Indiana Dunes National Park
Oh, Indiana Dunes! One of the newest National Parks, but has been a long time National Lakeshore. I had many camping trips here as a child with my family, and I have such fond memories. Fun fact, when I was young, I had forgotten the name of the park and called it Indiana Jones park and my family had a field day with that. My cousin Lauren and I chased the waves and shrieked with joy when they would “get” us. Thinking of this park also makes me crave a pizza pocket cooked over the fire in one of those cast iron tools…. anyone remember those??
My and Mike’s visit wasn’t quite as carefree and full of child like wonder, but it was still a wonderful visit to a place that holds such a special place in my heart. It’s a very accessible, great park that you can spend a couple hours, a day, or a long weekend. Route 12 is parallel to the shoreline of Lake Michigan (i.e. the Dunes, both National Park and State Park) and is the easiest way to visit the park with many stops along the way to create your own adventure.
Coming from the Chicago area, Mike and I started at the Douglas Center for Environmental Education, visited West Beach and Portage Riverwalk, viewed the Ogden Dunes, checked out the Visitor Center exhibits, and hiked the Cowles Bog Trail. If you’re into history and architecture, the next place to visit is the Bailey Homestead and Farm, which also has a cool Learning Center. Mike and I skipped this this time, but if you’re there for awhile, it sounds really interesting!
After that, you get into the Indiana Dunes State Park. While the National Park Service and the State Park work extremely closely with each other, they are still separate entities! Personally, the State Park is more of what I think of when I think “the Dunes.” That’s partly because of my childhood experiences, but also because the Dunes themselves are more accessible in the State Park portion. While the National Park doesn’t have an entrance fee, the State Park does. When we visited, it was $12 per vehicle.
While Mike did the infamous “Three Dune” Challenge, I stayed with Luca and explored around the beach trails! Both parks are pretty dog friendly and allowed in a vast majority of areas, including trails and beaches. If you’re interested in the Three Dune challenge, Mike ran it and thought it was way easier than described. But… he’s also crazy, so take that with a grain of salt.
- Being such an accessible park and so close to Chicago, make reservations early for the campgrounds!
- The perk of being so accessible is that you can combine nature fun with tourist fun! Michigan City is a cute tourist town on the east side of the park, and Gary is on the west side, which isn’t as cute as it is inexpensive (so go get your groceries and beers there!)
- If you’re looking for a less crowded park and don’t necessarily want to swim/camp, it’s beautiful in all the other seasons!