When you think of a beach vacation, Indiana is the first place you think of, right? No? Maybe you should take a closer look.
The park and lakeshore are at the eastern end of what is locally known as “The Region.” The Region is the Indiana portion of greater Chicago, and contains East Chicago, Hammond, Gary, and Michigan City. If you’re a Hoosier, you know that this area is known more for steel mills, power plants, and crime than natural beauty.
And this is what made our short vacation to Lake Michigan so surprising. We found clean beaches, amazing natural features, and well behaved beach-goers.
As expected, the state park is more developed than the lakeshore. The featured attraction is the public beach, located at the end of State Road 49. The beach features amazing sand, beach house, concessions, beach shower, and lifeguards (starting at 11 am). The beach gets crowded near the parking lots, but if you’re willing to walk a little way, you can find a nice spot to stake your beach towel with plenty of elbow room.
The beach is bounded by towering dunes, some rising as high as 180 feet over the lake. There are very nice hiking trails, including the 3 Dune Challenge, a 1.5 mile hike up three of the park’s tallest dunes. Our family made it up 2 of the 3 dunes before short legs got tired. It’s likely even our 4 year old hiker would have completed the course had we tried earlier in the day.
As nice as the state park was, we found the national lakeshore more to our liking. The beaches were a little rockier, access was a short hike, it lacked a beach house, and there were no lifeguards, but the calm evening we spent playing in the sand at Central Avenue Beach was one of the best. It appeared to be inhabited by locals rather than tourists, and there was lots of space. With a short beach hike, you might even find yourself alone.
One word of caution: Central Avenue Beach is over-shadowed by 126 foot Mt. Baldy, the tallest moving dune in the lakeshore. The dune is closed to hikers due to a near tragedy just last July, with no firm explanation.
We were headed home the following morning, but we had to stop by the beach one last time. The beach was anything but calm. The wind was gusting in from the north northwest across the lake, and the 6 inch waves of the previous evening had become 5-6 foot surf. It was quite impressive, if a little chilly.