Simplify, simplify." That was Henry David Thoreau's advice, but Chicago-area parents don't have to go all the way to Walden Pond to escape the complexities of urban life. The simple pleasures of farmland and wilderness abound in Michigan City, Ind., just 60 miles away.
Our family's visit to Michigan City began with a hike up 126-foot Mount Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. My two daughters, 9 and 6, ran, rolled and bounced down the sandy face of the dune all the way to the beach, then climbed back up so they could roll down again. "I could do this all day!" the oldest exclaimed.
Instead, we opted to rinse off and explore a few of the area's less vertical landscapes. At the Heron Rookery, we looked for herons and other water birds that feed in the Little Calumet River. We had hoped to check out the carnivorous plants of Pinhook Bog, but our days in Indiana didn't coincide with a ranger-led tour (visitors to the bog must be accompanied by a park ranger).
Happily, nearby Cowles Bog-properly a fen, not a bog-was available to visit, as were the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, two historic sites maintained by the National Park Service. Each fall on the third weekend in September, the homestead and farm host the popular Duneland Harvest Festival, which features farming and craft demonstrations by re-enactors, plus hay rides, food and music.
We bedded down for the night at Tryon Farm Guest House, where the kids met the innkeeper's chickens, played on the tire swing behind the house and wound through a rock labyrinth while I relaxed in the outdoor shower, set in a treehouse-like enclosure behind the back stairs.
The next afternoon, we stopped by Garwood Orchard, a produce market and U-pick farm, where we took a breezy wagon ride from the main building out to the picking area and back. The sun was melting into the Chicago skyline by the time we drove home, soothed and energized by our reconnection to nature, to enjoy the fruits of our labors.