Porter County, Indiana, is nestled along the south shore of Lake Michigan and home to a variety of free attractions that help you have an affordable family vacation. Outdoor opportunities abound, including hiking, cycling, and every sort of water-related activity one would expect to find among the Great Lakes.

Made up of such towns as Chesterton, Portage, and Valparaiso, Porter County is home to miles of natural landscape, several universities, and a variety of community festivals that give visitors a glimpse of local culture.

1. Birding – See over 330 species, including loons, gulls, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat, Great Blue Heron, Migrant Warblers, Sora, Virginia Rail, American Woodcock, Swamp Sparrow, warblers, wren, and scores of waterfowl.

2. Porter County Bikeway System – This series of separate bike trails goes anywhere in the county. The trails vary in length, scenery, and difficulty over 70 miles.

3. Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve – 5 miles of trails – short, long, paved paths, boardwalks, and dirt roads surrounded by plants, animals, birds and fish. Ideal for picnicking or hiking. Chesterton.

4. Imagination Glen Park – A 256-acre wooded park with three miles of marked trails – walking trails, a BMX bike trail, and inline skating playground, picnic shelters, and soccer and softball complexes. No rentals or onsite supervision. Open dawn to dusk. Portage.

5. Sunset Hill County Park – Authentic homestead and former dairy farm. Marked trails through the woods, picnic areas, open play areas, playground equipment, and a full schedule of events. Open dawn to dusk. Valparaiso.

6. Taltree Arboretum and Gardens – View trees, gardens, and woodland creatures as you enter this 300-acre wooded reserve. Features live music. Open daily. Valparaiso.

7. Butterfly Meadows and Caterpillar Crossing – Learn about butterflies all over North America while playing on an interactive playground. Valparaiso.

8. George Brown Mansion/Westchester Township History Museum – Discover the history of the Indiana Dunes and the surrounding area from the Ice Age to the present. Local history, archives, and a gift shop on site. Open Wednesday-Sunday 1-4 p.m. Chesterton.

9. Stagecoach Inn Museum – Tour this authentic Stagecoach Stop and Inn built in 1849. Hebron.

10. Traeger Farmhouse and Alton Goin Museum – Learn what Indiana life was like before electricity and discover Portage history from the 1800s. Open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

11. Kites and Canines – Walk a dog while flying a kite. Also participate in kite building workshops, a canine 2k race and shopping. Located at Sunset Hill Farm and County Park, Valparaiso.

12. Porter County Fair – Rides, carnival food, and show animals. The Fair also features craft exhibits and entertainment. Free admission. 11 days in late July.

13. Chesterton Art Fair – See original artwork from over 110 artists from across the United States. Demonstration tent and children’s booth on site. Children admitted free. First weekend in August.

14. Kouts Porkfest – Entertainment, food, arts, crafts, a guess the pig’s weight contest and a kiss the pig contest. Free admission. Saturday before Labor Day weekend

15. Valparaiso Popcorn Festival – Valparaiso was home to the infamous popcorn giant Orville Redenbacher. In his honor, watch the Popcorn Parade, enter the Li’l Kernal Puff race, enjoy food booths, arts and crafts booths, 2 stages of entertainment, and excessive amounts of popcorn. Free admission. Saturday after Labor Day.