One thing that makes the Great Lakes so great is the beaches. Sandy bluffs rolling down to sparkling blue fresh water make for endless fun, whether you're looking to swim, hike, build sandcastles, or just lay out a beach towel and relax. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan is one of the most perfect stretches of beachfront in the whole Midwest. Take this scenic cruise from the very Northwestern edge of the state, and end in South Bend for good measure. It's an utterly underrated but absolutely perfect weekend trip!
Kick off your weekend trip in style by stopping at the late Michael Jackson’s family home. While not nearly as luxurious as Neverland Ranch, you’ll get a sneak peek at the humble home where it all started (and by "it," we mean the Jackson 5 and the King of Pop!) Whether you're a die-hard Jackson fan or just want to a snag a photo for the likes, a quick stop by the home is worth the short drive. No tours, no gift shop, just a way to see where one of the most iconic stars the world has ever known grew up.
After snagging a photo or two at Michael Jackson's family home, it's time to kick things into gear with a stop at Marquette Beach, also in Gary. The beach lies within a 241-acre park that offers 1.4 miles of Lake Michigan beaches, inland ponds, dunes and more. Pay attention to the two historic Prairie School structures--the stately Recreation Pavilion built in 1924 and the Gary Bathing Beach Pavilion "Aquatorium," built as a bathhouse in 1922. The Aquatorium honors Octave Chanute. He is considered to be the grandfather of flight, and of the Tuskegee Airmen, the pioneers who spearheaded the integration of the armed forces.
Continue your relaxing trip with a stop at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, which offers one-of-a-kind views of the majestic Lake Michigan. This once-industrial stretch of shore has recently been restored to its beautiful natural state. Take a slow stroll on the pier and watch as the boats come in and out from sea or catch the sunset to make your evening more special. You can even see the Chicago skyline on a clear day. Thirty minutes is all you need to melt the stress away. Watch the birds, fish in the water, do some meditating... whatever makes you feel relaxed!
Your weekend gets exceptionally better the moment make your way to the incredible Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Hugging 15 dune-studded miles of Lake Michigan, it’s no wonder there are rumors that this National Lakeshore might achieve National Park status someday. Indiana Dunes is more than just beachfront; it protects forests and wetland as well. With various beaches and access points; the informational Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center and the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education; several campgrounds and more than 50 miles of trail for hiking; this park offers more than just a day at the beach. A can't-miss site is West Beach; take the Succession Trail to the top of the dunes to see all the way to Chicago.
For another stop you won’t want to miss at Indiana Dunes, head over to beautiful Porter Beach nestled on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The spacious Porter Beach gives you plenty of room to set up for the day to enjoy the beach and some outdoor activities. You can even run up and down (and jump off!) the dunes if you’re feeling extra adventurous. The beach has bathrooms, showers to rinse off the sand, and parking: all the amenities you need to make a day at the beach perfectly comfortable!
Take a break from the beach and water fun and spend a few hours admiring the incredible architecture, history, and design of five houses from the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. These were moved to Indiana from Chicago. The five homes (the Cypress Log Cabin, the House of Tomorrow, Florida Tropical, Armco Ferro, and the Wieboldt-Rostone houses) kept the theme of the fair, and featured innovative building materials, modern home appliances, and new construction techniques. While you can admire the houses from afar year round, the homes are open to the public only once a year. It's well worth it to see which of the "innovations" took off, and which didn't!
Washington Park Beach is the perfect mix of beach and access to endless entertainment nearby. The whole family can spend a full day here and explore attractions nearby. Whether you want to visit the zoo, hike to the lighthouse, or enjoy a nice meal with the family, there’s a little something for everyone. There are concessions, lifeguards, picnic tables, parking, and everything you need for a day at the beach as well. If you need more photos to take home to share with your friends, try and snag a photo of the sunset, with the Chicago skyline in the distance. Feeling fancy after a long day at the beach? Have a drink at the nearby rooftop bar, or try your luck at the casino.
Make your way to the lovely International Friendship Botanic Gardens, where you have access to over 105 acres filled with some of the most beautiful scenery and animal life around. The Gardens are filled with a diverse selection of nature and wildlife, including muskrats, geese, turtles, and deer, and there are an endless number of trails waiting to be explored, many of which have been in use since Native Americans called this area home. There are gardens representing various nations (from Lithuania to Italy and everywhere in between), along with a Chinese bridge, a butterfly garden, rose and lily gardens, and tons more. The Friendship Botanic Gardens is a volunteer-based nonprofit that is dedicated to sharing the beauty of nature and wildlife with all those who wish to stop by. It is a community treasure to Michigan City, and should not be missed.
All aboard… your next stop at Hesston Steam Museum is one you will remember for ages. As you step foot in this unique and incredibly engaging museum, choose to ride one of three different steam railroads and experience the magic of the Industrial Age-- with hundreds of artifacts and old machinery on display. Each of the railroads has a unique story sure to keep you entertained. In addition to railroads, the museum is also home to the Houston Sawmill, the Steam Crane, and the popular Rustic Blacksmith Shop. If you want a little taste of industrial trains and life in the Industrial Age, don’t miss the Hesston Steam Museum.
As your weekend or extended vacation draws to a close and you approach your final destination of South Bend, make sure to stop by the incredible Studebaker National Museum to explore world-class exhibits. The 55,000-square-foot state of the art museum was built to honor the rich industrial heritage of the South Bend area, and all the men and women who played a key role in the industrial revolution. With permanent exhibits including displays on the military, the 1st Source Bank presidential carriage collection, and a total of 33+ vehicles, there are plenty of reasons to spend an afternoon at this unique and fun museum.
Finish your weekend getaway with a bang and spend your last few moments free from everyday life enjoying this top-rated KOA property. Located in the middle of South Bend and Elkhart (just 7 miles from the esteemed University of Notre Dame), there are plenty of things to see and do nearby, including the Hudson Museum, Amish country, the RV Hall of Fame, and more. Offering spacious Deluxe Cabins, laundry on site, and tons of activities for everyone (from mini golf to a petting zoo to a pool), the South Bend / Elkhart North KOA is a little slice of heaven to enjoy before you head back to your routine.
Who knew you could pack so much fun into a short weekend getaway or mini vacation? From the shore to South Bend, there’s plenty to help you get away from the stresses of modern-day life. Whether it’s taking a picture at Michael Jackson’s family home or soaking up the sun on Marquette Beach, this enjoyable adventure is one guaranteed to be repeated soon.
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