer fields where teams made up of boys, girls and adults show off their skills to throngs of onlookers. Don’t be surprised if you spot players and spectators alike staking a dip in the cool Lake Michigan water in between matches.
Groups can sign up at the Soccer in the Sand website. There are 4 players and a goalie on the field per side, and event organizers recommend having 7 to 10 players per team. Players play barefoot or in socks, with special “sand soccer socks” available for purchase at the event.
The 2016 Soccer in the Sand tournaments on the lakeshore take place:
Charming and cute, downtown Chesterton is a fun spot to spend a leisurely afternoon. My kids and I did just that, visiting shops and enjoying the town’s relaxed tempo.
We window shopped at Ashley’s Jewelry by Design, and stopped in to look at the works on display at the Holly Jackson Art Studio and Gallery. We browsed at gift shops and clothing stores, saw Peggy Sue’s Diner – the embodiment of the traditional midwestern small-town diner.
A few people sat busily pecking at their laptops in the Red Cup Cafe and Deli. It looked like just the sort of coffee shop where I love to hang out and enjoy a hot cup of joe while I write about Lake Michigan Towns.
The heat of the day led us to Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor, a real find. The décor harks back to a more elegant time, with chandeliers and pretty white iron tables and chairs. A mural depicting a sunny summer day in Chesterton in the days of horse-drawn wagons and Model T cars takes up an entire wall. Guests can savor delicious gourmet gelatos and sorbets like Bananas Foster and Almond Joyful from a menu that changes weekly. Good stuff.
The cool shade beneath the trees of Thomas Centennial Park beckoned us, and we finished our ice cream there, pausing to take pictures on its pretty white gazebo, before heading off to Indiana Dunes State Park Beach.
Red Cup Cafe & Deli
Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor
119 South Calumet Road
My kids and I headed down to Chesterton’s Indiana Dunes State Park for an afternoon of sun and Lake Michigan beach fun.
We drove along a tree-lined road, getting in line to approach the admissions hut. Since we’re from out of state, the entry price was $10 for our out-of-state car in 2012. Indiana residents pay $6 for each carload of beachgoers.
A green sign posted at the admissions hut let us know that the water was calm and safer for swimming. A yellow sign warns beachgoers to use caution when swimming, and a red sign indicates dangerous swimming conditions.
Indiana Dunes State Park had ample parking available, but since it was mid afternoon we decided to bypass the lots further away and try our luck with the one right on the beach – score!
Off to one side a dune rose skyward. Had it been a cooler day, we would have climbed it and run down at top speed. Sadly, it was pushing 90 degrees, and dune climbing can be exhausting on a pleasant day, much less when the sun beats down and the sand burns your toes.
The Indiana Dunes State Park has a bathhouse/ concession stand that lends an appealing old-timey look to the beach.
We were pleased to see a lifeguard looking out over the water – I always feel a bit safer with a lifeguard on duty.
We came loaded down with boogie boards, noodles and other floaties, only to learn that no flotation devices are permitted in the water outside of coast-guard-approved life jackets. Kind of a bummer.
The kids and I were amazed by the number of perfect skipping stones to be found on the beach. We’d never seen anything like it – there were zillions of them. My son skipped a stone EIGHT times – a record. I skipped one three times, which was pretty good for me.