The Hoosiers have something wonderful in their backyard: welcoming lakefront dunes and grasslands teeming with wildlife. It’s the ideal hangout spot for birders and an enchanting wonderland for tourists. That’s the Indiana Dunes National Park, a place of solitude and experiences.
The park hugs 15 miles of Lake Michigan's southern shore and has more than 2,000 acres of territory to explore, from the sand to the streams to the savanna. It even has outlying areas where tourists can explore a bog, a former rookery, and prairies. Aside from birdwatchers, bikers, paddlers, hikers, campers, horseback riders, picnickers, and beach lovers can also consider this park home.
In 2020, the park attracted more than two million tourists, and those visiting Indiana should not miss why it’s a popular local destination. It might not be a place of thrilling Indiana Jones adventures, but the Indiana Dunes National Park is a place of endless excitement.
Plan The Visit
Before and Indiana Dunes adventure, here are some reminders about the park.
- The park and its visitor center are open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except on Labor and Memorial Days). Winter hours start from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- There's a $25 entrance pass for vehicles and $15 for walk-, bike- or boat-in guests.
Indiana Dunes Adventures
From the lake to the heart of the park and up to its outlying areas, there are many activities to try in this Indiana destination. Whatever the tourists try, they will go home with a smile.
Recreational activities abound on the 15-mile sandy beach, and there are eight areas to choose from where tourists can have a sunshiny day. Most of the spots are open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The guarded West Beach is one of the most popular because it has an expansive sandy area and is near a 250-stair trail. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach are near a pavilion, trail, kayak launch, and fishing pier. For those who want a splashing good time, they can visit Porter Beach, a place for watersports.
Beachcombers will enjoy strolling on Kemil Beach, thanks to its long stretch. The pet-friendly Dunbar Beach is not one to be missed, thanks to its scenic views of the lake.
Lake View Beach is another popular site because it is one of the best spots to check out the expanse of the waterway. Mount Baldy Beach is near the park's largest "living" dune; living because it buries everything in its path. However, the shore is also open for recreational activities.
Birdwatchers are in for a treat on Central Avenue Beach because swallows, waterfowls, and shorebirds frequent it.
It's not all about the dunes in this park because it also has 14 trails that will let trekkers explore a thriving ecosystem and a rich cultural history.
The 2.5-hour Outer Loop Trail will take hikers to a scenic ravine, forests, the Little Calumet River, and a prairie. The Calumet Dunes Trail features ridges and will only take 20 minutes to finish.
Botany lovers will enjoy hiking the 4.7-mile Cowles Bog Trail because it is brimming with diverse wildlife. So rich is its ecosystem that it was designated a National Natural Landmark. Another easy hike, the Dune Ridge Trail will lead guests to views of wetlands and forests – proof of why Indiana Dunes is one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States.
It takes four hours to finish the Glenwood Dunes Trails but it's one rewarding journey especially since it will take guests over ancient dune ridges. It’s also a popular spot for horseback riders.
Birders should not miss navigating the 1.3-mile Great Marsh or the Heron Rookery Trails for a chance to see swallows, kingfishers, and blackbirds, among others. Forested ravines and Lake George will welcome tourists who will take on the challenge of the Hobart Woodland Trail.
For those who want to walk in the sunshine, they can take an hour-long journey along the Mount Baldy Beach Trail. Hikers who will venture into the Paul H. Douglas Trail will have a chance to view a rare black oak savanna aside from wetlands and open dunes. The 2.1-mile Pinhook Bog Trail System will lead guests through a maple and beech forest, plus a bog.
Bikers are welcome in the park, too, because it boasts challenging yet scenic trails. The 19-mile (roundtrip) Calumet trail will lead guests to a forest, marsh, beach, and dunes. The paved Dunes Kankakee trail will take 30 minutes to finish – a short but sweet ride. Along the trails of Oak Savannah and Prairie Duneland, bikers can appreciate Lake George for the previous and ponds for the latter. Other easy trails include Porter Brickyard and Marquette.
Though small, the park is the fourth most biologically diverse US national park, making it a perfect spot for nature lovers. There are more than 40 mammal species including white-tailed deer, beavers, bats, shrews, and red foxes, among others. There are over 300 confirmed bird species, including migratory ones. Other wildlife to see includes reptiles, fish, butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies. Thousands of plant species consider the park their home, like the threatened Pitcher's thistle.
Indiana Dunes National Park also has picnic sites, a campground, hundreds of guided tours, geocaching spots, and winter trails. Ultimately, it has Lake Michigan at its disposal, perfect for fishers, boaters, and paddlers. With all that, Indiana Jones might as well visit the place for an adventure.