Indiana Dunes National Park is the newest park in the national park system and, with its easily accessible location just south of Chicago (there’s even train service available from the city), it makes for a perfect visit when you’re in the area.
Given the park’s setting on Lake Michigan, it goes without saying it comes with some pretty fantastic beaches. There are 15 total miles of sandy beach within the park, open year-round, in case you want to sunbathe in the summer or just admire the icy lake in the winter. If you don’t mind a bit of a hike to get to the beach, go to Mount Baldy Beach, where you get awesome views of the park’s notable dune system (including the largest dune, Mount Baldy), as well as views of the Chicago skyline in the far distance on clear days. Visit in the late afternoon for minuscule crowds. If, though, you want a few of the typical beach amenities, like showers and lifeguards, go to the more popular West Beach.
This park isn’t only about the beaches. There are magnificent spots to hike as well, with landscapes a world away from the sandy shores. There are 14 trail systems and 50 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to more strenuous all-day endeavors. The Cowles Bog Trail System features one of the more difficult hikes, but it also gives you an up-close look at the park’s amazing plant diversity, with views of swamps, marshes and black oak savannas. For something easier, try the Great Marsh Trail System for wetland views and plenty of bird-watching opportunities. If you have smaller children, though, and need a short, easy hike, the Dune Ridge Trail System is the way to go. The hike is less than a mile and only takes a half-hour.
A Little History
For a bit of history, visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes. A unique park feature unlike anything you’ll see in any other national park, these homes were part of an early 20th-century housing development, a marketing ploy by two developers who wanted to attract potential buyers to the area. The homes were on display during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, as examples of futuristic accommodations. After the fair, they were moved via barge to this spot in the Indiana Dunes region, where developers gave potential buyers tours of the homes until the development was abandoned. Now, the homes have been wonderfully remodeled (all except for one, which is still under construction) and the exteriors alone attract many visitors interested in their unique history.
Don’t expect Turin to fit your image of Italy. It’s Italian, all right — the evening passeggiata and a love of good food and wine are alive and well. But you’ll look in vain for medieval cobbled streets, crumbling castles and works by Michelangelo (who never set foot here). Instead, although you’ll find some Roman ruins, you’ll also find a faux medieval village, a world-class film museum and a café life that rivals Vienna’s. You and your family will have fun here.
Time is running out if you’re gift gathering for the travelers on your holiday shopping list. If you still have stockings to fill, here are some fun picks:
Are your kids astronaut wannabes? Or maybe a holiday tradition in your family is to re-watch Macauley Culkin’s Home Alone every year. Either way, the brand new, dual-branded 342-room Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown South Loop and the historic 1928 Whitehall Hotel have packages designed for the little ones in your family.
While urban wine country might sound like an oxymoron, it’s actually a reality at the stunning City Vineyard in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood. The water-side venue is the perfect host for your next event — whatever that may be, from 20 to 200 guests and from cocktail party to plated dinner.
Traveling the countryside without adding miles to your car may sound like a riddle, but it’s really just a clever family travel plan offering the best of both worlds. Enjoy quality time with the family and view rolling scenery without having eyes on the road with train travel.