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.
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.
While many vacationers come to Grand Haven for its beautiful Lake Michigan beach, some find that on red and yellow flag days the waves may be rougher than they had anticipated, particularly for small children. In that case, there is a small – tiny, really – public beach on Spring Lake that’s a good alternative for families with preschoolers. It’s called Lakeside Beach.
The village of Spring Lake and the lake that shares its name lie just north of Grand Haven and across the drawbridge.The Spring Lake beach’s advantages include free admission and a life guard who watches over swimmers during the day, which many parents find reassuring. A floating divider separates the shallow area from the deeper waters, preventing young beachgoers from straying into water that is over their heads.
There are picnic tables and restrooms at the beach, and parking spaces along the adjacent streets.
If you’re looking for calmer waters, give Spring Lake’s beach a try.
Directions: Turn north onto Lake Avenue off of M-104 (E. Savidge Street). Spring Lake’s Lakeside Beach is located at the intersection of Lake Ave. and Beach Drive.
While most beachgoers probably approach the Grand Haven beach from downtown, I like to take Grand Avenue. I’m driving down the road surrounded by homes and tall trees, then I turn a bend and suddenly the stunningly blue Lake Michigan stretches endlessly before me, breathtaking in its beauty.
The Grand Haven State Park Beach is the biggest and most popular of the area’s beaches. Bordered by the South Pier, home to Grand Haven’s picturesque red lighthouse, the state park beach offers 48 acres of sandy beach, a campground and a generous parking lot.
At the center of the beach is a small building where hungry beachgoers can grab snacks like freshly grilled burgers or cones piled high wiith creamy Hudsonville ice cream. A shop inside sells floaties, sandpails with shovels, sunscreen, disposable cameras and other handy items that might have been forgotten, and there are bathrooms.
The state parks use a flag system to alert swimmers to dangerous swimming conditions. A green flag signifies calm water, a yellow flag means there are big waves, so use caution when swimming, and a red flag indicates hazardous swimming conditions.
Those with a state park pass can enter for free, otherwise cars pay at the kiosk while entering the park. Some lucky souls can snag the few street parking slots available and walk in.