Photo Credit: Tom Gill

I love bringing people who live on the coast to the great lakes because their sheer surprise of “not being able to see the other side” always amazes me. One of those Midwest gems? The Indiana Dunes. A favorite summer destination and natural wonder, the Indiana Sand Dunes are a 15-mile stretch coastline featuring beautiful beaches, 70 miles of hiking trails and more than 350 species of birds. Located just 1 hour from Chicago, the Dunes are a nationally protected lakefront and state park all in one on the Indiana – Michigan border.

Here are some suggestions for what to do there:

Mt Baldy | Photo Credit: Drewski Mac

Get Fit

It’s no secret that running on sand is a hell of a workout. There are various trails that involve climbing the dunes, some flatter than others. Mt. Tom is the tallest sand dune in Indiana, which you can reach from the state park via a long wooded bridge. Towering 192 feet above Lake Michigan, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Chicago. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, there is a 3-dune loop setup that starts and ends at the Nature Center and includes Mt. Tom, Mt. Holden and Mt. Jackson, the most difficult section of the park in a 1.5 mile circuit. While well less than a 5 K, some areas of the trail are at nearly 40-degree slopes, so don’t discount the difficulty solely based on distance.

Valley of Shadows | Photo Credit: Tom Gill

More than Just Beaches

More than just sun and surf, there are plenty of other attractions in the area, as well. Taltree Arboretum is a beautiful dog-friendly garden, ancient prairie, restored wetland and preserved woodland that offers a wide variety of outdoor experiences year-round, including a model train garden and nature walks. Want a more hands on field trip? Head to the family-owned Broken Wagon Bison Farm, where you can take a wagon tour and meet a herd of more than 70 American Bison. Also in the area are amusement parks, a fantastic European market and one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country, which just so happens to be one of the 10 best.

Photo Credit: Tom Gill

But When You Want to Beach…

There are plenty of public and private places to lay out. Parents magazine picked the Indiana Dunes among the top five family beaches in the nation along with beaches in San Diego, California and Maui, Hawaii. TripAdvisor also ranked the Indiana Dunes in its top 10. Pretty sweet for being smack dab in the middle of the country.