Weekend Trip Ideas – Indiana Dunes and Northwest Indiana

When planning a quick getaway from the cities of Chicago, Detroit, or Indianapolis, here are some great weekend trip ideas to consider: a visit to Indiana Dunes and Northwest Indiana!

Imagine yourself working 50 or more hours in an office each week. You have a pile of tasks lined up on your desk with over a hundred emails you still need to read before you can go home. However, that does not even include the part where you are sitting on the Kennedy Expressway for two hours just to get home. Life can get very stressful these days, so you are considering a vacation to somewhere fascinating such as Nova Scotia or Bali. Unfortunately, you have already used up your vacation days earlier this year. Why not consider a quick weekend trip somewhere? Located only an hour (depending on traffic) from downtown Chicago and 3.5 hours away from Metro Detroit, Indiana Dunes National Park (formerly Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) along with the communities of Michigan City and Valparaiso make for a great weekend getaway.

Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park is Indiana’s very first national park. The park contains more plant and animal diversity than the entire state of Hawaii. Indiana Dunes National Park offers miles of hiking opportunities including some which can take you onto the many sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. My personal favorite hike is the Dune Succession Trail Loop located over at West Beach which is a mile-long hike traversing through sand dunes, forests, and even the Lake Michigan shoreline. On this hike you can get breathtaking views of all the sand dunes, Lake Michigan, the steel plants of Gary, and even the skyscrapers of Chicago on a clear day. I learned about this hike from my very good friend, Dima, whom lives in the area.

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Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach – you can even see downtown Chicago on a clear day

In addition to the hiking trails, West Beach also offers a beach for swimming during the summer which is quite refreshing after hiking around the dunes. The park also has great spots for bird-watching and fishing as well as camping at Dunewood Campground located in the eastern part of the park near Michigan City (about 15 miles east of West Beach). Even if you just go to the national park for a few hours, hearing the gentle sounds of the wind blowing through the trees while gazing at sand dunes is enough to clear your mind of any stress you may have endured during the week. I even made a video of my hike at Indiana Dunes National Park with my friend Dima:

Michigan City, Indiana

After you have embarked on a day of exploration of Indiana Dunes or if you would prefer to check out some different communities instead, why not check out Michigan City, Indiana? Founded in 1830, Michigan City is a nice community along Lake Michigan which has quite a nice downtown with a lot of historical buildings like the Barker Mansion (1857) and the Trinity Episcopal Church (1889). The city has some great opportunities for shopping in downtown as well as at the Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets located only a couple blocks west of Franklin St.

The Barker Mansion in Michigan City, Indiana

One of the most popular spots in Michigan City is Washington Park which has a spectacular lighthouse and catwalk with great views of the Lake Michigan shoreline including some of the dunes at Indiana Dunes National Park. In addition, the park also has a bandstand for performances as well as a zoo. The zoo even has an observation tower which provides some outstanding views of the entire area.

Valparaiso, Indiana

Another great community to visit in Northwest Indiana is Valparaiso (Valpo for short) which is named after the Chilean city of the same name. Unlike Michigan City, Valparaiso is further inland from Lake Michigan and is located about 14 miles to the south of Indiana Dunes National Park. Valparaiso has a nice, walkable downtown with a wide variety of restaurants and attractions such as the Memorial Opera House and Central Park Plaza where you can even sit next to Orville Redenbacher himself, or at least a statue of him. Therefore, you probably will not learn the recipe of the gourmet popping corn he and Charlie Bowman are famous for.

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The Porter County Courthouse in downtown Valparaiso

Nearby Valparaiso is the Gabis Arboretum at Purdue Northwest. Located several miles to the southwest of the city, the park contains a collection of gardens and woodlands especially oak trees. While walking on the hiking trails, you may just encounter some wildlife in the park especially many species of birds.

Place to Eat: Carlson’s Drive In

If you are looking for a quick bite to eat while exploring the Lake Michigan coastline, Carlson’s Drive In is the place to go. Located at 118 W Coolspring Ave west of Franklin St about a mile south of downtown Michigan City, Carlson’s Drive In is a great place for great-tasting food especially hot dogs at a low price. Hot dogs can be made either plain, with chili, or even Chicago-style. In addition to hot dogs, Carlson’s Drive In also makes burgers, sandwiches (including the pork tenderloin sandwich), and homemade root beer. As a drive in restaurant, you do not even have to get out of your vehicle as they will take your order and deliver your food to your window.

The front of Carlson’s Drive In near Michigan City

Place to Stay: Residence Inn by Marriott Merrillville

Although many Chicagoans can easily visit everything in a day, many people making the trip from Metro Detroit should consider finding a hotel to stay in during a weekend trip to Northwest Indiana. A place I stayed at is the Residence Inn by Marriott located in Merrillville, Indiana. The hotel is about 15-25 miles away from Indiana Dunes National Park or 15 miles west of Valparaiso, is easily accessible by Interstate 65, and is located near shopping centers and restaurants. The hotel has free parking, free breakfast, and free Wi-Fi as well as an outdoor patio.

Check out my hotel review of the Residence Inn by Marriott Merrillville here:

If you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Chicago, Detroit, or even Indianapolis, Northwest Indiana has some great destinations to explore which can be easily experienced in just a weekend. From parks such as Indiana Dunes National Park to the cities of Michigan City and Valparaiso, Northwest Indiana has a lot to offer!

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