Growing up in Michigan and Illinois, I never spent much time in Indiana. But this past summer, I learned that there are so many great things to do in Northern Indiana! Let me tell you about them!
Table of Contents:
Do You Know Where You’re Staying?
If you are traveling, you should stay in a centrally-located town. I recommend Valparaiso, Merrillville, or Schererville. (But not Gary.) This widget from Booking.com will help you find the right place. Check it out!
The Northwest Corner of Indiana
Our exploration of Northern Indiana begins at the NW corner of the state. Coincidentally, this also happens to be the very southern end of Lake Michigan, if you can imagine that! On the Lake Michigan shoreline is a park called Whihala Beach, and it is connected to the Marquette Greenway, which is our next stop.
The Whoa Zone!
It was really cold on the day of my visit. The red flags on the lifeguard tower were whipping in the wind! And even so, there was a surfer bouncing around on the waves!
When the weather is nice, this place is jumpin! They call it “The Whoa Zone!” and it’s quite popular! The water is cold enough to be refreshing and warm enough to make it tolerable! In the distance, about 15 miles away, the Chicago skyline peeks over the horizon.
The Marquette Greenway and Whiting Park
On the list of “So Many Great Things to do In Northern Indiana”, consider the Marquette Greenway! This delightful walkway follows the Lake Michigan shoreline through Whiting Park. Conveniently, it’s adjacent to Whihala Beach, which we just spoke about, so you only have to park the car once!
You will find artistic structures along the greenway, such as this lighthouse built of rocks, which make the walk more curious and enjoyable.
At the eastern edge of the park is a large gazebo that offers protection from the elements. It also offers panoramic views of this Great Lake and the distant Chicago Skyline. This is a great place to hold an event, such as a wedding party.
The Juxtaposition of Nearby Smokestacks
The unusual thing about this park is the unsightly smokestacks of the steel mills in Gary in the distance. The juxtaposition between the park’s greenway and the factory’s smoke isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it makes ya think twice about getting some fresh air don’t it?
Indiana Dunes National Park
Next on the list of “So Many Great Things to do in Northern Indiana” is a 15-mile stretch of beach known as the Indiana Dunes. As far as the eye can see in either direction is a sandy shoreline!
Since this is a National Park, remember to grab your National Park’s Passport Book, because there’s a visitor’s center here! And a campground, too!
Things To Bring Along
Once you’re on the beach, there are no services! Therefore, it’s important to bring everything you need to make your visit comfortable. Here are a few ideas:
- A Kite: There’s plenty of wind out here, so take advantage of it and show your kids how it’s done!
- Beach Chairs that can get wet so you can sit in the water if you want to.
- A Wagon: for transporting your things. Bonus points if it pulls easily in the sand!
- The cooler should be small enough to fit into the wagon.
- A pair of binoculars for bird watching!
- You might as well grab some fishing gear. This is Lake Michigan, after all!
- Consider some Beach Games to keep everyone occupied and amused!
- I’m sure you have a few favorite things to bring along with you on outings, so grab those, too!
Have You Been Here?
Did my story remind you of a time when you went to Lake Michigan? Tell me about it in the comments below! Meanwhile, let’s move a little south, toward Crown Point.
Crown Point, Indiana
As I’ve said, there are so many great things to do in Northern Indiana! For example, the quaint little town of Crown Point has the dubious honor of having the County Jail from which John Dillinger escaped. The cell is located in an area that is also a shopping mall, but it definitely has a jail-like feeling to it!
The Courthouse Square
Many of the restaurants and bars are located around Crown Point’s Courthouse Square. This area is usually bustling with people, as it’s a popular place to hang out! It’s a small town, so nearly everything is within walking distance.
Crown Point Car Cruise
Check out the Crown Point Car Cruise in the summertime! That’s right! Every Thursday night from June through September, the shiny cars are lined up and down either side of the street and inside the pavilion! It’s a great way to get outside and participate in a community event!
Live Music On Stage
There are several food vendors, and of course, there is live music on the community stage! So bring a chair if you want to sit, and your dancing shoes because you know you want to dance!
Meanwhile, let’s take a short drive to a neighboring community called Cedar Lake.
Cedar Lake, Indiana
As I may have already mentioned, there are so many great things to do in Northern Indiana! Once considered a simple farm town, Cedar Lake has become a hip and happening place! Yes, there really is a lake in Cedar Lake and as you can see from the pictures, it’s large enough to accommodate a crowd!
There is a road that goes around the entire lake, and there are several public access points. Some of the access points are parks, one of which has a beach and a playground.
