Enjoy the Sun
Popular expanses of white sand with barely a spot on which to spread your towel merge into the waves. Children tend villages of miniature castles; moats fill and drain, walls dry in the sun and crumble back into a hill of soft brown sand. Solitary stretches of rocky beaches exist, too, where you feel like -- and might be -- the only person for miles.
Our lakes, Great and small, and even many of our rivers present a lovely array of waterfront options for all kinds of beachcombers. Yes, the Midwest boasts thousands of beautiful beaches. And, like beaches everywhere, they stay with you. Their sand clings to swimsuits, to wet feet and to sunscreen-slathered limbs, as if reluctant to let go. Pebbles find their way into shoes, and shells into hands that bring them home where, at a glance, they trigger the memories of sun, water and the carefree days of Midwest beach vacations.
Luckily, here, a beach is never too far away. Following are some of our favorites, in all Midwest states, that show the variety of beaches that beckon. Go ahead. Your memory is waiting.
Carlyle Lake, Illinois Illinois' largest man-made lake claims four sandy swimming beaches at this recreational haven just 50 miles east of St. Louis. Host of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival Sailing Competition, the lake draws sailing races almost every weekend through the summer. Amenities: Camping, golfing, excellent fishing, pontoon boat rentals (618/594-2484; www.carlylelake.com).
Oak Street Beach, Chicago The city skyline serves as a backdrop for this Lake Michigan beach with sugar-fine sand along Lake Shore Drive. One of the city's most popular beaches, the mile-long stretch is part of 26 miles of shore in the Midwest's largest city. Amenities: 18-mile trail used by joggers, cyclists and in-line skaters; lifeguard (312/742-3224; www.chicagoparkdistrict.com).
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Sand dunes, bogs, wetlands and forests stretch for 25 miles along the southern tip of Lake Michigan from Michigan City to Gary in northwest Indiana. Seven public swimming beaches dot the shore (Indiana Dunes State Park at Chesterton is one of the most popular). From many beaches, visitors catch a glimpse across the water of the Chicago skyline. Amenities: Varying among the beaches: some with campgrounds nearby, ranger-led programs, bathhouses, picnic areas and shelters (219/926-7561, ext. 225; www.nps.gov/indu).
Patoka Lake, Wickliffe In southern Indiana's hills (about 85 miles south of Bloomington), a fine sand beach and a wooded shore border the clear waters of the state's second-largest reservoir, which supports a healthy population of harmless jellyfish. Houseboating is popular here, with visitors zooming off the crafts' slides into the water. Amenities: Bathhouses with showers and dressing facilities, plus camping, fishing and trails (812/685-2464; www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/reservoirs/patoka.html).