Summer is almost here, and as the warm weather begins to flow in, parks are getting ready for the influx of expected visitors.
Though many of the national parks along the Lake Michigan shoreline get a lot of attention for their sandy beaches and scenic trails, this region is home to several state parks that offer a lot of the same amenities.
Within just a couple hours drive, these parks are perfect for loading up the car and setting off on a day trip.
Potato Creek State Park
A little over an hour east of Northwest Indiana is Potato Creek State Park, which offers a range of recreational opportunities perfect for a day trip.
Phil Bloom, director of the division of communications for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, says visitors to the North Liberty park will enjoy trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking, as well as picnic areas and fishing or swimming in the park’s 327-acre Worster Lake.
Keen eyes might even spot bald eagles that nest nearby, he said.
There is also rentals for bicycles, canoes, paddleboats, rowboats, kayaks and trolling motors, as well as a tubing hill.
Prophetstown State Park
The newest property in the Indiana State Parks system, this state park is located in West Lafayette, about a 90-minute drive south of Northwest Indiana.
“It sits at the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairie that once stretched westward across the Great Plains,” Bloom said. “The park is tucked against the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers near the historic location of American Indian settlements and site of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1812.”
Amidst the restored prairie are a living history farm, American Indian village and the Circle of Stones — a 15-stone tribute to the American Indian tribes that once gathered there.
The park also offers campgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas and an outdoor aquatic center.
Warren Dunes State Park
Located on nearly 2,000 acres along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Berrien County — just an hour from Northwest Indiana — Warren Dunes State Park has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views.
Its pet-friendly northern shoreline also makes it easy to load the four-legged family members in the car as well.
Pokagon State Park
Located in Northeast Indiana in the small community of Angola, Pokagon State Park is perhaps best known for its Potawatomi Inn, which sits on the shores of Lake James.
Even if there are no plans to stay overnight, the lake front setting offers a large sandy beach, pontoon boat and other small watercraft available for rent, and a bonfire pit near the lake. Stay the night, and visitors can enjoy an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool and sauna.
There’s also 1,260 acres of woods and shoreline in Pokagon State Park to enjoy throughout the year — even in the winter when Indiana’s only Toboggan run is open.
As the weather turns warmer, enjoy nine walking trails that vary in length and difficulty, fishing, horseback riding, and a 1.6-mile bike trail that connects the campgrounds, nature center, saddle barn and inn.
Bass, bluegill, walleye, crappie, northern pike and catfish are just a few of the fish available in the lake, and several shelters throughout the park feature fireplaces, picnic tables, fire rings and grills.
Matthiessen State Park
About two hours west of Northwest Indiana in Oglesby, Illinois, is Matthiessen State Park, which features canyons, streams, prairies and forests.
It’s a paradise for those who are interested in geology, with rock formations and abundant vegetation and wildlife front and center.
In addition to the scenic landscape, the park also offers horseback riding, mountain bike riding, trails and many picnicking opportunities.
Grand Mere State Park
Though Grand Mere State Parks lacks many of the amenities other state parks have, such as campgrounds or direct access to the beach, this state park is perfect for those who love exploring undeveloped areas.
The park, located in the southwestern region of Michigan near Stevensville - about an hour from Northwest Indiana — features more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped woods and sand dunes.
There are 985 acres of hiking trails, more than a mile of Lake Michigan beach and three geologically ancient lakes behind the dunes.
There are picnic shelters, and dogs are allowed on a leash within the beach and swimming area. The park also attracts people who love to bird watch in the spring and fall, since it lies on a migration flyway.
Tippecanoe River State Park
Venture just out of Northwest Indiana and you’ll find Tippecanoe River State Park, located on U.S. 35 between Michigan City and Winamac.
The park borders seven miles of the Tippecanoe River, which provides canoeing opportunities along with camping, hiking and horseback riding, Bloom said.
There’s also several easy- to moderate-level trails to explore, leading through sand hills, oak forests, pine plantations and open fields.