Family Time and Good Times
Go Together in LaPorte County!
Bicycling… beach time… train rides… terrific zoo creatures – they’re the stuff that go into making any kid’s dream vacation. Welcome to this special corner of Northern Indiana where Lake Michigan shores, pristine inland lakes, and loads of outdoor activity create a phenomenal spot for a family getaway.
If you’ve never visited LaPorte County, get ready to make that wished-for vacation a reality for the whole family. If you already know our area, plan a return trip to enjoy your favorite places once again and discover some new ones. Either way, the red carpet is out for you in the friendly communities of Michigan City and LaPorte and all the small towns and scenic byways in between.
Amazing Activities Along the Shore…
Many visitors consider Michigan City’s Washington Park Beach the crown jewel of the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s a supreme place to settle in for a day as you claim your own spot on this inviting stretch of powder-soft sand. Swimming, sunning, and sand-castle-building create good times. The iconic Michigan City Lighthouse, a symbol of the community, commands the shore. A walk on the long, elevated pier leading to it creates a sense of oneness with the Great Lake. (NOTE: The Michigan City Parks Department wants visitors to know that the lighthouse is not open to the public. They also say that it’s best to stay off the pier on extremely windy days when the waves are high.) Don’t miss the other pleasures that Washington Park offers on its expansive shady grounds, including seasonal concessions, picnic tables, and a fitness trail.
Right next door at the Washington Park Zoo, discover wonders of nature as you view beautiful animals along tree-shaded pathways, see parakeets soar in a walk-through aviary, and discover the reptiles that rule at the Discovery Center. The historic zoo is home to some 90 species, from tigers and bears to alligators and eagles. The zoo started as a sanctuary nearly 100 years ago and continues to welcome wildlife in need. Get to know these amazing creatures from five different continents. (Zoo is open April 1-October 31).
Indiana Dunes National Park
Wind-swept sand dunes form a beautifully sculptured landscape along Lake Michigan’s clear, blue waters at this 15,000-acre haven just west of Michigan City. The rugged dunes challenge hikers, rewarding them with far-reaching views of the lake, beaches, and the ever-changing mountains of sand. Farther inland, walkways cross watery bogs, and pathways lead through deep forests. The park includes some 50 miles of trails. You can get maps and information at the Park Visitors Center before heading out on your own or joining a ranger-led excursion.
The national park and adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park provide great opportunities for bird watching, especially in the spring and fall. More than 350 bird species live here or migrate through, drawn by the open waters of Lake Michigan and diverse habitats. As springtime’s blossoms unfold, you’ll hear the song of birds throughout the dunes and have plenty of chances to spot them.
If the family vacation wouldn’t be complete without a lake somewhere in the picture, focus in on the community of LaPorte. The lakes here provide an abundance of ways to enjoy your time in, on, and next to the water. Whether your tastes run to lazing on a pontoon, zooming across the waves on jet skis, or casting a line for bass, crappie and more, there’s a lake made for you. Plus, marinas rent all kinds of watercraft, from pontoons to paddleboards. Swimmers and beachgoers head for sandy-bottomed Pine and Stone lakes, known for their clear water and excellent public beaches. Anglers fish both lakes as well as a third – Clear Lake. You can try your luck from the shore or head out on the water.
Heavenly Havens Where Nature Reigns…
Friendship Botanic Gardens, Michigan City
Nature puts on its best show at this divine retreat where walking trails lead through woodlands, vast open spaces, and beautifully cultivated gardens. There’s so much to see and enjoy for every age group! Head out to Lake Lucerne, where you might spot muskrats, geese, and turtles. Along the way, the woods are home to deer, groundhogs, and wild turkeys. Younger family members love the ArcelorMittal Children’s Garden, filled with great playground equipment and kid-friendly activities, such as a hydraulic hand pump that lets them simulate drawing groundwater from the earth. Watch for upcoming special events in the months ahead!
Looking for a spot to have a picnic, walk a trail, or let the kids work off some energy on super playground equipment while you sit and relax on tree-shaded grounds? LaPorte County is overflowing with awesome city parks – some 30 public properties in Michigan City and another 16 in LaPorte. Check them out online and you’ll find a perfect fit. For example, in Michigan City, discover a pond and fishing pad at Hansen Park, ADA accessible playground at Gardena Park, and hiking trails at Winding Creek Cove. Many of LaPorte’s parks are found along the community’s lakeshores, such as Fox Memorial Park with strolling paths among beautifully landscaped grounds, and Soldiers Memorial Park, the largest community park in the county. Most of the parks are pet-friendly and include picnic areas and restrooms.
Riding the Rails and Hitting the Trails…
Hesston Steam Museum (Spring opening TBA) Head to this great outdoor venue in the tiny town of Hesston just outside of LaPorte and ride through the forest aboard a vintage train. It’s a blast from the past where you’ll learn all about the golden age of railroads. Visitors enjoy rides on the Steam Museum’s biggest train – a full-sized Narrow Gauge locomotive of the type that was used to transport both freight and passengers. The medium-size vintage Kiddieland train once provided entertainment at small amusement parks. Another small train takes families through the woods and on an under/over bridge route. On special days, the Hesston Sawmill operates, and the museum offers holiday events throughout the year. No trip to the Hesston Steam Museum would be complete without breakfast, lunch or ice cream treats at Doc’s.
Where the family goes, so do their bicycles! At least that’s the case for many people who wouldn’t consider a vacation complete without exploring the region on two wheels. In LaPorte County, more than 400 miles of biking routes connect towns and parks. You can choose from 20 mapped trails featuring both paved and unpaved pathways that lead along peaceful country roads, through friendly communities, and into county parks. In fact, bicycles also have access to nearly all trails in LaPorte County Parks. Both Bluhm County Park in Westville and Red Mill County Park near LaPorte also feature mountain bike trails.
Heart of the Town…
Uptown Arts District, Michigan City
It’s funky, it’s fun, and it’s full of surprises! Cool shops, art galleries, and great eating spots fill this trendy area of Michigan City. Pop in and out of shops that feature everything from beach jewelry to unusual hats, and then stop in one of the eateries for, perhaps, Mediterranean fare, all-American burgers or ice cream. Along the way, the family can view one-of-a-kind outdoor sculptures created for Michigan City’s SculptFusion program, which brings a changing display of these works to town.
Plaza 618, LaPorte
Visual and musical art for the whole family come together at LaPorte’s Plaza 618 downtown. A huge hand-painted mural traces the city’s colorful history, from the early Pottawattamie tribe to modern-day popcorn. There’s also a splash pad, benches and seats with colorful umbrellas plus a chance to make your own kind of music on a huge Joyful Noise instrument. It’s one of several installed around town so everyone can play.
Insider Tip: All that outdoor activity requires plenty of fuel, and we’ve got some real winners when it comes to that great food that everyone loves. Stop by one of these eateries voted tops in friendly Northern Indiana “Food Wars” competitions:
Note: Note: Businesses and venues throughout LaPorte County, which includes the communities of Michigan City and LaPorte, are following state guidelines established in conjunction with the coronavirus (COVID-19) to open gradually and safely in accordance with a statewide plan. The county recently was upgraded to “blue” status, which means it is among more than half the state’s counties experiencing the lowest levels of positive COVID-19 cases and fewer restrictions. However, face coverings and social distancing are required in many places. Although numerous restaurants and businesses are now open, we recommend that you check ahead with places you plan to visit to make sure they are operating and to learn about any regulations in place. You can check their websites, call ahead, or visit their social media accounts.