Brincka Cross Gardens is a great place to visit along the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail.

Brincka Cross Gardens is a peaceful place to visit.

By Alex Gumm, Indiana Dunes Tourism

When I started my internship with Indiana Dunes Tourism, the official tourism bureau of Porter County, I was shocked by how little I actually knew about the place I’ve called home my entire life. I quickly learned there’s so much more to Northwest Indiana than just the dunes. During my second week on the job, I was introduced to the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, which features 60 natural, historical and cultural sites in the Dunes Region, Moraine Region and Kankakee Region. After looking through the Beyond the Beach guide, I was surprised to learn that I’d only been to seven of the trail sites.  With plenty of summer left, I decided it was time to step beyond the beach and visit a handful of the sites in each region along the trail. I began my adventure in the Dunes Region…

Tolleston Dunes Trail

My first stop was the Tolleston Dunes Trail. It started raining right when I arrived, but that wasn’t going to stop me. With a map in one hand and my umbrella in the other, I set off to explore the trail! Located on U.S. Highway 12 near Ogden Dunes, Tolleston offers a scenic and secluded atmosphere perfect for hikers looking not to be bothered.  The 2.6-mile trail dips up and down the tall ridges of the Tolleston Dunes, which formed over 10,000 years ago when Lake Michigan was 25 feet higher. The first thing to catch my eye was the array of unique flowers and plant life, along with rows and rows of black oaks towering over me.  Traveling down the trail, I could hear nothing but nature all around me. I would advise hikers to make sure to pay close attention to trail markings because the trail can be somewhat unclear in places. Check out the Tolleston Dunes Outlook, located about a half of mile west of the trailhead.  It’s a great remote spot to have a picnic, learn about the area through on-site information boards and see the remaining marsh.

Century of Progress Homes As a lover of history, I thought the Century of Progress Homes were absolutely breathtaking. Located on Beverly Shores’ Lake Front Drive, these five houses were built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to showcase modern architectural design and technology. Today the homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are currently undergoing restoration. I loved how realistic the Cypress Log Cabin compares to modern-day log cabins. This home is the hardest to see from the street but definitely still worth a peak. Just remember tenants lease these homes so please respect their privacy and don’t trespass. The House Of Tomorrow is by far my favorite of all five homes. Its octagon shape, along with its floor-to-ceiling windows and rooftop deck make it one of a kind.  And it once had an airplane hanger next to the garage!  Sadly, the home is hard to imagine in full glory due to its current restoration. Painted almost entirely in bright pink, Florida Tropical House is impossible to miss from the lakefront. I felt like I should be sitting on a sandy beach just from standing in front of it. While the Armco-Ferro House wasn’t the most visually pleasing in my opinion, I do admire that the house is made of corrugated steel panels. Lake Michigan’s harsh winters did a toll on the stone material originally used to build the Wieboldt-Rostone House; therefore it’s currently under construction while new stone material is added. I’m excited to stop by the house later this year to see the progress. I would recommend anyone even slightly interested in these homes to make time to drive or walk past them year round, or to take part in the annual tour in October. You won’t be disappointed!

Lake View Picnic Area Adjacent to these historic houses was my next spot to visit, the Lake View Picnic Area. Stretching along Lake Front Drive, this area provides public beach access to the lakeshore along with convenient picnicking and well-kept restrooms. Keep in mind that parking is quite limited so you run the risk of lots filling quickly, especially during summer weekends.  Try and get there early! And if you don’t feel like packing a lunch, then I suggest grabbing a snack from the Rolling Stonebaker, a food truck that serves fresh wood-fired pizzas just minutes from Lake View at U.S. Highway 12 and Broadway in Beverly Shores.

Brincka Cross Gardens Brincka Cross Gardens was my last site to explore in Dunes Region. This 3.9-acre site is filled with 40 varieties of magnolias and crabapple trees, along with over 400 types of hostas and 25 varieties of forsythia. Thousands of daffodils also fill these woods. The gardens were designed by William Brincka, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, and were first opened to the public in 2010. Tucked along a small country road, I think Brincka Cross Gardens is a hidden gem. I was a little concerned when I first arrived at the site, pulling into a dirt driveway with no one around and being surrounded by nature.  However, once I started walking around, I quickly forgot my hesitations and fell in love with the gardens. I made my way around the site, moving from each information board and learning about the plant life and history of Brincka.  My favorite part was going through the screened tearoom into the garden of hostas. No matter which way you looked there were hostas! I would recommend checking out the Brincka Cross Gardens in the springtime when the flowers are in full bloom. However, even in the summer there is plenty of greenery to be seen. But be advised, parking is extremely limited. In the past, I instinctively grabbed my beach bag and headed to the dunes whenever I was looking for something fun to do. But after learning about the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, I realize there are so many other unique natural, historical and cultural places to explore in Northwest Indiana. After spending the day traveling around the Dunes Region, I’m in awe of how much I learned about Porter County in such a short time. I’m excited to get out and see what the Moraine Region and the Kankakee Region have to offer! I will blog about them in my next post. For up-to-date, interactive information about the Beyond the Beach region, visit the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail website.