Take this road trip to see the best of Northern Indiana
The Indiana Toll Road might be the quickest way to zip across the northern stretch of the state, but opting for a more leisurely cruise along the region’s county highways and country roads reveals a whole new side of this territory that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Friendly small towns, charming shops and restaurants, local landmarks and a whole lot of community spirit make Northern Indiana a road trip worth lingering over.
From the west, the first detour you’ll want to take off I-80/90 is to the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a 15-mile stretch of sparkling Lake Michigan beachfront framed by soaring sand dunes that attract visitors for camping, stunning natural scenery and waterfront recreation such as fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Scale to new heights by tackling the 3 Dune Challenge, then track down the Rolling Stonebraker for gourmet wood-fired pizzas served from a tricked-out 1949 Studebaker firetruck.
With a sweet, walkable downtown area located just south of the Dunes, Chesterton makes an appealing inland stop for grass-fed burgers, craft beer and sweet potato tots at the Octave Grill. On Saturday mornings from May through October, the open-air European Market teems with live entertainment, food vendors and artisan booths for browsing.
Continue south to Valparaiso, or “Valpo,” if you want to sound like a local, a cosmopolitan small town anchored by Valparaiso University and a vibrant downtown district with historic storefronts, appealing eateries and boutique shops, and the striking limestone Porter County Courthouse. The town honors former resident Orville Redenbacher with a Popcorn Festival each September, but visitors can snap a selfie next to his life-like bronze statue in Lincoln Park any time of the year.
Looping back up to the banks of Lake Michigan, Michigan City is home to the only working lighthouse in Indiana. This urban enclave also offers its own strain of shopping excitement thanks to Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, as well as state-of-the-art gambling and live entertainment at Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa.
Back on the road heading east, ditch the car for a few hours and saddle up a bike instead; it’s the best way to explore LaPorte County’s many paved and unpaved trails via 20 designated loops that wind through a variety of terrain and past many local attractions. Plan a pit stop at the handsome LaPorte County Historical Society Museum to get a look at the impressive Kesling Auto Collection — which includes a 1948 Tucker “Torpedo” that appeared in the Jeff Bridges movie “Tucker: The Man And His Dream.”
Onward and eastward, South Bend is home to the prestigious University of Notre Dame, a gorgeous campus brimming with sightseeing opportunities like the Golden Dome, the “Touchdown Jesus” mural and the stunning Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The History Museum makes an intriguing stop in downtown South Bend, where, among other things you can learn about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the movie “A League of Their Own.” Also in South Bend is The Studebaker National Museum boasting locally produced auto memorabilia and more than 70 historic vehicles on display.
Set a course south down U.S. 31 to reach Culver, “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” perched on the banks of 1,800-acre Lake Maxinkuckee. Visitors congregate each July for the annual Lakefest celebration, and enjoy year-round strolls through the handsome brick campus of Culver Academies, a renowned college prep boarding school. Refuel on a selection of modern cuisine composed of indigenous Native American-inspired ingredients at Corndance Café, or chill out with a cold pint at Evil Czech Brewery.
With a storied past that includes incarnations as a Victorian amusement park and a Chautauqua site, Winona Lake now makes a picturesque backdrop for an upscale collection of galleries, studios, shops and restaurants at the Village at Winona. Inquiring minds can learn more about the area at the Winona History Center on the campus of Grace College, and visit Cerulean for gourmet bento box-style lunches and fresh farm-to-fork dinners.
Venturing north again, South Bend’s neighboring Elkhart tends a glorious collection of multilocation seasonal quilt gardens — an unhurried self-guided driving tour reveals thousands of flowers in bloom, all painstakingly planted to resemble quilt block patterns. Meanwhile, the Ruthmere Museums campus offers the chance to tour not one, but two historic home properties in one stop.
The Amish lifestyle is alive and well in the expanse of Northern Indiana between Middlebury and Shipshewana, where horse and buggy remain the preferred mode of transportation. Studded with pretty-as-a-picture farmsteads and orchards, Northern Indiana’s Amish area takes visitors back to a simpler place and time that hasn’t changed much since the community settled the area in the mid-1800s.
Explore stores and markets for handmade treasures like quilts and furniture, and enjoy roast beef, chicken and noodles and other heartwarming home-cooked country fare at cozy eateries like the Blue Gate Restaurant. Time your stop in Shipshewana to coincide with the weekly auction and flea market on Tuesdays and Wednesday from May through October, and round out an Amish area visit with a live performance at the Round Barn Theatre on the grounds of Amish Acres Historic Farm & Heritage Resort in Nappanee.
Enjoy your drive!
—Amy Lynch, Tribune Content Solutions
—L.T. Hanlon, Tribune Content Solutions
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