Snow crunches underfoot and every breath is a bite from the cold, crisp apple of air.
With so many ways to enjoy winter, this is no time to hibernate. Think snowy hills sparkling in the sun, moonlit cross country ski trails, the swish of thin blades on ice, tracing your own freestyle joy.
Winter’s on the cusp, a good time to investigate possibilities for snowy adventures in northwest Indiana, then find your favorite gloves and dashing scarves .
Ice skating and sledding
At Washington Park in Michigan City, the rink is lighted for night skating and there's a warming fire.
Lake County's Deep River Water Park offers a bigger venue – the Ice Plaza is 14,000 square feet, including food stands, warming areas, and (cough delicately here), heated bathrooms. It’s also the only ice rink in the area where you can rent skates.
"Ice skating here is very, very popular," says Sandy Basala, superintendent of Visitor Services at Lake County Parks & Recreation department.
Special coils under the concrete freeze water for the ice rink and skating opens the Friday after Thanksgiving. “We have a lot of families, Friday night is date night, and skating brings back a lot of memories for older people,” says Basala.
If you'd rather stay closer to the ground, sled the hill at Oak Ridge Prairie. For bigger thrills, take on Mt. Tom, the tallest dune in the state park in Porter County. There you’ll find shriek-worthy slopes for tobogganing and tubing. There are also two sledding hills right in the city of Portage.
Want the rush without the work? Join the picturesque scene at Buckley Homestead, where bobsled rides Saturday and Sunday afternoons between 1 and 3 p.m. in January and February are oh-so-nostalgic. Just $2 per person! Call ahead, though: The horses can’t pull in icy conditions and there must be a snow base.
If scenic views soothe your soul, seek out the indoor pavilion in Portage, where you can hustle over to the concession stand for hot soup and a fantastic view of the lake, says Jenny Orsburn, superintendent of the Portage Parks Department and manager of the Portage lakefront.
“Wintertime is really one of the most spectacular times to see Lake Michigan, because it’s a completely different world out there.”
Cross country skiing
If you’re all about getting the family moving and in shape, cross country skiing will do it. “It's very good aerobic exercise, a good activity for beginners and families,” says Basala. “You can scoot along at your own pace" on several miles of wooded and open trails designed for the experienced and for beginners, so if you're a newbie, not to worry. “You can be out on a brisk, beautiful, snow-covered day and not travel far.” After that, who can resist?
Check the Lake Count Parks web site for descriptions of each park, then click on the Pathfinder, a handy listing of activities in the parks from now to February.
Tim Morgan, superintendent of La Porte County Parks, describes cross country skiing in La Porte County's Red Mill, Bluhm, Luhr, and Creek Ridge parks:
"The La Porte County trails aren’t groomed, but there's an abundance of forest, so you have a true winter wonderland. After a new-fallen snow, all the trees are glistening; it's very picturesque, with a white blanket of snow over everything. It's just beautiful. There might be a rabbit scrunching in the snow, or birds rustling about, but it's real quiet and calm.”
Porter County’s Calumet Trail, with entrances along U.S. 12 at Mineral Springs Road and the Porter/LaPorte County Line, offers a 9.1-mile venue for cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing is best along the interconnecting loops of the National Lakeshore Ly-co-ki-we Trail in Indiana Dunes State Park.
Wherever you go, there has to be at least a four-inch snow base. That’s not just one four-inch snowfall, explains Basala “Even with a heavy snowfall, if there’s just one, there’s no opportunity for the snow to build up, so skis will just go down to the ground.” She advises always calling ahead to check on the conditions of trails and slopes.
Since downhill skiing is more like downslope skiing in northern Indiana, consider snowshoeing. It isn't just for the cabin-living guy who sets out to snare his dinner. In Porter County, the Indiana Dunes are a fave spot for hiking, along with Calumet Trail and the wooded trails in La Porte County.
Families on a budget, this is for you: Snowshoeing can be a less expensive way to go for fun. The shoes are in universal sizes, so they can be shared, and you're done with rentals.
If you're a patient sort, ice fishing may be for you. Head for Three Rivers County Park in Lake Station, Ind., and, lest your plans fall through (yes, pun intended), call 219-962-7810 to verify ice fishing conditions. La Porte’s Pine Lake is dotted with huddled hopefuls once the ice is thick enough. Call (219) 325-8315 for conditions.
Want to enjoy nature without the wind chill? A favorite stopping place for Florida-bound Greater Sandhill Cranes is just 40 miles south of Michigan City on U.S. 421 in Medaryville, Ind. The peak of migration is early to mid-November, when as many as 30,000 cranes will rest at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.
During daylight hours, you can see the cranes right from your car as they forage within a 10-mile radius along US 421 and Highway 143 at the approach to Jasper-Pulaski. On the eastern edge of one of the large fields Jasper-Pulaski maintains a large handicap-accessible viewing deck. Here, if conditions are right, groups of birds will take flight directly overhead, their long necks producing a trumpet-like sound. Just after sunrise, the birds’ trilling calls rise from the group as they begin their dance of bowing and jumping straight into the air. Experts call this autumn dance a bonding ceremony between lifelong mates.