West Beach, Portage, Indiana

West Beach is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Located just east of Gary, Indiana, it’s easy to get to. West Beach has something for everyone: a relaxing beach, beautiful dunes, a great view of Chicago, and wonderful hiking trails.

The fun at West Beach begins right here. This National Park Service ranger station, shown here on April 1, 2014, is open all year long. The modern facilities in this building are temperature-controlled, and is right next to an accessible parking lot. A fee is charged only in the summer. West Beach one of the many attractions on Route 12; just head north on County Line Road to get here.

This sign says it all. This paved footpath will get beach-lovers to the shore in just a few moments. For the more adventurous, Long Lake Trail, West Beach Trail, and the Dune Succession Trail provide even grander vistas.

Blowout dunes are visible from this viewing platform, toward the right. A blowout dune is created when plant life loses its stabilizing grip on the dune's surface, exposing the sand. Lake Michigan wind (or foot traffic) can exploit any loose sand and create a larger opening; hence large sand dunes.

The West Beach bathhouse opens May 22nd. Visitors can walk right through and the beach will be visible on the other side. Lockers and showers are available in season. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the beach is open from 9 am until dusk. Off-season, it's open from 7 am until half an hour past sunset.

Lake Michigan sits just beyond this boardwalk. An accessible ramp just out of view can take beach-goers directly to the water or to a dune trail. The day's temperature at West Beach topped out at a pleasant 51 degrees.

Not only does this ramp put visitors right on the shore, but hikers can turn to the right and begin the self-guided Succession trail. Not quite a mile long, the Succession trail shows the four successive stages of natural dune development.

The Succession Trail Loop is the toughest trail of the three West Beach trails as it includes 250 steep stairs. This trail goes from sand to woods in stages, showing nature at work. The West Beach Trail Loop, at about 1.4 miles, is the easiest. The Long Lake Trail Loop is 1.6 miles long and is designed for birders.

This image of Succession Trail was taken not far from the shore, just beyond a small dune hill. The change from sand to grass to woods is evident in this image. 

The sand on Lake Michigan is finer than that of Lake Erie, but the water is much colder. A National Park Service visitor center volunteer said that Lake Michigan water is about 35 degrees. This image looks north. Though out of view, the Ogden Dunes Beach is a short walk to the east.

At 6:30 pm, the sun began to set over Lake Michigan. About 33 miles to the northwest is Chicago, which sits in the center of this image. Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, stands at 1,451 feet toward the city's left. Willis Tower is the tallest building in the United States.

This 30-second video was taken with an iPhone 4S during the evening of April 1, 2014. The camera pans north to west, pausing on Chicago 33 miles away and ending with Gary, Indiana, in the west.

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