Julie United States 2 Comments

Indiana Dunes is one of the newest national parks in the USA. This has been a popular beach destination for decades, but it is also one of the most biodiverse national parks in the USA. Exploring the sand dunes and relaxing on the beach are two of the best things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park, but hiking and bird watching are also top experiences in the park.

Indiana Dunes National Park is located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Mixed in with the national park lands are residential areas and several steel mills. With these nearby urban areas, Indiana Dunes has a much different feel to it than a park like Canyonlands, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon.

Indiana Dunes National Park surrounds the Indiana Dunes State Park. We loved the state park! The beaches are beautiful and the hiking trails are a lot of fun. So, one of the best things to do at Indiana Dunes National Park is to save some time for the state park. 

 

Interesting Facts about Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park is located along 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. In its 15,000 acres, it preserves beaches, dunes, wetlands, bogs, marshes, and forests.

According to the National Park Service website, Indiana Dunes ranks 4th in biodiversity out of all of the national parks. There are more than 1,100 flowering plants and over 350 species of birds have been seen within the national park. In fact, this is one of the best national parks for bird watching.

50 miles of hiking trails weave their way through the dunes, wetlands, marshes, and oak savannas. There are also designated trails for biking and horseback riding.

In the early 1900’s, the first movement began to preserve the dunes and the surrounding ecosystems. Sand from the dunes was being used to create glass, which completely consumed some of the largest dunes in the area. The building of steel plants was also disrupting the local ecosystems.

The Indiana Dunes State Park opened in 1926. In late 1966, more land was set aside as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The National Lakeshore expanded several times and on February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes officially became a national park.

In 2021, it was the 8th most visited US national park with over 3 million visitors.

While in Indiana Dunes National and State Parks, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Geography and Map of the Park

The park is broken up into several different sections. For the most part, the park lines the southern shore of Lake Michigan, but there are a few outlying areas, such as the Heron Rookery and Pinhook Bog.

The eastern part of the Indiana Dunes National Park, which runs from the Cowles Bog Trail and the Bailly Homestead in the west to Mounty Baldy Beach in the east, was our favorite part of the park. This area also includes the state park. In this area, the beaches are beautiful, there are a number of short, great hikes to choose from, and this area is separated from the more industrial area on the western end of the park.

On the west side of the park sits West Beach. This is the most visited beach in the national park and it is also home to the Dunes Succession Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the park. You will also see a lot of urbanization in this area, with multiple steel mills and power plants.

However, just west of Gary, on the far western end of Indiana Dunes National Park, is a gem of a hike that we loved. The Paul H. Douglas Trail (also called the Miller Woods Trail) is a gorgeous hike to do and it seems worlds away from the steel mills and urbanization of the area. Keep reading to learn more.

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park: The Complete List

Below is a big list of things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park. This is an extensive list and covers most of the sights, viewpoints, and hiking trails in the park. It is a LOT to do, and for most people, this list is too big to tackle on a typical visit here. However, I am listing all of these sights, just so you know what there is to do in this park.

Later in this guide, I narrow down the list of things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park and State Park into the top 10 experiences.

This list is ordered geographically. It starts in the west and moves east along the Lake Michigan shoreline. I am listing the things to do in Indiana Dunes State Park in a separate section after this list.

1. Paul H. Douglas Trail Trail

Distance: 3.3 miles out-and-back | Difficulty: Easy | Total Ascent: 260 feet | Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Miller Woods Trail Elevation Profile

Paul H. Douglas Trail elevation profile

The Paul H. Douglas Trail (also called the Miller Woods Trail) is our favorite hike in Indiana Dunes National Park. In just one hike, you get to see several different ecosystems.

The first part of the hike takes you through an oak savanna, and if you are here between the end of April and early July, you get to see thousands of wild lupine carpeting the forest floor.

Indiana Dunes in May

Paul H. Douglas Trail (Miller Woods Trail) | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

Lupine Indiana Dunes National Park

Wild lupine | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

Beyond the oak savanna, the trail winds through some wetlands, where you can see turtles and birds. The trail ends at the Lake Michigan shoreline. And since you have to hike here, this beach tends to be much less crowded than nearby West Beach. We had it all to ourselves when we hiked the Paul H. Douglas Trail.