Cedar lake is open for bird watching, swimming, fishing, and boating! Most of the residents have pontoon boats, kayaks, and jet skis, but anything goes!
Bugaboo’s Bar & Grill
On the south end of the lake, you will find a charming little joint called Bugaboo’s Bar & Grill. If you arrive at the right time, you might be treated to a breathtaking sunset from their outdoor patio! There’s usually a musician on the deck, and they serve good food, so you should totally go check it out! Kayak rentals are available nearby.
The Ice House Museum
Originally built in 1895, this historic ice house used to be located on the western shore of Cedar Lake. Back then, it served as a boarding house for the employees of the ice-farming industry.
In 1919, the ice business was sold, and the new owner moved the entire building over the frozen lake to the eastern shore, where it is located today! In 1981, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, check out this video.
The Flea Market and Auction in Shipshewana, IN
Shipshewana is Amish Country! And this definitely qualifies as something to do in Northern Indiana! In this quaint little town, you will find shops filled with all types of things including Amish-made goods. But the real draw is the Flea Market which is held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, May through September. Here, you will find everything from household, shop, and gardening items to colorful flags, clothing, and leather goods. The more you look, the more you see!
Look for the weekly Auction where you might find 6 to 10 Amish auctioneers calling out simultaneously! This is an indoor event where you can find collectible items at reasonable prices. It’s held every Wednesday, year-round!
If you’re traveling with an RV, Camper, or Tent, consider using the campground that is adjacent to the fleamarket grounds. You can’t get any closer than that!
Corn for Miles
When I arrived in April, all of the fields were dark; just dirt. But within a few weeks, the farmers began planting their crops. Over the weeks and months, I watched these little seedlings grow into a sea of tassel-topped corn! An interesting observation: as the crop matures, the ears jut out at a 90-degree angle. Additionally, the crop turns yellow and brown just before harvest.
Soybeans for Miles
New to the Indiana crops (since my childhood, anyway) is the ever-popular Soybean! At first glance, I thought it might be a field of green beans, but they’re planted differently! As the soybean matures, the plant gets yellow and brown just before the harvest.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching these crops being planted and harvested. This is America’s Heartland: Right Here!
The Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, IN
Speaking of all the great things to do in Northern Indiana, let’s not forget the Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville!
Located 2 hours in either direction between Chicago Illinois and Indianapolis Indiana people come from miles around! And the track is surrounded by cornfields, which means the neighbors don’t mind the noise!
Speaking of noise, you might want to grab your earplugs or headset, as the drivers tend to rev it up! And maybe even a stadium cushion for those hard, flat bleachers!
The Bleachers are on a Shady Hill
It should come as no surprise that the bleachers overlooking the race track at Shadyhill Speedway are nicely positioned on a “shady hill”.
There’s plenty of parking available, but the lot filled up quickly! It’s just a short walk to the gate, and the entry fee is affordable! Concession stands and restrooms are available.
Live Footage of the Racetrack
I took some pictures, but let’s face it: *Still Shots* at a race track don’t do the race any justice. So I pulled together a montage of video clips and put them into one longer video.
Watch the left side of the screen at the 2:37 mark, as the cars come around the bend. A car in the middle of the group FLIPS a couple of times! The dust is heavy, so watch closely!
I didn’t know until much later that I had captured the wreck! (Followup: He survived the crash, and was taken away by ambulance.)
About halfway through the video, I go up into the media booth. The announcer’s name is Dave. I met him at the Crown Point Car Cruise, the day before!
Have YOU been to the Shadyhill Speedway? Or maybe another track? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.
Meanwhile, for our next destination, let’s shift gears because our next stop, at Amish Acres, slows-us-way-down!
Take the Tour at Amish Acres
My sister and I are always on the lookout for great things to do in Northern Indiana! The more unusual, the better! We have always known about the outdoor markets at Shipshewana, but we wanted to explore the Amish culture a little deeper.
So when we arrived at Amish Acres, we signed up for their tour which included a horse-drawn carriage ride around their meticulous grounds! As we circled around the property, the huge pond in the middle was prominent. This being an Amish homestead, I was aware of the fact that everything has a purpose, and nothing goes to waste.
Both the Broom House and the Ice House were meticulous little cottages, with quaint signs out front, labeling them as such.
I wonder how they make ice? That would’ve been a great question for my tour guide!
Our visit was during the springtime when the garden was just getting started, but it was still impressive!
The horse-drawn carriage continued its tour of the property by taking us to see the schoolhouse. This building was a simple one-room schoolhouse with benches as seats and a chalkboard up front. A wood stove provides heat in the wintertime.
And the horse-drawn school bus was similar to a covered wagon! (I regret missing the tongue of that hitch, in the photo above!)
