Broad sandy beaches, endless water and dense, fragrant forest. There so very far away from Chicago's urban grind -- not. Just head an hour over the Illinois-Indiana border to Porter County. You'll find this scene at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, encompassing 15,000 acres of protected woods, wetlands and Lake Michigan beach. Because the area is rural with forested winding roads, it's best to stop first at the Dorothy Buelll Memorial Visitors Center on US-20 and State-49. Get a read on water conditions (deadly rip tides can occur on gusty days) and pick up maps marking the free public, pet-friendly beaches (parking is limited). While industrial plants bookend the beaches, the natural beauty overshadows their peripheral presence. Parkland attractions include hiking and biking trails, fishing ponds and historical sites, such as the Bailly-Chellberg 19th-century farm and the Century of Progress Homes, which includes five restored futuristic homes from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair (open to the public one weekend in October; indianalandmarks.org). The highlight hike summits sand dune Mount Baldy, the highest point on Lake Michigan's southern side. Kids run and roll down to the water's edge where beach lovers fly kites, picnic and frolic in the waves. The South Shore electric train, one of the few still operating interurban electric trains in the country, connects downtown Chicago to the pristine area's beach communities (round-trip fares, $14).