Paul H Douglas Ponds

Indiana Dunes Hiking

The best time do this hike is from late spring into early summer, when the lupine are blooming. Autumn would also be a very good time as you would get to see some fall colors.

2. Spend Some Time on West Beach

West Beach is the most visited beach in Indiana Dunes National Park. The parking lot can hold 655 vehicles, so that tells you just how popular this beach is.

West Beach has restrooms, showers, and picnic areas with grills. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, there is a lifeguard on duty.

The beach is very wide and the facilities are what make this beach so popular. There are also a few hiking trails that start here (such as the Dunes Succession Trail, which I mention next).

West Beach Indiana Dunes

West Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

How Much Does it Cost to Visit West Beach? The national park entrance fee ($25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days) includes your visit to West Beach. You may read on other websites that there is a $6 fee to visit West Beach but this has changed. You do not have to pay the $25 entrance fee + the $6 fee (you only pay the $25 fee). The America the Beautiful Pass is also accepted, as well as the Indiana Dunes Annual Park Pass ($45 for one year).

3. Dunes Succession Trail (Diana of the Dunes Dare)

Distance: 0.9 miles | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 175 feet | Time: 45 minutes

Dune Succession Trail Elevation Profile

Dune Succession Trail Elevation Profile

 

Diana of the Dunes Dare

Diana of the Dunes trailhead | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

There are several hiking trails in the West Beach Area and the Dunes Succession Trail (Diana of the Dunes Dare) is the most popular.

In 1915, Alice Gray gave up her conventional life in Chicago and moved to this area. She lived in a shack on the beach and became known as Diana of the Dunes. This trail takes you to the top of Diana’s Dune and then out to the beach.

From the trailhead, the trail climbs up Diana’s Dune. You will climb 270 steps to the top and from here you can look out over the parking lot and southern shore of Lake Michigan.

Dianas Dune

Stairs to the top of Diana’s Dune | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

Diana of the Dunes Dare Steps

View from the top of Diana’s Dune

The trail continues as a series of boardwalks and staircases. The trail briefly heads into the woods and then reemerges near West Beach. After a long series of staircases, you get to the beach.

Diana of the Dunes Trail

Stairs leading from Diana’s Dune to the beach

To complete the loop, walk the stairs up to the bathhouse, snap a selfie near the Diana of the Dunes Dare sign, and walk the paved path back to the parking lot.

Note: There are two more loop trails at West Beach. The West Beach Trail (Loop 2) and the Long Lake Loop Trail (Loop 3) can be combined with the Dunes Succession Trail for a 3.4-mile loop hike.

Long Lake Indiana Dunes

Long Lake | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

4. Tolleston Dunes

Distance: 2.9 miles | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

The Tolleston Dunes Trail is located near West Beach. This trail heads through oak savanna, wetlands, and more dunes.

The trail was closed during our visit, so instead of doing the hike, we chose to look out over the area from the Tolleston Dunes Overlook. Here is the view.

Tolleston Dunes Overlook

Tolleston Dunes Overlook | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

5. Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

The Portage Lakefront is another very popular place to visit in Indiana Dunes National Park. However, it is located between a huge steel mill and nearby power plants, so we weren’t fans of this area.

The pavilion looks very nice and it has restrooms, a café, and can be used as a meeting space or classroom. The jetty is a popular spot to go fishing.

Portage Lakefront Pavillion

Portage Lakefront Pavillion | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

There is a very short trail here, the Riverwalk Trail. It is a paved trail that runs alongside the Burns Waterway but with views of the huge steel plant it’s not the most scenic hike in the park.

I recommend skipping this area since there are much nicer beaches and hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park.

Portage Riverwalk Trail

Riverwalk Trail

6. Visit the Bailly Homestead

The Bailly Homestead is a National Historic Landmark. Joseph Bailly de Messein was one of the first settlers in the area. He was a fur trader and his trading post served as a meeting point for travelers between Detroit and Chicago.

To visit the Bailly Homestead, you can park on Howe Road next to the boat launch. It’s a one minute walk to the Bailly Homestead from here. You can also park at Chellberg Farm and walk 0.3 miles on a wooded trail to the Bailly Homestead.

