Covering 15,000 acres along 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 25 miles or so east of Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a striking and surprising collection of golden sand dunes, freshwater beaches, and dense forests. Chicago poet Carl Sandburg said the dunes “are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona.” Dedicated in 1972, the park includes a huge variety of plantlife—groves of maples and red oaks, pine trees and prickly pear cactus, grasslands and berry bushes—linked by many miles of hiking trails and highlighted by 126-foot Mt. Baldy at the far northeast corner of the park. When the weather cooperates, you can see the skyline of Chicago shimmering across Lake Michigan like the Emerald City in the Land of Oz.
Huge steel mills and a number of small vacation home communities share space among the dunes. Also here, two miles northeast of the main visitors center, is the unusual Beverly Shores, a model community constructed for the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 and reassembled here soon after in an attempt to attract buyers to a new resort community. Six of these then-futuristic structures survive along Lakefront Drive, including three steel-framed, enamel-paneled “Lustron” houses, designed to provide low-cost housing during the Great Depression. Next door is the “House of Tomorrow,” an ordinary-looking house designed with an additional garage to hold the private plane every future family was sure to have.
Pick up maps, guides, and other information at the visitors center (219/926-7561, daily, free) on Highway 49, midway between US-20 and I-94 exit 26.