In addition to being home to America's newest national park, sunny beaches, rustling grasses and woodsy campgrounds are the Indiana Dunes’ claim to fame. The area is hugely popular on summer days with sunbathers from Chicago and towns throughout Northern Indiana. In addition to its beaches, the area is noted for its plant variety (over 1100 species, including everything from cacti to pine trees, sprout here) and birds (370 species). Sweet hiking trails meander up the dunes and through the woodlands.
The Dunes can be visited on a day trip from Chicago. If you're looking to spend the night, Chesterton (the closest; popular for trainspotting) and Valparaiso (the most charming; food and drink hotbed) are both worthwhile small-town options.