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Top 10 Summer Things to do in Indiana Dunes Country

By Calie Florek
Indiana Dunes Tourism

Indiana Dunes Country is known for having some of the best beaches and hiking trails in the nation. But that’s just the start of what there is to do in Indiana Dunes Country.

There are many events and places to visit in Northwest Indiana during the summer, and the price is right. Either free of charge or for a minimum fee, the list below includes great things for the family, individuals or a group of friends to plan on visiting when looking for a great weekend trip.

1. The Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes State ParkWith 15 miles of coastline and 15,000 acres of trails, savannas, forests and prairies, ‘awe-inspiring’ doesn’t even begin to describe this national wonder. Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are open year-round, and every season brings a new and different experience.

The Lake Michigan shoreline offers many access points in Porter County, many of which are free to visitors. Stop by to catch some rays, throw a Frisbee around or play in the waters of Lake Michigan. To find out about the access points, stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 1215 N. State Road 49 in Porter, visit www.indianadunes.com or call 219-926-2255.

Tip: For $5 per car for Indiana residents and $10 per car for out of state visitors, check out Indiana Dunes State Park. You get a guaranteed good parking spot, have a lifeguard on duty and can visit the snack bar. Events like the annual Sand Sculpture Contest, occurring 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. July 14, are held throughout the year.

2. Chesterton’s European Market

Chesterton’s European Market, located at Broadway and Third Street in Chesterton, gives locals and visitors a chance to enjoy local bands and a unique marketplace full of goods one wouldn’t find in their local grocery store. Vendors from Michigan, Illinois and Indiana are at the market from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from May to October. They offer everything from artisan breads and pastries and ethnic foods to rare books, clothing and fresh-from-the-farm produce and flowers. For more information, go to http://www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com or call 219-926-5513.

Tip: If you haven’t been to the area before, make a day of it! Near the marketplace square are many local restaurants to visit. A few miles down the road, the Indiana Dunes are waiting.

3. Festivals

Indiana Dunes Country embraces the area’s small-town charm in its many festivals during the summer and fall months. The downtown areas of Valparaiso, Chesterton and Kouts, among others, are closed for people to walk around, visit food and craft booths and ride festival rides during the festivals.

Kouts Pork Fest: On August 25, 2012 at 8 a.m., the pork-themed events and booths begin. There is a 5K run, parade, entertainment, food, arts and crafts booths and more. The Kouts Fire Department makes a mean pork chop and the pulled pork sandwiches are a don’t miss. Downtown Kouts is located on State Road 8 and Highway 49. To find out about more events at the fest or other information, visit www.koutsporkfest.com or call 219-766-0720.

Popcorn FestivalValparaiso’s Popcorn Festival: Honoring Valparaiso’s native son, Orville Redenbacher, and named the “Best festival of the Region” by The Times  readers, the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival offers family-fun activities for all ages with more than 500 food and craft booths, kids’ games, the five-mile Popcorn Panic race and the nation’s first (and only) Popcorn Parade. Starting at 7 a.m. on Sept. 8, visit the city of Valparaiso for one of its most exciting events! This festival is not just about popcorn, it’s about community. Stop by to eat some good eats, buy some unique products and have an overall great time. If you have any questions, visit www.valparaisoevents.com or call 219-464-8332.

Chesterton’s Wizard of Oz Fest: Follow the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz Festival in Downtown Chesterton—the largest and second oldest Wizard of Oz Festival in the U.S. The festival transforms the town into the Land of Oz and celebrates with a parade, contests, Brunch with the Munchkins and more. The entire downtown area of Chesterton is open for the public to roam around food and merchandise booths on Friday, September 14 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, September 15 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, September 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Colorful horses and fun costumes are seen all around and the atmosphere is a magical one. More information about this fest can be found at www.dunebig.com or by calling 219-926-9900.

Tip: These are some of Indiana Dune Country’s biggest events! Get there early to find a good parking spot.

4. Valparaiso’s Central Park Plaza

Central Park has provided entertainment for all ages since it opened last summer. Located at Lincolnway and Lafayette Street in downtown Valparaiso, concerts and movies, as well as the market occur throughout the week at the park. For something different to do on a summer night, stop by Central Park for the free entertainment! During the day, a splash pad is open for children to play during the summer from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A calendar for upcoming events is provided online at http://valparaisoevents.com/ and any questions can be answered by calling 219-464-8332.

Tip: Don’t stop by for just for the concert or movie! Downtown Valparaiso boasts a large number of restaurants. For a full list of restaurants, go to www.indianadunes.com and click on “Things to Do.”

5. Hoosier Bat Company

Hoosier Bat CompanyWhether you are a baseball player or baseball fan, all are welcome at the Hoosier Bat Company located at 4511 East Evans Avenue in Valparaiso! Free tours are available at the locally-owned business to show how blocks of wood like ash, maple and hickory are turned into baseball bats used by major league sluggers. Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa have all used these bats in the major leagues. Call ahead to reserve your tour at 800-228-3787. The gift shop is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers bats and baseball-related gifts.

