The Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk is such a hidden gem, even longtime residents can have a hard time finding it.

The 57-acre park, located on the former National Steel property, opened in November 2008 and provides access to the Burns Waterway and Lake Michigan. It is a joint effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. National Park Service and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the city of Portage.

“One of the unique things about this park is where it’s located along the lakeshore. You really can feel lost until suddenly you find it,” says Jenny Orsburn, superintendent of the Portage Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s between U.S. Steel and Ogden Dunes, and when you’re arriving at the site, you feel out of place. You turn from the steel mill area into this wild, natural area. You can see how industry and the dunes can coexist and complement each other.”

The area includes bike trails, a river walk, a breakwater and the lakefront pavilion. There is a walking beach that is popular with boaters and fishermen. Swimming is not allowed, however.

“You can walk out on the breakwater and look back at the shore; it’s a view that’s usually experienced by boaters,” Orsburn says. “The pavilion is used for weddings and environmental education events, and there are concessions and restrooms. You can watch the changing lakefront all year long. There are fishermen and hikers, and in the winter, people brave the weather to watch the shelf ice move in and out.”

Portage Marina

Another popular feature of the Portage lakeshore is Portage Marina, which features 214 boat slips, restrooms and a picnic area. It’s a popular site for boaters and fishermen.

“We are a popular, public marina that can accommodate boats from 20 feet to 45 feet,” says Barb Lusco, the marina’s harbormaster.

The marina is located in a basin adjacent to Burns waterway, but has quick access to Lake Michigan. The marina will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and will also be celebrating National Marina Day on June 11. The day will include safety boat inspections, free hot dogs and chips and representatives of the DNR on hand to answer questions. Petey the famous perch will also be on site.

“We are a public marina; we welcome families to fish at the fishing pier, enjoy the picnic area where the grills are located, watch the beautiful evening sunset or come down for a breath of fresh air and watch the water flow,” she says. “It’s relaxing and soothing to the soul to be by the water. You don’t have to own a boat to enjoy the marina. It’s a great place to take a walk, too.”

Time to Dine

After a day at the Riverwalk or at the marina, hungry beachgoers can enjoy dinner at Latitudes Waterfront Dining and Events. The restaurant and banquet center will celebrate its two-year anniversary in July, says Michelle Golad, president of the facility. In addition to a casual fine dining restaurant, it can accommodate events from 30 people to 100 people. A more casual beach house restaurant is open downstairs.

Latitudes features a menu that includes seafood, steaks, and prime rib. The kitchen is run by Chef Carl Lindskog.

“We’re really a hidden gem; people don’t even realize we’re here,” Golad says.

Marina Shores

Those who are avid boaters or who want to live along the lakeshore have the option of Marina Shores at Dune Harbor, which is a residential and marina waterfront development. It includes 255 boat slips, condos and single family homes. It is also home to Latitudes Waterfront Dining and Events.

“We’re a 10-minute boat ride on the Burns waterway to Lake Michigan,” says Dave Bresnahan, project manager and partner at Marina Shores.

The community is a short train ride from Chicago, a commute that could be reduced to 40 minutes if a proposed nonstop train comes to fruition.

“You can take the train downtown to the city and be a part of that, but not have to deal with the pitfalls of the downtown Chicago costs,” he says. “It’s a very quiet, safe community to live in, and you don’t have to be a boater to appreciate it. We’re really excited about what the future holds here, both for boaters and for future residents.”

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