September’s here and Chicago kids are back in the classroom learning their ABCs and 1-2-3s. Summer trips to the beach may be over—but autumn weekends at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore still spell fun. With eight beaches and numerous hiking trails to choose from, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy family-friendly activities.
Become a junior ranger
Through Dec. 31, kids can earn a badge in the Dunes Junior Ranger Program. Visit the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center (corner of Highways 20 and 49) between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to pick up a set of self-guided activities. Enjoy exploring the Dunes as a family and learn something at the same time.
Eat a picnic lunch
Picnics are always in season, and fall is a nice time to sit on the beach savoring your favorite fall foods. We suggest sweet potato quesadillas, coleslaw and cider with apple crisp or caramel apples for dessert.
Attempt a swim
Lake Michigan has had all summer to warm up, and just because it’s September doesn’t mean the water turns cold overnight. Our family has been known to sneak in a swim or two on warm afternoons as late as October.
Comb the sand
Everyone likes a treasure hunt, and the beach offers miles of opportunity. Beach glass is bits and pieces of broken jars, bottles and pottery that are tumbled by waves and eroded by sand until they are smooth and frosty. Crinoids are fossilized pieces of stalks from sea lilies once attached to the bottom of the lake. They require a sharp eye to spot but are exciting to find.
There are a number of trails within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that are well worth hiking. Take a short stroll along the Great Marsh Trail or choose Cowles Bog Trail for something lengthier and a bit more challenging. Walk along Lake Front Drive for great views of the lake and see the five Houses of Tomorrow, built for the 1933 World’s Fair and shipped over on barges from Chicago.
For more information and maps of the area, stop by the Visitor Center or visit the website of the National Park Service at nps.gov/indu.