Tip: Get your own personalized mini-bat! This unique item is a great gift for a family member, a friend or yourself.

6. Zao Island

It is an adventureland for grown-ups and kids alike: Two miniature golf courses, go-carts, bumper cars, game room, batting cages, a giant slide and laser tag. There is also an on-site pizzeria if you get hungry or need a break from the action. Zao Island is open year-round and opens daily at 10 a.m. It is located at 1050 Horseprairie Avenue in Valparaiso. For any questions you have, call 219-462-1194 or visit http://zaoisland.net/.

Tip: If you like garlic, try the bread bites at Colada’s, Zao Island’s pizzeria!

7. Taltree Arboretum

Explore nearly four miles of trails through restored woodlands, prairie and wetland within Taltree’s 360-acre park located at 450 West 100 North in Valparaiso. Taltree Arboretum is among 10 arboreta in the U. S. that “may well leave you speechless,” according to an MSN Local Edition feature. Included in the $10 admission fee is access to the award-winning Railway Garden, Oak Islands, Window on the Wetlands and more! The arboretum is open daily at 8 a.m. Check out http://www.taltree.org or call 219-462-0025 to find out what Taltree has to offer.

Tip: Make sure to check out the Railway Garden! It is a huge, nationally-recognized model railway garden and something you shouldn’t miss.

8. 50’s Fun

49er Drive In49er Drive-In: One of only around 400 drive-ins left in the country, the 49er Drive-In provides entertainment for the whole family. The $8 admission cost to the drive-in located at 675 North Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso covers two first-run movies that are shown at dusk. You can bring food or buy from the concession stand – each purchase at the concession stand goes towards maintaining the drive-in and is appreciated. To see when the Drive-In is open, what movies are playing for the week and when special events are taking place, go to www.49erdrivein.com or call 219-462-6122.

The Port Drive-In: Enjoy a meal brought to your car by carhops or dine inside. Since 1953, The Port Drive-In Family Restaurant has been serving hot dogs and old-fashioned root beer that is made on the premises. It is open during the summer at 419 North Calumet Road in Chesterton. To view the menu, go to http://theportdrivein.com/ and call 219-926-3500 with any questions.

Classic Car Shows: Check out cars of all types at one or more of Indiana Dune Country’s classic car shows. A complete list of several car shows is available at http://indianadunes.com/car and questions can be directed to 219-926-2255.

Tip: Arrive early to the drive-in! Not only do you get a better spot, the family gets a chance to play on the lawn in front of the big screen and get situated.

9. Broken Wagon Bison Farm

 The American Bison, better known as the buffalo, has staged a remarkable comeback since it teetered on the brink of extinction a century ago. It is because of farms like Broken Wagon located at 563 West 450 North in Hobart that bison have made such a comeback. Opened in 2003, Broken Wagon Bison Farm now has over 70 bison. Tours are available between June and September on Saturdays at 11 am and 2 p.m. for a small fee. If you cannot make it for a tour, the Broken Wagon Bison Farm shop offers bison hides, leather items and bison meat that you can purchase. Hours for the shop are Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Tip: Plan your trip for a Saturday, when you can get within inches of the magnificent creatures.

10. Indiana Dunes Country Museum Tour

If you are interested in history, the Indiana Dunes Country area has many different museums for you!

The Alton Goin Museum is located inside Countryside Park. It houses many cultural artifacts from the Portage region. Enjoy a walk through the park and don’t forget to check out the historic Trager farmhouse and outbuildings. The museum is located at 5250 U.S. Highway 6 in Portage. Open from March through November, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The website with more information is www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~inpchs/ and questions can be answered by phone at 219-762-8349.

Porter County Museum of HistoryOnce the sheriff’s residence and local jail, the Porter County Museum of History is now home to the county’s largest collection of area history and treasures. Displays change often and every trip is a fresh adventure. Located at 153 S. Franklin St. in Valparaiso, this museum is open Wednesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 219-465-3595 with any questions or visit www.portercountymuseum.org.

Westchester Township History Museum/The Brown Mansion offers free, family-friendly tours of the restored historic 1885 home of a wealthy area family. Monthly public programs, an exhibit surrounding areas from the Ice Age to 1981, temporary exhibits and a museum store are located in the same building at 700 West Porter Avenue in Chesterton. Visit www.wpl.lib.in.us/museum for more information, or call 219-983-9715. Hours for this museum are Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.

The Valparaiso Fire Museum offers a fascinating view of firefighting from the age of leather buckets to the modern era of gasoline fire trucks. Guided tours of the museum and adjoining Task Force Tips fire suppression equipment company are available, but you have to call in advance. The phone number to reserve such tours is 219-462-6161. The museum, located at 3701 Innovation Way in Valparaiso, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.tft.com for more information.

Tip: Go to the Fire Museum on Tuesday or Wednesday and hear interesting stories from the museum curator, a retired Valparaiso Fire Department captain.

For more information about Indiana Dunes Country, visit http://indianadunes.com/, or call 219-926-2255.

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