Just a short drive from the towering sand dunes and magnificent view of Lake Michigan is a bog where people can walk on water, see insect-eating plants and witness floating flowers, bushes and even trees.
Pinhook Bog, just east of Porter County in rural LaPorte County, is one of the unique sites on the Porter County tourism agency's Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail.
Visitors will see a 1 1/2- to 2-foot layer of moss matting covering a body of acidic water.
"Everything grows on top of the moss matting. Even trees grow in it," said Anthony Sutphen, National Park Service site restoration tech.
The site is locked up, but it regularly is made available for interpretive walks guided by park rangers. Visitors can see insect-eating plants, ferns, rare orchids, and tamaracks.
A floating boardwalk traverses the bog to allow people to walk on water and see things they normally wouldn't see.
Late June and early July is the best time for viewing, Sutphen said.
Although Pinhook Bog is a fascinating location, Sutphen's personal favorite is Cowles Bog -- a national park site next to Dune Acres that offers people a chance to hike and see the view change from an eerie tree graveyard one minute to vast expanses of lush ferns the next.
The Inland Marsh Trail, on U.S. 12, two miles west of Ind. 249 in Portage, is a gem of a trail with views of an oak savanna, a marsh, ferns and, during our spring visit, plenty of purple lupine in bloom.
The Little Calumet River Trail, off of U.S. 12 in the Porter area, connects the Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm and the Dunes Learning Center. It takes hikers through woods, a 120-acre tallgrass prairie, over the river and on a boardwalk. Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm popular places to visit during festival times.
The Heron Rookery Trail, along the Little Calumet River in northeast Porter County, while a bit overgrown in spots, is a good location for viewing birds, butterflies and wildflowers.
Other sites include Zona Wildlife Sanctuary, a small woodland preserve southeast of Chesterton; and Deer Trail Park in Portage's Ameriplex at the Port business park. Deer Trail Park, which is a fairly new, offers hiking and fishing.
Chesterton's Coffee Creek Park, with a waterfall, fountain, brick pathways, trails, sitting areas and open space, is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing sites. Taltree Arboretum in the Valparaiso area is another beautiful site, with a pond, marked plantings, trails and more.
And, there are the sites along Lake Michigan. At Dunes State Park at the end of Ind. 49 in the Chesterton area, people can walk the shores of Lake Michigan and hike challenging sand dune trails or more moderate wooded paths.
At West Beach in Portage, the Dune Succession Trail -- most of which is a boardwalk -- takes walkers from the woods to the beach and a view of the Chicago skyline. It is one of three trails at West Beach.
Also in Portage is the Portage Lakefront Park and Riverwalk site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a 57-acre piece of land that was once a National Steel industrial site. Nestled among the industry that helps the city thrive, the park features a fishing pier and a walk with views of Lake Michigan and Burns Ditch -- along which boats regularly come and go. On a recent visit by The Times, Portage resident Doris Smith was enjoying a relaxing day of fishing.
"It's a nice area," Smith said. "I think it's great, (and will) get a lot more people in."
People wanting to check out some different beaches should visit Porter Beach, Lake View Beach, Central Beach and Michigan City's Mount Baldy.
There are also plenty of spots along the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail for fishing, boating and bicycling which The Times did not tackle because specialized equipment is required, as well as several parks in the county's towns and cities.