Bailly Homestead

Bailly Homestead | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

Bailly Homestead Indiana Dunes

Bailly Homestead | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

7. Chellberg Farm

The Chellberg Family were Swedish immigrants who lived and farmed the land here from 1870 through 1910. Today, the farm is still a working farm and the Chellberg house can be visited on a ranger guided tour. 

Chellberg Farm

Chellberg Farm

There is a large parking lot and restrooms at the farm. This is also a good place to park and walk to the Bailly Homestead, to visit two historic landmarks in one visit.

8. Hike the Cowles Bog Trail

Distance: 4.5 mile lollipop | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 450 feet | Time: 2 to 3 hours

Like many hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park, this hike takes you through several different ecosystems. This was also the area where Dr. Henry Cowles studied the unique flora that lives in this area. He was instrumental in starting the movement to preserve the dunes habitats.

The Cowles Bog Trail was designated as a Natural Historic Landmark in 1965.

This trail is done as a loop. It’s the longest and most challenging hike on our list. Over the course of 4.5 miles, the trail heads up and down the forested dunes. The climbs aren’t very long, but since you are hiking on dunes, you will be hiking on soft, deep sand. It’s tiring work getting to the tops of some of these dunes.

On the Cowles Bog Trail, you will hike through a black oak savanna, past swamps and marshes, and hike along a section of the Lake Michigan Lakeshore.

Cowles Bog Trail

Cowles Bog Trail | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

Cowles Bog Trail View

View of the beach from the dunes

 

Cowles Bog Beach Trail

The beach on the Cowles Bog Trail

 

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

 

Cowles Bog Trail Boardwalk | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Boardwalk on the Cowles Bog Trail | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

PRO TRAVEL TIP: This is a nice hike but not one of our favorites. If you want to go hiking in Indiana Dunes and only have time for a trail or two, we recommend choosing between the Paul H. Douglas Trail, the Dunes Succession Trail, the Mount Baldy Trail, or the 3 Dune Challenge in the state park.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy lines many of the trails in Indiana Dunes National and State Parks. This is what it looks like.

9. Porter Beach

Porter Beach is a small sliver of beach that is located just to the west of Indiana Dunes State Park. If you are looking for a nice, wide beach with easy access and no steel mills sitting nearby, this is a good beach to put on your list.

There are no lifeguards at this beach but there are restrooms.

Porter Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Porter Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes 

PARKING: At the end of Wabash Avenue, there are two parking lots for Porter Beach. The northern lot is closer (it sits just a few steps from the beach) and from the southern lot, it is about a 2-to-3-minute walk to the beach. Display your Indiana Dunes National Park entrance pass or America the Beautiful Pass on your dashboard. If the national park service lots fill up, there is paid parking ($20) across the street in a private lot.

10. Dune Ridge Trail

Distance: 0.7 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 30 minutes

This short trail makes a loop through wetlands and forested dunes. Parts of the hike are on loose sand so it can be moderately difficult in some places. We did this hike but there are several much more interesting hikes to put on your list (see our top 10 list for recommendations).

11. Kemil Beach & Dunbar Beach

These two beaches are located to the east of Indiana Dunes State Park. They sit side-by-side so the views from each are very similar.

To get to these two beaches, you can either park at the Dune Ridge Trail parking lot on E State Park Boundary Road (good for accessing Kemil Beach) or the Dunbar Beach Parking Lot (good for accessing Dunbar Beach and the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes).

Kemil Beach

Kemil Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

 

Dunbar Beach Indiana Dunes | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Dunbar Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

12. 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes

In 1933, the Chicago World’s Fair had the theme of “Century of Progress.” Numerous futuristic homes were built and put on display at the World’s Fair. Once the fair ended, five of these homes were transported to the Beverly Shores resort area on the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Most of these homes have been renovated and all five are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The homes are private residences so you can only see them from the outside, unless you get a ticket for the annual ranger-guided tour of the homes. 

Each home has an informational sign that tells you about the home and its architectural design.

Century of Progress Historic District

Chicago Century of Progress Home | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

The Florida Tropical House | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

PARKING: Park at the Dunbar Beach Parking Lot and from here it is less than a 5-minute walk to the homes.

13. Lake View Beach

Lake View Beach sits right next to Dunbar Beach. This beach is not as wide or as scenic as Kemil and Dunbar Beaches, but there is a lots of parking here as well as restrooms and picnic tables.

