Your family guide to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Located just a hop, skip and a jump away from Chicago, family fun awaits in Northwest Indiana and right along the South Shore of Lake Michigan! And while it’s home to our newest national park, Indiana Dunes National Park, the area offers plenty for families to do without having to travel far. Here are a few options for a quick family getaway to Indiana’s South Shore.

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Indiana Dunes State and National Park

As America’s newest national park, the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore is waiting to be explored with 50 miles of trails and, of course, miles of shoreline hugging Lake Michigan. We spent one day enjoying the Indiana Dunes, but could have easily explored longer. To get the lay of the land, start at the Visitor Center. The helpful park rangers can give you valuable insight as to which trails are best suited for your family.

Ready for a challenge? Grab your water and shoes, then attempt to conquer the 3 Dune Challenge. Hike up three dunes for a total of 552 feet. While it’s not easy, the views of Lake Michigan are well worth it. Plus, you’ll come out with a commemorative sticker as well as well-deserved bragging rights.

For a relatively easy hike, head to West Beach’s Succession Trail with its stairs and boardwalk that leads straight to the beach. After enjoying the lake, take the trail that loops back to the parking lot. After our hikes, our reward was spending time at West Beach. Although it may have been quite busy, we did find some space to relax (Read more about our Indiana Dunes adventure). 

Deep River Waterpark

After spending a day hiking and playing in the sand, we needed a little break from the sand so we chose to spend a day at Deep River Waterpark. We had a fun time taking it easy and cooling off in the water, floating in the lazy river and riding the waves at the wave pool.

Mascot Hall of Fame

For serious fun, a stop at the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting is a must. Once you spy the poles covered with bright fur and eyes and the large pink mascot head, how can this place NOT be fun? It’s perfect for kids and the young at heart! The wholly interactive museum pays tribute to the mascots that make sports all that more fun, but it also gives visitors a chance to see what it takes to be a mascot. Try on a mascot head, pick up items with awkward mitts, design your own mascot, work on your acting skills to star in your own movie and so much more!

Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center

Kids ages 9 and under can play their hearts out with 12 areas of hands-on activities. And the best part is kids will never know they’re learning. Coming soon: Stay tuned for their awesome outdoor play area with water features and a fun playground.

RELATED: Find all the furry fun at Mascot museum

Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest

The entire family (even pets!) will love perusing the formal gardens, sculptures, trails and a music garden. The Adventure Garden with animals is sure to be a hit with the kids and if you have a train fan, you cannot miss the Railway Garden. Watch model trains chug through almost one acre of more than 500 different varieties of plants. Check their calendar for a variety of fun events such as stargazing and concerts. 

Eat

Asparagus

Don’t let the white tablecloth deter you from dining at this Asian fusion restaurant serving Thai and Vietnamese.  No need to dress to nines; business casual works here. The food is nothing short of amazing packed with so much flavor. And did I mention the portions? Huge! Our savory Pad Thai was more than enough to feed our starving family. Other dishes to try include the chicken satay with the spicy peanut sauce, the Thai Fried Rice (again humongous portions!), and the 5-spice duck (my husband absolutely devoured it.)

Chicagoland Popcorn

“Pop” across the street from Albanese to find over 250 flavors of popcorn. We tried the Rainbow popcorn and it was a nice sweet treat that reminded us of Fruity Pebbles. Another favorite is the sweet and salty Indiana Mix.

Goblin and the Grocer

What an adorable place! After the 3 Dunes Challenge, we were famished and needed food and fast. Unfortunately, seating wasn’t available, so we did the next best thing — we grabbed a couple of to-go sandwiches from their cafe. We weren’t too impressed with the sandwiches but will definitely have to try their sit-down restaurant with more choices. We did, however, enjoy their ice cream from local favorite, Valpo Velvet. Absolutely delicious! My hubs, on the other hand, was kept happy by visiting the onsite bar where he could try a couple of craft beers.

Albanese Candy Factory

You’ll feel like Charlie from Charlie Factory once you feast your eyes on all the candy here. Before you begin filling up your shopping baskets, take a few minutes for a self-guided tour and watch them create candy through the windows. Afterwards peruse the store for gummies in all sorts of flavors (orange creamsicle is divine!) and shapes (butterflies or green army men!).  Don’t forget about their homemade chocolates.

Tip: If you ask nicely enough you can sample a piece of candy. If you’re looking for a nice treat for the kids, have them pick a quarter pound bag worth of candy. They’ll feel like they’re getting a treat, and you can spend around $1 for the bag without overindulging. Looking for deal? Check out the “mistakes” section for highly discounted candy.

Bartlett’s Fish Camp

Located by the shores of Michigan City, this eatery was one of our favorites during our entire stay. We lucked out and had outdoor patio seats perfect for listening to live music, enjoying cold beer, and watching the tail end of the boating race. To complete our experience, the food was pretty darn tasty. We absolutely loved our lobster rolls, fish fry, and fish sampler platter.

Off Square Brewing

As part of the South Shore Brewery Trail, Off Square Brewing in Crown Point likes to think outside the box. For example, adventurous palates will need to try the The Beast – Ghost Pepper, a “Porter brewed with marshmallow, graham cracker, and smoked salt aged in bourbon barrels with ghost peppers.” And yes, the brewery is totally kid-friendly before 9 p.m as well as pet-friendly on the patio.  Bring your appetite as they serve a variety of good eats (chicken and waffles pizza, anyone?)

Stay

Our home base for our South Shore adventures was Home2 Suites by Hilton Merrillville. The newer hotel was the perfect place to stay after a day of adventuring. The all-suite hotel provided the room we needed to spread out, a pool for more splash-tastic fun, as well as a nice breakfast spread (free!) It was just down the road from a couple of attractions (Deep River Waterpark, Albanese Factory, and Chicagoland Popcorn) and all the restaurants.


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