Diggin’ the Dunes…with the Kids!
Feature photo: Friendship Botanic Gardens
Submitted by: Emily D.
So…you really dig the dunes AND you have young kids? This is for you, my fellow brave parents and caregivers of young children.
Many variables can be involved with planning adventures for the kids, especially in uncharted territories. (“OK, what EXACTLY am I getting into before I release my kids from the back of my minivan?!”)
Here, you’ll find a list of family-friendly adventure spots around our Dig the Dunes area. I hope this resource encourages you to explore and be adventurous MORE and OFTEN with the kids.
The memories are worth the endless muddy boots and sandy clothes. You got this.
Kid friendly hiking spots with a little “extra” fun included:
- Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, and Little Calumet Trail System
Take a hike, take in history, and visit some animals. My kids really enjoy this hiking spot because they get to find the historic homes along the way. At the end of our hike, we always visit the resident animals. Depending on the time of year, this could be chickens, turkeys, cows and/or pigs. Bonus, they host some wonderful festivals and events. Their annual Maple Syrup and Apple Festivals do not disappoint. Free entry and part of the Indiana Dunes National Park! Porter, IN
- Brincka Cross Gardens
Easy access, quiet, and free! The longest trail is less than a mile, and great for the youngest of kids. Recently, we went after a fresh snowfall, and they loved making snowballs along the way. Bonus, there are several very small bridges to cross on the trails (kids love bridges, am I right?). Michigan City, IN
- Friendship Botanic Gardens
The ArcelorMittal Children’s Garden Playground is a hidden gem at the Friendship Botanic Gardens. A small hike takes you to this whimsical space for the children to play and explore. My kids love the wooden play set, water play area with a working manual water pump, and the large wooden playhouse that appears to be out of a storybook! There is a small donation requested to enter. Michigan City, IN
- Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center & Trails
The Indiana Dunes State Park is always hosting engaging activities for families, so check the calendar of events on their website regularly. We love to hike the trails right off the Nature Center and stop in afterwards. The kids enjoy the bird-watching room as well as the animals available for observation, like native frogs and snakes. They also have a great beach with lifeguards on duty in the summer. There is a fee to enter the State Park (it is separate from the neighboring Indiana Dunes National Park). If you find you love it, there is an option to get an annual pass! Chesterton, IN
- Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education
Interactive exhibits for the kids and part of the Indiana Dunes National Park. Don’t miss taking a hike and exploring the Paul H. Douglas trail system. Gary, IN
More to explore:
Bellaboos – Plan to stay for a while! Bellaboos is a large children’s play and discovery center (with indoor and outdoor fun). Inside you’ll find limitless activities and tons to explore. If the weather is nice, their new outdoor Imagination Garden can’t be missed! Part of Lake County Parks. Lake Station, IN
Central Park Plaza Ice Rink – Here, you will find winter ice skating fun! They provide ice skate rentals and skating aids for those who need them. My kids also really enjoy watching the zamboni work its magic (bonus!). There are concessions inside, but we tend to hit the local spots located just outside the rink instead. My kids enjoy Ben’s Soft Pretzels, while my husband and I will fuel up at Fluid Coffeebar. Valparaiso, IN
Deep River Waterpark – Some major summer fun happens here. Deep River has something for all ages. Lazy rivers, a wave pool, thrilling water slides, playzones for the youngest kids, and so much more. They even have ice-skating in the winter. Part of Lake County Parks. Crown Point, IN
Luhr County Park – Paved trails, a stocked pond for fishing, and a hands-on Nature Center to discover here. Another feature is their Playtrail playground with four play pods to explore. LaPorte, IN
Roger’s Lakewood Park – If you’re looking for something more than your neighborhood bunny-hills, the large and dedicated sledding hill at this park provides a true thrill. Valparaiso, IN
The 3Dune Challenge – Need an item on your summer bucket list? Check out the 3Dune Challenge.
Warren Dunes State Park – Here you will find large dunes and beautiful beach. It can feel like more of a commitment coming here with kids, as it seems vast. However, the views are spectacular and worth a visit! Sawyer, MI
Washington Park Zoo – This zoo is a smaller size for an easy zoo experience. The added bonus here are the views of Lake Michigan you can find when you’re walking around its higher-ground exhibits. Their admission fees are reasonably priced. Michigan City, IN
Butterfly Meadows & Caterpillar Crossing – This features large multi-story enclosed slides and an attached butterfly garden trail to explore behind it. Valparaiso, IN
Chesterton Park – The town’s new splash pad is located here! Chesterton, IN
Coffee Creek Park – A smaller, quiet park nestled in Chesterton. Bonus, it has attached walking trails that take you right to the backside of local businesses in the historic downtown. Don’t miss stopping by Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor on this outing. Chesterton, IN
Founders Square Park – Here you’ll find a playground with a splash pad to enjoy during the summer months! Portage, IN
Kesling Park – This unique wooden playground looks like a small castle. LaPorte IN
Valplayso – This large and well-designed park has everything, including a zip line feature. Valparaiso, IN
Schools and Camps with local spirit:
Art Barn School of Art – Summer camp sessions my children enjoyed without a doubt. There was lots of time for creativity and outdoor exploring on their beautiful grounds. At the end of each session, friends and family are invited to attend the ice cream social and art show hosted by the campers to celebrate their week’s work. They also offer year-round classes and workshops! Valparaiso, IN
Discovery Charter School – A free public charter school that is open to all residents of northwest Indiana, grades K-8. They offer a unique place-based education that really focuses on the local community and environment. Porter, IN
Dunes Learning Center – Many different options for all school-aged kids. The Dunes Learning Center offers some fantastic educational programs. My kids have done their Chellberg Farm Camp and had a blast (geared towards the younger ages 5-8). Check their camp guides and register early, as they do tend to fill-up. Chesterton, IN
Field Station Cooperative Preschool – This cooperative preschool is partnered with the Indiana Dunes National Park. It offers a unique, nature-based educational experience for your child. They also offer summer camps! Porter, IN
Kids events coming soon!!
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