Overview of Zion, IL

illinois beach state park

Located in the northwest corner of Illinois, Zion is the closest town to South Beach in the Illinois Beach State Park.

Beach

Illinois Beach State Park offers two beaches comprising 6.5 miles of shoreline along beautiful Lake Michigan and is the only beach ridge shoreline in Illinois. South Beach is located on the Zion side of the park and offers a picnic area, restrooms and ample parking.

Illinois Beach State Park
http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/AdelineJayGeo-KarisIllinoisBeach.aspx

Lodging

Visitors to Zion can choose to stay in the State Park at the campground or the Illinois Beach resort. The campground is located within in the southern unit of the park and boasts 241 sites with electricity and water hookups and shower facilities available. Reservations are recommended during the busy summer months.

The Illinois Beach Resort is also located on the south side of the park and has the distinction of being the only hotel in Illinois located right on a Lake Michigan beach. Guests can get their workouts in at the hotel’s fitness center, which houses a swimming pool and hot tub, exercise machines and fitness classes then pamper themselves with a massage at the spa. The hotel restaurant offers dining options like fried chicken and seafood alfredo, all served against the stunning view of Lake Michigan.

There are also several lodging options outside the park, like the Country Inn & Suites.

Illinois Beach State Park Campground
http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Camp/Pages/AdelineJayGeo-KarisIllinoisBeach.aspx

Illinois Beach Resort
http://ilresorts.com

Country Inn & Suites
http://www.countryinns.com/zion-hotel-il-60099/ilzion

Attractions

Outdoor Activities
In addition to two beaches, Illinois Beach State Park offers a network of nature trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing in winter. The dune habitat is home to many species of birds, and birdwatchers can seek out uncommon birds like snowy owls and nighthawks. Fishing is permitted at the park’s inland ponds and outside of swimming areas at the beach.

Golf
Golfers can head over to the Shepherd’s Crook Golf Course for 18 holes on a championship course that winds among prairies grass and wet lands. After you leave the 18th hole, head over to the clubhouse to refresh yourself with food and drink.

Shepherd’s Crook Golf Course
351 North Green Bay Road
Zion, IL 60099
Phone: (847) 872-2080
http://www.shepherdscrook.org

Concert in the Park

On Thursday evenings from mid June to late July Zion hosts a concert series at the Zion Park District band shell, featuring musical acts ranging from oldies bands to a chamber orchestra.

2400 Dowie Memorial Drive, Zion.
http://www.zionparkdistrict.com/special-events/

Chicago Botanic Garden

Nearby Attractions
There are also loads of fun activities not too far away from Zion, like the Six Flags Great America theme park, the seemingly endless Gurney Mills Outlet Mall, the Great Lakes Naval Museum and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Portage, IN

Beach at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk
Beach at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

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.

Looking out along the breakwater
Looking out along the breakwater

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.

Portage Dunes

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.

Pavilion at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk
Pavilion at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

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.

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk
1000 Riverwalk Dr
Portage, IN 46368
http://www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/portage-lakefront-and-riverwalk.htm

Note: Stay on Midwest Steel road, take a left at the four way stop to cross the river, and the first right across the river is Riverwalk Drive.

Great Lakes Kite Festival, Grand Haven, MI

Photo by Rachel Kramer
Photo by Rachel Kramer

Bright colors swoop and soar through the sky above Grand Haven State Park during the annual Great Lakes Kite Festival. Organized by MacKite, the kite festival was first held in 1988 and has been held in Grand Haven every year since.

On Saturday, the festival opens at the Grand Haven State Park beach, where it runs from 10AM to 5PM on Saturday and 11AM to 5PM on Sunday. There’s a performance field featuring some of the nation’s top kite flyers demonstrating their skills, solo or in groups. There’s also a field of giant kites, some as big as buses, that fly all day Saturday and Sunday, an open flying field where festival-goers can fly their own kites, and an inflatable obstacle course where the kiddos can run off some steam.

If the sight of all those kites floating on the wind inspires you to get one for yourself, head over the outdoor kite store for a great selection of kites and assorted toys.

Whether you’re an avid kite lover or someone just looking for a fun way to spend a few hours, head down to the beach and check it out!

Great Lakes Kite Festival
http://www.mackite.com/glskc.htm

The 2017 Great Lakes Kite Festival will be held May 20-21

Ludington State Park, Ludington, MI

Photo by Rachel Kramer, Flickr.com
Photo by Rachel Kramer, Flickr.com

Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to a beautiful Lake Michigan beach, Ludington State Park offers a second beach along Hamlin Lake, sand dunes, hiking trails, an amphitheater, three campgrounds and the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.

Beaches
The Lake Michigan beach stretches seven miles along the Great Lake, and features a beach house with a store, a restaurant and concessions. The beach has an accessible walkway to make getting down to the water’s edge easier.

For variety, warmer water temperatures (sometimes), or when the waves on Lake Michigan are too rough, try the Lake Hamlin Beach. The playground and calmer waters makes this beach a favorite with families. There’s a picnic area with grills nearby so you can grill up lunch or grab something to eat at the concession stand.

