February often blooms with hints of better weather. Kids want to go out without coats. And though parents resist, they agree they’re due for more outdoor time.
With a varied topography, Northwest Indiana provides many fitness options even in the winter. And such shared activity sends the message to kids that physical activity is important regardless of the weather, says Nikki Sarkisian, program director at Fitness Pointe in Munster.
Park ranger Bruce Rowe says the extensive and diverse habitat of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore creates ideal opportunities for winter recreation.
“In transitioning from winter to spring, you usually still have some areas with snow, so a family can do ranger-led activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.” For such activities, Rowe suggests Glenwood Dunes Trail in Chesterton. “It’s a popular area, with woods and smaller trails.” Families can go to the Visitor Center to rent snowshoes, a good activity for kids from about third grade and up, says Rowe.
No snow? The national park has 14 trail systems for hikes ranging from easy, short, and wheelchair-accessible to an all-day challenge; check them out at nps.gov/indu and let the kids help decide the best for your family. Handy paper trail maps are available at the park’s visitors center and at each trailhead kiosk (you can also download PDF maps from trail webpages).
“I wouldn’t recommend the higher dunes for families at this time, and don’t walk out onto any ice remaining on Lake Michigan. It’s very dangerous,” says Rowe.
Still, the Porter Brickyard Trail — good for biking if weather allows, offers a 3.5-mile one-way router through a rare, protected environment.
In Hammond, Gibson Woods Nature Preserve at Lake County Park has self-guided trails and an Environmental Awareness Center with displays (kids will dig the 6,000-year-old Mastodon bones discovered in that county). Staff offers tours, and there’s a gift shop. Learn more at www.lakecountyparks.com/parks/gibson_woods_nature_preserve.html or contact email@example.com.
Lemon Lake Park in Lake County has a 1-mile, paved trail around the lake and 5 miles-plus of primitive trails in hilly, wooded terrain.
Outdoor skating is available through March 4 at The Urschel Pavilion in Valparaiso thanks to 9 miles of coils that keep its rink nicely icy.
Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? Check laportecountyparks.org and nps.gov/indu for information on geocaching in LaPorte County and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which also has a daily self-guided Scavenger Hunt.
Starting in March, saddle up for horseback riding along the Glenwood Dunes Trail system.
Back on their own two feet, people can go exploring in nearby Highland, where a paved trail goes through its Heron Rookery. Varied bird species perch there in the winter, says Lance Ryskamp, Highland’s assistant redevelopment commission director. “There are stationary binoculars in the rookery so you can see the great blue herons, owls, even an eagle occasionally,” says Ryskamp. Learn more at highland.in.gov/HeronRookery. This trail is for bicycles, too. For adventuresome bicyclists, LaPorte County’s Bluhm and Red Mill parks offer more challenging rides.