Lake View Beach

Lake View Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

14. Great Marsh Trail

Distance: 1.3 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 30 minutes

Tim and I both liked this hike and its views. This short, flat hike has views of Great Marsh, which is an interdunal wetland. The Great Marsh Trail is a great place to spot Sandhill Cranes and Great Blue Herons.

Great Marsh Indiana Dunes | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Great Marsh | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

The main parking area is a small lot located on S Broadway that can hold 8 to 10 cars (GPS coordinates: 41°40’29.3″N 86°59’12.3″W). From here, it is a 0.3 mile walk to the marsh. At the trail intersection, you can go right to walk the lollipop loop or turn left to walk to the observation boardwalk. 

There is a much smaller parking lot with one handicapped parking space and one regular parking space. A paved, 0.1 mile trail leads directly to the observation boardwalk (GPS coordinates: 41°40’39.1″N 86°59’18.5″W). There are no restrooms at either parking lot.

15. Central Beach

This beach is a little tougher to get to than Kemil or Dunbar, but that could help keep crowds lower during the busy months of the year. When you first step out onto Central Beach, you will be standing on a giant mound of sand (which gives you a nice viewpoint along the beach). To get onto the beach, it’s a steep, sandy downhill walk, which means that you will have a steep, sandy uphill walk once it’s time to leave the beach.

Central Avenue Beach

Central Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

To get here, take Central Avenue towards the beach. You will park in a large lot located on Central Avenue and from here it is a 5-minute walk on a sandy trail and along a road to get to the beach. There are restrooms at the beach.

16. Mount Baldy Beach

Located on the far eastern end of Indiana Dunes National Park is Mount Baldy. This shifting sand dune moves five to ten feet every year. It’s slowly decreasing in size, due to erosion, so every so often, sand is trucked in to build up the dune.

Mount Baldy Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Mount Baldy Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

At Mount Baldy, visitors can walk the short trail out to the beach. On your own, you can’t hike to the summit of Mount Baldy. This is only permitted on ranger guided tour, which is typically offered during the summer months. Here is the link to the park calendar where future dates of ranger guided tours are listed. 

To hike out to the beach, it is a 0.9 mile out-and-back hike through the forested dunes. The hike is mostly flat. Once you get to the beach, you are standing on top of a dune, so it’s an easy downhill walk to get out onto the beach. To return to the parking lot, the first climb up the dune in the loose sand is the toughest part of the hike.

At the parking area, there are restrooms, but there aren’t any restrooms near the beach.

17. Heron Rookery

Distance: 3.3 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Heron Rookery gets its name because it was once a nesting ground for more than 100 Great Blue Herons. The herons no longer come here to nest but you can see many other birds, such as woodpeckers, warblers, and other nesting birds.

This is a great place to see wildflowers in the spring. From late April to mid-May, the forest is covered in wildflowers.

18. Pinhook Bog

The Pinhook Bog is designated as a National Natural Landmark. The bog started out as a kettle lake, left behind from a melting glacier. Over time, the water became acidic, sphagnum moss formed floating mats, which then supported the growth of other plants such as pink lady’s slipper and yellow fringed orchids.

Two trails are located at Pinhook Bog. The Upland Trail is a 2-mile lollipop loop that goes through a forest of maple and beech trees. From this trail you get a view of the bog. The Pinhook Bog Trail can only be hiked on a ranger-guided tour, which is offered during the summer months.

What is a bog? A bog differs from a swamp or marsh in that its water source comes only from precipitation or runoff from higher ground. There is no stream, creek, or groundwater inflow to provide water to the bog. Water in a bog is usually acidic and stagnant.

19. Go Bird Watching

One of the best things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park is to go bird watching. With the park’s location on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, this area is a popular place to see migrating birds. More than 350 species of birds either live or migrate through this area.

Great places to go bird watching is the Great Marsh, at Cowles Bog, along the the Paul H. Douglas Trail, and at the Longshore Birding Platform in the state park.

Every year, during the third weekend in May, thousands of people flock to the national and state parks to see the migrating birds. The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival is hosted by the Indiana Audubon Society and you can learn more here.

20. Go Biking or Horseback Riding

In Indiana Dunes National Park, there are trails set aside for biking and horseback riding. There are 37 miles of biking trails, ranging from short, 5-mile trails to much longer trails, such as the 22-mile Prairie Duneland Bike Trail.

