Porter County is located on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, the second largest urban area in the state behind Indianapolis. Approximately 168,000 people live in Porter County, including about 33,000 residents in the county seat of Valparaiso, and 36,000 in Portage. The county is less than 50 miles from Chicago and is considered part of the Chicago metro area, a region that is home to more than 9.5 million people.
Home to both the well-regarded Valparaiso University and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter County is a great place to enjoy recreational activities, engage in arts and cultural events, and find affordable housing in a family-friendly atmosphere. Interstate highways 80/90 and 94 cross through the northern part of the county, making it easy to travel east/west to other parts of northern Indiana as well as to Ohio, Illinois or beyond. Several major arterial roads provide ample access to other parts of the state. The South Shore Line provides daily rail service between Porter County and Millennium Station in Chicago, as well as to South Bend International Airport.
Several thousand years ago, the
last of the glaciers covering the Upper Midwest began to melt, leaving behind the Great Lakes. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, located in northern Porter County at the tip of Lake Michigan, is a magnificent byproduct of the glacial melt. Over time, the natural fluctuation in lake levels along with winds and waves have created mountains of sand that captivate and challenge even the most athletic of visitors. The dunes, several topping 175 feet in height, are part of a larger ecosystem of prairies, savannas, forests, and wetlands that nourish and support an extraordinarily diverse array of plant and animal life.
There are numerous activities and places to explore at the Dunes. In addition to relaxing at the beaches, visitors can hike, bike, camp, or fish. Other activities include touring historic homes, going to the state park, viewing exhibits at the visitors center, strolling along the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, visiting the Chellberg Farmhouse or even engaging in geocaching!
In addition to the Dunes, Porter County is home to many other popular outdoor activities and events, including:
Valparaiso Popcorn Festival — This annual event, now in its 40th year, is a celebration of the community's connection to Popcorn King Orville Redenbacher.
Taltree Arboretum and Gardens — Taltree is a nature preserve in Valparaiso that showcases a variety of trees, gardens, and other landscapes, and also has an award-winning garden railroad.
Kouts Pork Fest — Not just about pigs, this annual summer festival includes a parade, games, crafts, and live entertainment. In addition to the fun, some of the events help raise money for college scholarships.
Elvis FANtasy Fest — Visitors get "All Shook Up" in Portage at this annual celebration of Elvis and his music. All net proceeds benefit a local charity.
For more outdoor adventures both in and out of the Dunes, please click here.
Attractions and Entertainment
The Porter County Museum, commonly known as the PoCo Muse, is housed in Valparaiso in an architectural gem that previously served as a jail and sheriff's residence. The museum brings history to life through permanent and rotating exhibits, wide-ranging programs, and special events. In 2016, the Indiana Historical Society named PoCo Muse as the Outstanding Historical Organization of the Year!
Live theater has been well represented in Porter County for a long time. Chicago Street Theatre in Valparaiso has been hosting dramatic productions and concerts for more than 60 years. In any given year, visitors can enjoy a number of comedies, dramas, and kid-friendly family fare. Meanwhile, in nearby Chesterton, 4th Street Theater is an intimate community theater that provides entertainment ranging from plays and musical theatre productions to improv performances to one-time festivals and special events.
The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso is another great venue for live theater productions, as well as concerts, lunchtime cabarets, and youth theatre. Built in the late 1800s as a memorial to Civil War veterans, the Opera House offers top notch entertainment in an elegant and historic setting.
The Brauer Museum of Art on the campus of Valparaiso University is the permanent home to many significant works of American art from the mid-19th Century on, and also hosts special displays and virtual exhibitions. The museum opens its doors to the public, free of charge, throughout much of the year when school is in session.
The Art Barn School of Art is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to encouraging and promoting a love of art in a beautiful and relaxed setting outside of Valparaiso. It offers classes, camps, and workshops for people of all ages and abilities, and also hosts art exhibitions on a regular basis.
For more on where to eat, play, and shop in the local area, please follow this link.
Children who reside in Porter County are served by these school districts:
Duneland School Corporation
East Porter County School Corporation
Metropolitan School District of Boone Township
Porter Township School Corporation
Union Township School Corporation
Valparaiso Community Schools
Portage Township Schools
Options for colleges and universities include:
Ivy Tech Community College
Purdue University Northwest (Westville and Hammond campuses)
For other information on Porter County and nearby communities, please visit these links:
Indiana South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority
Enjoy Illinois (Chicago)