Melting Man Gravel Bike Race Chicago Indiana Dunes Outside Adventures

Three iconic bike rides are returning from their pandemic break in September, including Melting Mann’s Mountain Climbing Festival on Cass County’s scenic dirt roads on September 18, and a more relaxed cruise near Lake Maxinkuckee this weekend.

But let’s start with a flash of 50+ activities in and around Indiana Dunes National Park September 10-12 – hiking, paddling, biking, geocaching, photography, bird watching, stargazing, and others – for the park’s Outdoor Adventures Festival .

“The goal is to show everything you can do in northwest Indiana,” says organizer and ranger Rafi Wilkinson.

At the fourth annual event last year, everything was self-made to ensure the safety of COVID-19. And again there is plenty of that, but many of the endeavors are led by experts in geology, botany, ecology, history and habitat restoration. Among other things, they look for owls, rummage in the beach ridge for stones and look for flowers and beetles in a swamp. A leading expert on the Mount Baldy collapse will lead a hike on the dune near Michigan City on September 11th at 9:00 am CDT.

A sign sinks in the drifting sand at the top of the western edge of Mount Baldy near Michigan City in Indiana Dunes National Park.  Joseph Dits, South Bend Tribune file

Indiana Dunes State Park will have a fur trading camp on September 11th from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm CDT and September 12th from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm CDT, including a guided beaver trade walk at 10:30 am CDT on September 11.

Most events are free and do not require registration. Here are two exceptions: There are 90-minute boat tours on Lake Michigan with a Michigan City ranger, offered all summer by Harbor Country Adventures, which are $ 30 per adult and $ 16 for children ages 3 and up up to 11 years old ( In addition, a self-guided paddle will be offered on the lower eastern branch of the Little Calumet River on September 12, departing from Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk on 1000 Riverwalk Drive in Portage. Paddlers travel upriver up to 3.5 miles, reach the confluence with Salt Creek, and then return to the beach. This is a straight, canalized part of the river that shares some of the traffic with motorboats. Start anytime between 11:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. CDT. This is free, but requires registration, which is linked online here, so that organizers can plan the logistics.

The Outdoor Adventures Festival usually took place in October, but Wilkinson moved it earlier to ensure warmer weather.

For the full schedule, including the race below, visit or call the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 219-395-1882. Masks are compulsory in national park buildings, but optional in the open air.

Guided hikes, like this one a few years ago, include the Outdoor Adventures Festival on Mount Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park.  Joseph Dits, South Bend Tribune file

America’s races on September 11th: On September 11th, enjoy a 3 mile or 10 km race through the West Beach of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, with obstacles to imagine what the military went through in several American wars. Do a low crawl and a bear crawl in various locations, carrying sandbags, pulling dummies, negotiating shallow water, climbing a wall, and other challenges. With 250 participants, this is organized by Leon’s Triathlon, an organization that has been running triathlons in Indiana’s far northwest corner in honor of the military and veterans for years. The cost is $ 129 for the 5K, $ 149 for the 10K, which includes a t-shirt. Link to a route map here online and further details and registration at

Free for teachers: All Indiana teachers and their families have free access to all Indiana State Parks on September 12th upon presentation of their teacher ID. Indiana Dunes State Park is one of five parks that offer live music, food, and resources for teachers. It’s part of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers Week in partnership with the state.

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bike tours

Blueberry Bike Cruise: This trip returns to Plymouth for the 30th time on Saturday morning, with routes of 31, 41, 62 miles and a “family tour” of 26 miles to the Menominee Monument (a marker honoring an Indian chief). It’s part of the Marshall County Blueberry Festival. The cost is $ 25 per person, with a maximum of $ 55 per family, including breaks with refreshments. Registration and start of the ride are at Menominee Elementary School, 815 Discovery Lane, Plymouth. Sign up online in a link in this story.

Chicago’s Bike the Drive: A 15-mile stretch of Lakeshore Drive in downtown Chicago will be closed to car traffic on Sunday from 5:30 am to 10:00 am CDT to return the annual bike tour that usually takes place on Memorial Day weekend. You can drive as much or as little of the track as you want and take in scenic views of the Lake Michigan skyline. Adults are priced at $ 60 upfront and $ 70 at the event, and $ 18 for teenagers who benefit from the nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance. Register at One suggestion: to get there on Sunday, you can take your bike from Dune Park station at 5:41 a.m. CDT South Shore and head downtown at 7 a.m.

Bike the Drive returns to Chicago on Sunday morning as Lake Shore Drive is cleared of traffic.

Melting man: The Melting Mann Cycle Race has ceased to be a live event across Cass County’s dirt lanes – especially the steep, boisterous Mann Road – since March 2019. It went virtual last year. But it is returning to the starting point in Vandalia on September 18, an autumn date delayed due to COVID-19, with almost 800 drivers registered so far. Race day could potentially hit most drivers of all time. The maximum is 1,000. 24, 35, and 60 mile routes use some paved roads, but 90% of those are dirt roads. So mountain, cross and fat bikes are welcome, but not e-bikes. The 24-mile route has an incline of 1,000 feet while the 35-mile route has 1,500 feet to climb. Can you eviscerate it or will you go through the hills? Cash prizes are available for the two longest trips, but all drivers enjoy coffee, Goshen Brewing Co. Brews (after), and cookies. Mexican food and burrito bowls for the post-race celebration can be ordered for $ 8-10. Registration, which includes a t-shirt, is $ 65 per person, $ 55 for children under 18, and $ 85 per tandem team. Register at This is part of the Michigan Gravel Race Series.

Always gentle

Niles History Walk: All age groups can take part in a guided history walk on Friday at 10 a.m. Meet at Riverfront Park Amphitheater in Niles. The Niles History Center and Niles District Library will lead this walk on the St. Joseph River to show how it played a role in community development. Historical photos are shown along the hike. Space is limited. Register at 269-683-8545 or [email protected]

Dune stories and melodies: Hear songs and stories about national parks in the US from a traveling ranger / historian duo, then hear the local folk music group Save the Tunes perform on traditional instruments in a small concert from a porch from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. CDT Sunday in the historic Chellberg Farm in Indiana Dunes National Park, 618 N. Mineral Springs Road, between US 20 and US 12 in Porter.

Pancakes in the sanctuary: For the first time since the pandemic began, the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society will serve their annual tradition of pancake breakfast on Monday from 7:30 am to 10:00 am in their wildlife sanctuary, 59395 Clover Road, Mishawaka, south of George Wilson Park. Usually held on Memorial, Independence, and Labor Days, it features simple pancakes, blueberry or pecan pancakes, and syrup, as well as coffee, tea, or milk. If possible, bring your own dinnerware. Donations accepted. If the weather permits, the tables will be distributed for more COVID comfort. Then hike the trails.

Camino class: Tom Labuzienski is ready to start another 10-week series of guest speakers on the old Camino de Santiago in Spain, which he also hiked several times this summer. Starting September 15th, this Forever Learning Institute course will take place Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 10:20 a.m. at Little Flower Parish Center, 54191 N. Ironwood Road, South Bend and covers all aspects of the Camino, from accommodation to history, culture , Food, books and movies. The cost is $ 55. Register at

Follow Outdoor Adventures columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures. Contact him at 574-235-6158 or [email protected]

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