Glenwood Dunes is open to horseback riding from mid-March through mid-December, depending on snowfall.

Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park is completely surrounded by the national park. We liked the state park more than the national park, since it is tucked away from the steel mills and power plants, has more facilities, and a few great hiking trails.

The state park has a separate fee, so if you plan to visit both parks, you will pay both the national park fee ($25) and the state park fee ($7 to $12, depending on residency).

1. Go to the Beach

Lining the northern end of the state park is a wide, sandy beach. When we were here, early in the morning at the end of May, the beach was very empty. That changes on Memorial Day, when the holiday and warmer weather attracts more people to the beach.

There are many more facilities here than what you find at the national park beaches. There is a comfort station with changing rooms and showers. At the pavilion there is a dining room and snack bar.

Indiana Dunes State Park Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes State Park Beach | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

2. Go Bird Watching at the Longshore Birding Platform

Just a short distance from the beach is the Longshore Birding Platform, one of the best places in both the national and state parks to go bird watching.

Longshore Birding Platform | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes State Park | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

On our visit, we met a local birdwatcher who was a wealth of information. He told us that during the festival, over 200 species of birds were spotted from this platform. At the base of the platform is a chart listing bird species that can be seen in the area. Here’s the list as of May 23, 2022.

Indiana Dunes Longshore Bird Survey

Even if you aren’t big into bird watching, the platform is still worth the visit. From here, you get a very nice view across the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

3. The 3 Dune Challenge

Distance: 1.4 mile loop | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 552 feet | Time: 45 minutes to 1.5 hours

Three Dunes Challenge Elevation Profile

3 Dune Challenge elevation profile

In Indiana Dunes State Park, the 3 Dune Challenge is a trail that summits three of the tallest dunes in the park. Ordinarily, hiking up not one but three sand dunes is not what most people would call fun. But call it a “challenge” and then all of a sudden you have yourself a popular hike.

This short but tough hike is one of the best experiences in the state park. Do you have what it takes to hike to the top of all three dunes?

3 Dune Challenge Trail

3 Dune Challenge Trail | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

 

Tim Rivenbark

4. Go Hiking in the Dunes Nature Preserve

Winding through the eastern end of the park, the Dunes Nature Preserve, is a network of hiking trails. These trails go through wetlands, cross the dunes, and run out to the beach. You can combine these trails to form loops of hiking distances of just a few miles or much longer.

Trail #9 is the most popular trail in the system. You can either hike it out-and-back from the Nature Center or combine it with trail #10, either hiking back along the beach or along the marsh.

Trail 9 Indiana Dunes

Trail #9 | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

 

Indiana Dunes Trail 9

Another section of trail #9

Top 10 Experiences in Both Parks

Out of the long list of things to do in both the national and state parks, here are our top 10 favorite experiences:

1. Paul H. Douglas Trail (Miller Woods Trail)
2. 3 Dune Challenge
3. Go to the beach at the state park
4. Kemil & Dunbar Beaches
5. Visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes
6. Longshore Birding Platform
7. Great Marsh Trail
8. Dunes Succession Trail (Diana of the Dunes Dare)
9. Hike the Cowles Bog Trail
10. Visit the Bailly Homestead

Planning Your Time

With one day, you can visit the highlights of Indiana Dunes National and State Parks. More time allows you to hike more trails, spend more time on the beach, or go biking or horseback riding.

Here is a sample one day itinerary for Indiana Dunes:

8 am: Hike the Paul H. Douglas Trail (Miller Woods Trail)
10 am: Visit the state park, do the 3 Dune Challenge, visit the Longshore Birding Platform, and spend some time on the beach
3 pm: Visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes and Kemil and/or Dunbar Beach
4 pm: Hike the Great Marsh Trail
5 pm: Visit the Bailly Homestead if you have an interest in history
6 pm: Have dinner in Chesterton

Best Time to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park

Depending on what you want to get out of your visit, there are several great times of the year to visit Indiana Dunes.

If you simply want some beach time, visit Indiana Dunes from early June through mid-September, when the weather is warm. Just be aware that this is also the busiest time of the year to visit the park.

