If you are looking for a way to escape the heat of summer without shutting yourself indoors, South Bend and the surrounding area have a number of beaches and pools where you can go to enjoy the sun (while it lasts!) and cool off in the water. Here are a few of the options:
The beach might not be the first destination that comes to mind when looking for things to do near South Bend, but Notre Dame sits less than an hour away from the shores of Lake Michigan. Complete with soft sand, rolling waves, mild water, and warm sun, it’s almost as good as a trip to the ocean itself! The lake shore can be accessed at several locations for a small fee or for free.
Forty-five minutes west of South Bend, the National Lakeshore has several pleasant beaches. The most popular is West Beach, which has showers, restrooms, lockers, lifeguards, and a large parking lot that only fills up on the busiest days. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there is a $6 parking fee per vehicle. Further east, you can choose between Porter Beach, Kemil Beach, and Lake View Beach, all of which have restrooms and all of which can be accessed for free. Note that the latter beaches have smaller parking lots, however, so plan to arrive earlier in the day before they fill up.
Finally, if you are willing to hike a few miles to get to an isolated beach, the Cowles Bog Trail leads to a stretch of Lake Michigan with a beach just as soft and pleasant as the others, but without the crowds. But don’t expect a relaxing stroll!
For the standard Indiana state park entrance fee ($7 for in-state vehicles; $9 for out-of-state), you can access the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park, nestled within the National Lakeshore. There is a parking lot at the beach, a bath house, lifeguards, and a nearby creek. Both the National Lakeshore and the State Park are also excellent spots for hiking, fishing, biking, camping, and birding, and they feature a unique terrain of sand dunes, bogs, and woodland. See my earlier post on Getting Outdoors for more ideas in this vein.
To the north, in the state of Michigan, there are a few state parks along the lakeshore. One of them is Warren Dunes, with three miles of beach and a number of hiking trails. With plenty of parking, restrooms, and a bathhouse available, Warren Dunes is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon. Daily park passes for Michigan state parks are $9 for those from out-of-state.
Silver Beach, popular among beach-goers, is located in the charming lakeside town of St. Joseph, Michigan, just over half an hour northwest of South Bend. The beach is staffed with lifeguards and there are showers, a playground, picnic areas, beach volleyball courts, a carousel, and boat rentals nearby. While you are in town, you can visit the numerous shops, restaurants, and parks in downtown St. Joseph, or take a stroll on the piers or through one of the town’s many beautiful neighborhoods.
Small Lakes, Pools, and Water Playgrounds
Those seeking to avoid the large numbers of beach-goers on the shores of Lake Michigan might consider visiting Soldiers Park in La Porte, Indiana, home to a small beach on Stone Lake. This beach has a bath house, picnic areas, and volleyball courts. The lake is also host to an annual power-boat racing competition, and the town features a number of other parks, as well as bike trails, restaurants, and a couple of small museums.
Not to be forgotten are two facilities on Notre Dame’s own campus! The first is the beach on St. Joseph Lake, where you can get in the water, get some sun, and rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or paddleboard. Indoors, at Rockne Memorial, there is a 25-yard swimming pool, open to students and to their families. Check the RecSports website for the latest pool and beach hours, including family hours at Rockne Memorial.
Next to the Potawatomi Zoo, Potawatomi City Park, in addition to a splash-pad and a playground, contains an outdoor pool, featuring a water slide and a wading pool for small children. Children up to two years old get in for free, older kids for $4, and adults (18 or over) for $5.
The water playground in Kennedy Park, with slides, swings, and plenty of water, is designed for children to be able to play outdoors and get wet without having to swim. Children up to 3 get in for free, kids up to 10 for $4, and older children for $5. On Sundays, admission is reduced to $2. For those who plan on frequenting either location, a reward card is available that waives the entry fee for every sixth paid entry into either the Potawatomi Pool or the Kennedy Water Playground.
The Kroc Center, run by the Salvation Army, is home to a variety of athletic and community activities. One of these is an indoor pool area with a water-slide, a lazy river, and a splash pad for small children. The Center also offers swimming lessons, lifeguard certification, fitness classes, and a swim club for adults. In order to use the pool, you must either purchase one of the Center’s several membership options for individuals and families or pay for a day pass. A membership will also give you admission into any other Kroc Center in the nation. For those in financial need, scholarships are available to cover or defray the cost of memberships or youth camps.
Finally, South Bend is home to an artificial white water rapids on the St. Joseph River near downtown. Open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Waterway offers various raft sizes for rent and allows kayak owners to take their own boats down the rapids. Riders must be 54 inches or taller and groups may receive a discount when reserving their rafts.