Make Michigan your beach

Whether you want to soak up the sun or have more athletic pursuits in mind, Harbor Country offers plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors.
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By Judy Sutton Taylor and Tim McCormick |
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Think you can’t surf in the Midwest? Think again. Harbor Country is full of surprises.

Be a beach bum All you want to do is lay in the sand. You’ve packed your sunscreen, your towel, and a book that will rise and fall on your belly as you doze in the sun like a puppy. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that all of Michigan’s coastline is public land, you still want to go to a beach that’s easy-access and welcoming. The Indiana Dunes State Park (Hwy 12 and County Line Rd, Michigan City; 219-926-7561, ext 225), though not technically in Harbor Country, offers the closest beach getaway, just about an hour’s drive from the city. Up the road a spell, the New Buffalo Beach (West end of Whittaker St in downtown New Buffalo) offers a few more amenities, including easy car access, surfing (see Surf Lake Michigan, page 16) and an ice-cream stand. Head to Warren Dunes State Park (12032 Red Arrow Hwy, Sawyer, 269-426-4013) to hike the giant piles of sand. If you time your trip right, you can even catch a sunset over the lake while sitting atop a 240-foot-high dune.

One piece of advice before you head out: The coastline is public property, but don’t treat it like your party pad. Drinking booze is illegal on these beaches, so sneak at your own risk.

Hike the Mt. Baldy Trail at the Indiana Dunes (Hwy 12 and County Line Rd, Michigan City, 219-926-7561, ext 225) It’s less than a mile long, but hiking a sand dune isn’t easy, and you’ll definitely feel it in your quads the next day. But the payoff, particularly at sunset, is well worth it: a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline from an entirely new vantage point. Less adventurous—i.e., lazier—types can take a flatter path around the dune to get to the lake, but be sure to snag a map at the visitors center.

Do the Backroads Bikeway tours/Apple Cider Century Ride (Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club, Dewey Cannon Trading Company, 3 Dewey Cannon Ave, Three Oaks, 269-756-3361, www.applecidercentury.com) The new Dewey Cannon Trading Company, a gift shop and visitors center, is the home base for the Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club and the starting point for 12 different self-guided bike tours. The rides range from five to 60 miles, and they

wind along marked trails, nature preserves and the shoreline. You can rent bikes here, and buy individual trail maps for 25 cents (or get them for free online). The Trading Company is also the go-to place for information on the annual Apple Cider Century Ride, a one-day tour in and around Three Oaks that attracts thousands of cyclists each year. You can ride the entire 100 miles, or do a loop that goes a shorter distance (as few as 25 miles). You’ll have all summer to get in shape: this year’s ride takes place on October 1.

Hike at Warren Woods Nature Study Area (near Elm Valley and Three Oaks Rds, Three Oaks, 269-426-4013) Off the beaten path from the crowded dunes, you’ll find this 311-acre park containing a six-mile round-trip hiking trail that passes along the Galien River. The trail should be particularly striking in early summer, when the area’s wildflowers hit their peak.

Take a class at Yogaview (6 Linden St, Three Oaks, 773-883-9642, www.yogaview.com) This outpost of the popular Lincoln Park yoga studio is open year-round, though with fewer classes than its city sibling. Some of the Chicago instructors with die-hard followings, including Tom Quinn, teach here in the summertime.

Hike and hang-glide at the Warren Dunes State Park (12032 Red Arrow Hwy, Sawyer, 269-426-4013) Cruise up north about 25 miles and check out the Warren Dunes and the surrounding woods. With more than six miles worth of trails, this is a great place for spotting wood ducks, opossum, foxes and all sorts of woodland creatures.

If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-soaked activity (unless you’re chased by a possum while hiking, of course), try hang-gliding. Yes, there are some requirements, which means you actually need to be prepared before you get airborne: You must bring your own equipment and show proof that you’ve taken some sort of previous instruction to get a permit to hang-glide ($11 per day, $33 per year). Once that’s taken care of, the perfect combination of lake winds and a 240-foot mountain of sand is all yours. Experts say you can fly several miles when the conditions are right—fun, as long as you don’t travel straight out over the water before those lake winds die out on you. For local lessons, as well as a listing of gliders for sale, visit www.hangglidechicago.com.

Surf Lake Michigan (Third Coast Surf Shop, 22 S Smith St, New Buffalo, 269-932-4575) People are always surprised when they find out that there are die-hard Spicolis surfing the waves of Lake Michigan (and all of the Great Lakes, for that matter), but it’s become a way of life for a few dedicated souls. Last year, Ryan Gerard converted an old house in New Buffalo into his little slice of Cali, and the Third Coast shop was born. His store will outfit you with everything you need for surfing or boogie boarding, and they even offer lessons to the uninitiated.

Where is Harbor Country?
Getting there
The Dan Ryan Expressway is not so “express” these days, with ongoing construction closing lanes left and right all summer. Add the fact that the Skyway is being worked on (again!), and taking ol’ 90/94 south starts to look like a bad idea.

Keep the drive short and your blood pressure low: Take Lake Shore Drive south and just keep going until you’re in Indiana. Things clear up quickly on the Dan Ryan once you reach the Indiana border, but, assuming you like the folks in the car with you (and if not, nothing in this magazine can save your vacation, my friend), you might prefer to takeU.S. 12, which will give you a chance to see a little of the lake and a lot of the dunes.

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