Sandy bluffs rolling down to the sparkling blue fresh water of the Great Lakes make for endless opportunities for fun—whether you're looking to swim, hike, build sandcastles, or just lay out a beach towel and relax. Indiana Dunes National Park, located along the shore of Lake Michigan, is one of the most perfect stretches of beachfront in the whole Midwest.
Here are 11 must-see stops on a scenic drive from the Northwestern edge of Indiana to South Bend.
Kick off your trip with a stop at Michael Jackson’s childhood home. While not nearly as grand as Neverland Ranch, the humble home is where the Jackson 5 and the King of Pop got their starts. The house, located at 2300 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana, isn’t open for tours and there is no gift shop, but for die-hard Jackson fans it’s worth the pilgrimage for a quick photo op.
Marquette Beach lies within a 241-acre park that offers 1.4 miles of Lake Michigan beaches, inland ponds, dunes, and more. The park’s two historic structures include the stately Recreation Pavilion, built in 1924, and the Gary Bathing Beach Pavilion Aquatorium, built as a bathhouse in 1922. The Aquatorium building honors aviation pioneer Octave Chanute and the Tuskegee Airmen.
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!
Hugging 15 dune-studded miles of Lake Michigan, it’s no wonder that Indiana Dunes was designated as a national park in 2019. Indiana Dunes is more than just a beachfront; it includes forests and wetland as well as various beaches, the 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. 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 beach gives you plenty of room to set up for the day to enjoy outdoor activities with access to bathrooms, parking, and showers to rinse off all that sand.
Take a break from the beach and spend some time admiring the incredible architecture, history, and design of five houses from the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. Moved to Indiana from Chicago, the five homes—the Cypress Log Cabin, House of Tomorrow, Florida Tropical, Armco Ferro, and Wieboldt-Rostone houses—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 once a year via a National Park Service tour in September; tickets go on sale in early August and sell out quickly.
The whole family will find something to do at Washington Park Beach, whether it’s a visit to the zoo, a hike to the lighthouse, or enjoying a nice meal with the family. There are concessions, lifeguards, picnic tables, parking, and everything you need for a day at the beach as well. If you’re around at sunset, it’s the perfect time to take a photo 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.
The more than 100-acre International Friendship Botanic Gardens are filled with a diverse selection of nature trails and wildlife, including muskrats, geese, turtles, and deer. Gardens representing various nations (from Lithuania to Italy and beyond) bloom alongside a Chinese bridge, a butterfly garden, and rose and lily gardens. 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.
All aboard! Your next stop is the unique and engaging Hesston Steam Museum. Visitors can 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. The museum is also home to the Houston Sawmill, the Steam Crane, and the popular Rustic Blacksmith Shop.
The 55,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Studebaker National 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 presidential carriage collection (including the carriage Abraham Lincoln used the night of his assassination), and more than 30 vehicles, there are plenty of reasons to spend an afternoon at this museum.
Finish your getaway with a stay at this top-rated KOA property. Located in the middle of South Bend and Elkhart (just 7 miles from the 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 & Museum, 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 home.
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