Tour of The Big Farm House
This is the outside of the main home that they showed us on the tour. It’s a museum and not an actual (active) home. The woman that gave the tour was very kind. Since we were the only people in the group, we stayed with her for quite some time!
The Sick Room on the Main Floor
One feature I recall as being quite practical is that the children’s sickroom is located on the main floor, adjacent to the master bedroom. That way, the adults can keep an eye on their sick children. Additionally, for safety reasons, those rooms would have a clear view of the front of the property and any traffic coming up to the house.
Only the Bachelors Shave
Regarding customs, she told us that only unmarried men shave their faces. So this is how you can tell the bachelors from the husbands.
However, should the wife die, a widower still won’t shave his beard off! So how do women know that he’s not married? “Oh! They know!” she laughed!
The Food Dehydrator
The Amish grow most of their food in their own gardens. And they process it using natural sources rather than using electricity or gas. For example, the food dehydrator is powered by a wood-burning stove which is vented out the roof of this little hut. On either side of the stove is a tower of drying trays that hold the food.
An Open Fire Cauldron
Soups and stews would be created over an open fire in a cauldron, like this one! The building behind the cauldron is the food dehydrator.
Inside the ovenhouse is a brick oven taking up the entire back half! The front of the oven house has a workbench, shelves for pans, bowls, and tools, and some storage space. Firewood is stacked up, off to the left.
Like a Couple of Kids!
Overall, our tour of Amish Acres was absolutely delightful! While their theatre was closed during our visit, we did manage to enjoy a meal in their rustic restaurant before we left.
Here’s a picture of my sister (on the left) and me (on the right) on an old-school see-saw. This plank of wood was so brittle and dry, that neither of us was willing to put our weight on it, and fully trust it! haha
Do you have a story about the Amish lifestyle? If so, share it below!
Fair Oaks Farms
Speaking of great things to do in Northern Indiana, look for Fair Oaks Farms! It is located on I-65 in the Town of Fair Oaks, about 45 minutes south of Gary.
Playground at Fair Oaks Farms
Aside from a great playground that includes a trampoline and a climbing wall, they also have a souvenir shop, a restaurant, and an ice cream parlor! Book a tour and learn about the new innovations in farming at the Pig Adventure, The Dairy Adventure, and the Crop Adventure.
The Pig Adventure
During a tour of the pig farm, I learned that the pigs are artificially inseminated. Not only that, but they know which of the sows is pregnant and exactly how far along she is, in that term. Their movement is limited, but all of their needs are met.
A Video from the Birthing Barn for Cows
From the comfort of our theater seats in the Birthing Barn at Fair Oaks Farms, we saw cows being born right before our very eyes! Somewhere between 80 and 100 calves are born every day! And if you stay long enough, you can watch them learn to walk!
Chicago is Closeby
Looking for things to do in Northern Indiana, you might want to venture into Chicago, which is only an hour from NW Indiana! You might also consider a resort, lodge, or hotel while you’re there. Check out this widget from Booking.com to help you find the right place!
Architecture in Chicago
Check out the architecture in Chicago! Or consider shopping along the Magnificent Mile! Depending on how long you plan on staying in the area, this could take several days! My Chicago Blog is still growing, but you can check it out here!
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry
While it might sound like a geeky thing to do, I highly recommend the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, as it’s really quite fun! There are lots of topics to explore, so if you’re bored with something just keep moving because the next thing will be fascinating!
I have another article dedicated to this museum, including a quick video! Check it out here!
Navy Pier in Chicago
If you’re looking for something fun, consider Chicago’s Navy Pier! It’s rated as one of the best places to go on date night! Take a delightful walk in the sunshine, enjoy the carnival rides, or book a cruise on Lake Michigan!
This indoor/outdoor venue is open year-round. Even the Ferris-wheel carts are enclosed! You’ll find a plethora of unusual shops and restaurants, including the Offshore Rooftop and Bar which offers panoramic, unmatched views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan.
Additionally, Navy Pier offers ice cream shops, bakeries, and let’s not forget the Billy Goat Tavern, home of the “Cheezborger” made famous by SNL! You should go check it out!
How Long Are You Staying?
Maybe you’re planning to stay in the area for a while, in which case, you might be looking for longer outings! Here’s a great trip idea that will have you exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Heading north from Indiana, it will take about 5 hours to reach northern Michigan. Good lodging locations include Traverse City, Mackinaw City, and Petosky. (Change the name of the city in the search widget, below.)
The next day, grab the ferry (no cars) over to Mackinac Island and spend the day. For more information, read the Mackinac Island Blog here!