*The houseful of littles and I were invited to explore and share our opinions of the Indiana Dunes area*
The last time I visited the Indiana Dunes, it was my senior year of high school, and my future sister in law came along as a chaperone so I could get extra credit. Mind you, she’s only 2 years older than I am – hilarious. THIS time however, I drove my houseful of littles to our neighbor to the east, so that we could enjoy three days and two nights of discovering more of the area that people ONLY mistake for being a great beach front. Discover we did! The Dunes Area loves when people love their beaches, but there is so much more to explore beyond the beaches. So we took on the challenge of finding the most to do in our three days there.
The Dunes themselves, cover 15 miles of Lake Michigan coastline. The Indiana Dunes AREA covers so much more, and it can not be explored in one day. There is a rich history throughout the area, and if you’re a nature buff you’re going to be in HEAVEN!
We arrived Monday morning to check into our hotel at the Best Western University Inn on Route 30 in Valparaiso. Check-in was smooth, and we headed to our room. Tiny tip, if you are traveling with a large family, make sure to load up the luggage rack and have them wait for you in the lounge. The front desk is very close to the entrance, and too many bodies there will keep the doors opening and closing with any movement. Our room was a double queen, and came furnished with a desk, a lounging chair, and dresser. The closet was big enough for three kids to hide in to try to scare their mama. The bathroom was spacious enough and came with a sliding barn style door for privacy.
There was a free breakfast in the morning that included sausages, mini omelettes, and waffles made to order (you make them) and a toaster for toast/bagels. Cereal, fruit and muffins rounded out the mix and three varieties of juice were offered. Enough seating was available for our family of four, but we’re never really hardcore about sitting together at hotel breakfast if it’s all six of us.
There are a couple of things that I think you DO need to know in order to see if this is a hotel for you. There are currently NO child friendly channels on their basic cable plan, including PBS. If that doesn’t bother you, but you want suggestions, I would tell you to make use of their free WiFi and bring your tablets along. Each of my children have their own Kindle Fires, so they were set. Or you can put the imaginations of the kids to work, and have a basic kit full of crayons, markers, and paper, and let them go from there. There also isn’t a pool. For some that’s a deal breaker, but if that isn’t you, and you were going to make use of the miles of beach, and the several splash pads and pools within the Indiana Dunes territory, then you are all set! For us, we DO like having a pool, and the kid channels, so that Mr. Houseful and I can work if we need to when we come back from exploring, but it didn’t ruin our stay. Not by a long shot.
On our first day out and about, we made our first stop at the Indian Dunes Visitors Center. It is a stop that you should always make in any city that you visit. The Visitors Center can definitely help you plan your stay in a new city better, and give you insight on where to visit, and if any special happenings are coming up. For us, construction on 94 and 80 was something to take into consideration. No worries there either, as the area is easy to get to without having to take either of those routes.
We were able to take in a video about the Dunes, and do some activities in the Visitors Center, including crayon rubbings, and a bit of imaginative play. The ladybug really gets into character when dress up clothes are present. The Visitors Center also had a two different scavenger hunts we could pick from. The one we chose to do was the hunt for hidden Mickey’s on large murals outside the perimeter of the building. The kids had a BLAST searching for every one.
Of course, we couldn’t just stop there. We had to eat and then head to the Dunes to get some beach time in, since we knew it would rain for the other two days that we were there. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be showing you BEYOND the beach, and I will, but you HAVE to stop by the beach at least once, so that you can say that you did. The entire dune area is considered one of the 50 Natural Wonders in 50 States according to CNN. If you do come, know that unless you have a National Parks Pass there is an entry fee of $7 for in-state cars, and $12 for out of state cars. There is a ton to do in the parks, and the beach in the main park off of 49 has lifeguards. There is also a nature center, and several campgrounds that you can stay in if you’re really into outdoor life. The amount of hiking and biking trails available will also allow for maximum exploration for minimum cost. We just took advantage of the beach for the end of the day, and being in the water and running along the beach was really good for the kids.
The beach definitely calms a multitude of worries, and these three didn’t have one in the world! Between the rock collection that we came back to the hotel with – seriously, the rocks are kinda cool – and the atmosphere, they were in heaven! So many smooth flat rocks perfect for skipping, and the diving into the water using those great techniques they learned from the swim lessons they have been taking.
We ended our first day with a meal at George’s Gyro Spot where the ladybug deemed their cheeseburger the best in the world! They loved all of the artwork that boasted a love for OUR city, and they enjoyed munching on fries and telling me how awesome the day had been thus far. I had a ribeye sandwich and Lil’ Miss had a corndog combo while Sir. Twizzler plugged away at a hotdog combo.
Afterwards, we drove back to the hotel for a night of slumber, and to recharge for the days ahead. If you are in the Midwest, or heck, if you’re up for a visit to a small town with big payoff, check out the Indiana Dunes area in Northern Indiana.