The Indiana Dunes are a must-visit location in Northeast Indiana, especially if you love beautiful Midwest locations. Add in the fact that South Shore is only 15 miles east and both places are ideal for a girls trip. Here are 9 fun things to do in Northwest Indiana, in the Indiana Dunes area, and South Shore.
The Northwest area of Indiana has always been on my travel bucket list due to its beauty, outdoorsy activities, and all-around cool vibe – plus, you actually get to climb a sand dune! If you’ve never been, it’s near the northeastern Illinois border (35 miles from Chicago) and:
250 miles from French Lick, IN
154 miles from Indianapolis, IN
120 miles from Fort Wayne, IN
So, my 20-year old daughter and I hit the road on a massive Indiana road trip and our second stop was the Indiana Dunes & South Shore area (the first was Lafayette, IN – so cool!). I wanted to add in some history, great dining, and a lot of fun. For us, these spots made our short list.
Disclosure: I was graciously hosted by the fine folks at Along the South Shore DMO to give you the scoop on the best things to do for a girls trip. All opinions are my own!
Take a Float on the Only Steamboat in Indiana
Our very first stop in the South Shore area was at Lassen’s Resort. Both educational and beautiful, the once-1920’s heyday location is now home to a cool museum and the Dewey Line – the only steamboat in Indiana.
If you love melding history with fun, a spin on the boat is a must do as it’s calm and pretty. Additionally, thinking about all of the people that would hit the waterfront at Cedar Lake a century ago made us smile.
Address: 7408 Constitution Ave, Cedar Lake, IN 46303
Learn Some Cool Facts at the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center
If you’ve never been to the Indiana Dunes or the surrounding area, a stop at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center is a must. First, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee ($25 for a non-commercial vehicle and it’s good for 7 consecutive days), but it gives you access to all of the Indiana Dunes National Park’s areas. This is new for 2022, so if you thought it was free originally, you were right.
Okay, here’s where it might get confusing. In the middle of the Indiana Dunes National Park sits the Indiana Dunes State Park. To access the state park, you’ll need to pay an Indiana Dunes State Park entrance fee ($7 for Indiana state license plates, $9 for out of state plates). Again, you’ll have access to all of the amenities.
If I had to pick only one park to visit for you, make it the State Park. The beach on Lake Michigan is stunning and the walking trails are very pretty.
Address: 1215 N State Rd 49, Porter, IN 46304
Hike Up a Sand Dune
To go along with the Indiana Dunes State Park, hiking up a sand dune was a unique experience, and one that I’ll never forget. Previously, all of the sand dunes I’ve ever encountered have been “no touch” due to being protected. But happily, we were able to hike up a massive dune to Mt. Jackson – 176 feet above Lake Michigan.
My advice is to carry plenty of water, wear light clothing (especially in summer), and even take snacks. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, try the Three Dune Challenge.
Tour a Working Farm
For our visit, it was suggested to us to spend the entire day at Fair Oaks Farms and I immediately thought that it wouldn’t take that much time. But, it turns out that’s just about right. The farm is part educational center, part playground, part garden, part sunflower field (when in season), and part driving tours.
If you enjoy learning about how industrial farms tick, you’ll enjoy this very much. Additionally, hit the birthing barn right and you may just see a calf being born.
Address: 856 N 600 E, Fair Oaks, IN 47943
Author’s note: Look, there’s no way I can write about Fair Oaks Farms without recognizing the positive changes there’ve been over the past couple of years. It hurts my heart to know what happened and I can only look at what the company has done to make sure its ethics stay in place since then.
See Bison at Kankakee Sands
23 bison were introduced to Kankakee Sands in 2016 complements of a Prairie Restoration Project. These days, more than 90 roam the area! There’s a protective viewing area for those curious about the massive creatures and spying one is definitely an all-American activity.
Address: S 400 W, Morocco, IN 47963
Where to Eat in South Shore Indiana
Asparagus – If you’re a foodie, put Asparagus on your short list. The restaurant offers an Asian fusion-style menu filled with creative offerings. I loved the spring rolls with peanut sauce, Chicken Pad Thai (ask for extra limes if you like it zesty), and a slice of coconut cake – yum!
Farmhouse Restaurant – Located on the Fair Oaks Farms property, Farmhouse Restaurant is known for its delicious pizza and (my favorite) fried cheese curds. If you want something lighter, try a big salad with fresh veggies.
Pavilion Restaurant & Grill – I really love this restaurant. With both indoor and outdoor seating, Pavilion is a great choice for a pizza (my choice? The classic Margherita) and some fresh fruit. If you enjoy eating outside, ask for a table on the patio with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan – on clear days you can clear to Chicago!
Where to Stay at South Shore & Indiana Dunes
I very rarely go on and on about the exterior of a moderate hotel, but I have to do just that for the Fairfield Inn at Fair Oaks. I had to do a double take as it looks like a giant red barn complete with silo!
As for our room, it was so pretty. We had two queen beds, a microwave, mini fridge, and a fun view of the property. Additionally, the property offers free parking, free wifi, and a free continental breakfast every morning.