For bird watching, May is the prime time to visit if you want to see a large number of birds in the park. The annual bird watching festival is held the third weekend in May. Autumn is another great time for bird watching, to see migrating birds as they pass through the parks.

For wildflowers, plan your visit from mid-April through June. The Paul H. Douglas Trail and the Heron Rookery are two of the best places to see spring wildflowers.

For fall colors, plan your visit in October.

Indiana Dunes National Park appears in our Best US National Parks Month-By-Month series as a great park to visit in May and June.

Where to Stay & Eat

Inside of the national park, you can camp at Dunewood Campground, which has tent sites and RV sites, or at the Dunbar Group Site, which offers tent camping. 

Inside of the state park, you can camp at the campground, which offers tent sites and RV sites.

Outside of the parks, Chesterton is the best place to stay. This small town is just a short drive from the parks. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which gets the best reviews for the area. You can also stay in a 3-bedroom house that can accommodate up to 7 people (Quaint Chesterton Home) or a two-bedroom apartment that can accommodate up to 6 people (Your Midwest Dunes Vacation Tri-State Paradise).

During our visit, we ate dinner at Lucrezia twice and had a great experience both times. If you like the idea of sushi, we had a nice lunch at Musashi Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar. Octave Grill, Third Coast Café, and Duneland Pizza all get good reviews. We also ate dinner at Abbiocco but the food was mediocre and we don’t recommend it.

Important Planning Information

Indiana Dunes National Park

Park Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $45 and is valid for one family for one year. The America the Beautiful Pass is also accepted.

Hours of Operation: The park is open from 6 am through 11 pm. Many parking lots are gated. They are generally open from sunrise to sunset, although this varies per parking lot.

Cellular Service: We had cellular service throughout the park (we use Verizon).

Pets: With a few exceptions, pets are allowed on the hiking trails and on the beaches but they must be on a leash. Pets are not allowed on the Pinhook Bog Trail or on the equestrian portion of the Glenwood Dunes Trail.

Indiana Dunes State Park

Park Entrance Fee: Daily entrance fee of $7 for in-state residents and $12 for out-of-state residents.

Black Oak Savanna | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Black oak savanna, Miller Woods | Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Indiana Dunes National Park special?

With over 1,100 species of plants and over 350 species of birds, Indiana Dunes is one of the most biologically diverse national parks in the USA. In just one park, you can see wetlands, marshes, bogs, black oak savannas, forested dunes, and beaches along Lake Michigan.

How much time do you need at Indiana Dunes National Park?

If you want to visit the highlights (go to the beach, hike a trail or two, and go bird watching or visit the historical sights) one day is all you need. With more time, you can hike more trails, go biking or horseback riding, or take part in ranger-guided tours of the park.

Which is better: Indiana Dunes National Park or Indiana Dunes State Park?

Of the two parks, we preferred the state park over the national park.

Indiana Dunes State Park is home to a long stretch of coastline, with trails that wind through the dunes and forests. The Longshore Birding Platform is one of the best places in the area to go bird watching. The state park is located within the national park, so it feels more sheltered from the urbanization of northern Indiana.

Indiana Dunes National Park is much larger and it is broken up into several different sections along Lake Michigan. It also has some wonderful hikes and historical sights, but some of these areas are located right next to steel mills or power plants, which really takes away from its appeal.


If you have any questions about the best things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park or State Park, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Indiana Dunes & the National Parks:

 

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

 

Best of Indiana Dunes National Park

 

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Comments 2

  1. Avatar for Kevin
    Kevin

    Thank you for this very helpful information! As a resident of Chesterton, you have given me new places to explore! My family and I have enjoyed many of these hikes over the years, even using them to train for some of the epic hikes found elsewhere in the US that you include on your website.

    I would like to add that there is a commuter train (South Shore) which stops right outside the Indiana Dunes State Park which is a very convenient way to visit Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) in downtown Chicago. My family has enjoyed many (safe) visits to Chicago which includes Millennium Park (The Bean), Maggie Daley Park, the nearby Apple Store along the river walk, and many choices for some delicious Chicago pizza! There’s also a wonderful Lakefront bike trail extending 18 miles with beautiful views.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Thank you for these suggestions! I have not been to Chicago yet (Tim has), which is crazy!! We are hoping to get there soon…on our recent trip to Indiana we didn’t have enough time, unfortunately. Cheers, Julie

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