Boating
There’s a boat launch on Hamlin Lake to enjoy a day of water skiing or relaxing with your fishing pole. If you didn’t bring a boat, paddleboat, rowboat, canoe and kayak rentals are available at the concession stand. One of Ludington State Park’s unique features is a picturesque, marked, 4 -mile long canoe trail that winds along the edge of Hamlin Lake and wanders through bayous not accessible from the hiking trails.

Trails
Ludington State Park boasts 8 hiking and biking trails meandering a combined 18 miles through the park; there are options for those seeking a pleasant stroll as well as those who like a bigger challenge.

Lighthouse
The Big Sable Point Lighthouse has illuminated the shores of Ludington since 1867. In 1949 it became the last Great Lakes lighthouse to be electrified. The lighthouse is open to visitors from May through October, but is situated 1.8 miles from the the parking lot so be prepared for a little hike!

Camping
Ludington State Park features not one but four campgrounds. Pines, Cedar and Beechwood all feature modern restrooms and electrical hookups. Pines is situated near Lake Michigan and offers 99 campsites, mostly shady. Beechwood is located near Hamlin Lake and has 147 mostly shady campsites. Cedar lies between Pines and Beechwood and features 106 mostly sunny campsites. There are three mini-cabins for rent for those traveling without a camper or tent.

For those who like a more rustic camping experience, the fourth campsite, Jack Pines, might be just the thing. It is not accessible by road and no vehicles are allowed, so all equipment, gear and supplies must be walked in. It is located in the dunes near Lake Michigan, about a mile north of Pines Campground. Vault toilets and hand pump are provided.

Ludington State Park
8800 W. M-116
Ludington, MI 49431
(231) 843-2423
http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?id=468&type=SPRK

Fall Festival, St. Joseph, MI

bed race st joseph

 

The air is cooling, the apples are ripening and the green leaves are turning to crimson and gold.Celebrate fall’s arrival along the shores of Lake Michigan with two days of events at St. Joseph’s Fall Festival.

The festivities kick off Friday afternoon with The Great Bed Race, in which teams of up to four pushers and one rider race a bed through a course, striving to achieve a faster time than the rest of the competitors. Racing beds can be designed by the team or rented from the race sponsors.

Saturday morning the focus switches to the Farmer’s Market located downtown, where visitors will find a petting zoo and face painting as well as the usual offerings of farm fresh fruit and vegetables, jam, baked goods, fresh bread and more.

Saturday evening from 4-9 the Wine Festival and Public Art Auction takes place, featuring beverages from Michigan wineries, tasty eats from local restaurants and the opportunity to bid on works of art, all while enjoying live music.

The St. Joseph Fall Festival – what a fun & tasty way to welcome autumn to Michigan!

The 2017 Fall Festival will be held in St. Joseph on September 22 & 23

Blueberries

Picking blueberries in Grand Haven, Michigan.

If you’re in West Michigan in July or August you’ll want to take advantage of blueberry abundance available in the area. There are u-pick farms if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, or you can find plenty of fresh, succulent berries in the area farm markets.

We like to do the u-pick, and without fail my kids get competitive and I wind up with tons of berries. No problem! They freeze well – I like to freeze them on a cookie sheet first, then bag them – that way they don’t turn into a goopy mess when you thaw them.

Here are a couple of my favorite blueberry recipes:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlueberry Tea Bread

2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
3 C. cake flour (not self rising)
1 ½ C. sugar
7 T. butter (1 stick minus 1 T., reserved for topping)
1 C. milk
1 T. vanilla
1 large egg
1 ½ cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix baking powder, salt, cake flour, and sugar. With pastry blender or two knives used scissor-fashion, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in milk, vanilla, and egg until flour is just moistened. Gently stir in blueberries; spoon batter into loaf pan.

Crumb Topping

1 T. slivered almonds
½ t cinnamon
2 T. cake flour
2 T. sugar
1 T. Butter

Coarsely chop almonds. In small bowl, with fork, mix almonds, cinnamon, cake flour, sugar and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle crumb topping over batter.

Bake loaf 1 hour and 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool loaf in pan on wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on wire rack.

Note: I use regular flour for this recipe and it comes out fine.

 

blueberry pieUncovered Blueberry Pie

¾ C sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. salt
1 cup water
3 cups fresh blueberries
1 T. butter
1 – 9-inch baked pi e shell.

In a medium saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in water and 1 cup of the blueberries. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2 cups blueberries and butter until butter is melted. Cool for about 1 hour. Pour into pie shell. If desired, cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream.

Enjoy!!

Soccer in the Sand, Grand Haven, MI & Michigan City, IN

Photo by Victoria Pickering
Photo by Victoria Pickering

Each summer the Soccer in the Sand tournament takes place nationwide on beaches from San Diego, California to Rochester, New York, with stops in Chicago and at popular Lake Michigan beach towns Grand Haven, MI and Michigan City, IN.

Games in Grand Haven take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday and those in  Michigan City and Chicago 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 taking 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 2017 Soccer in the Sand tournaments on the lakeshore take place:

on June 23 – 25 in Grand Haven

on July 22 & 23 in Michigan City

on August 5 & 6 in Chicago

Beach Towns on the Lakeshore