Indiana DunesMichigan City, IN 

Indiana Dunes National Park

Chicago’s Sandbox.

The Indiana Dunes is a natural sand dune on the southern end of Lake Michigan in Indiana that has been preserved because of its ecological significance. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park start in Gary, Indiana and stretch 25 miles east along the shores of Lake Michigan. Nearly 4 million guests visit the Indiana Dunes every year. It is located about 90 minutes from Chicago on the Metra South Shore Line.

Visitors can enjoy the sandy beaches, hiking trails, camping sites, historic Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, and many nearby things to do. The area is home to more than 1,000 flowering species and ferns, as well as more than 350 bird species.

History

During the early 1900s, local industry took advantage of the dunes. A local movement to preserve the sand dunes arose and in the 1920s a state park preserving a small portion of the Indiana Dunes was opened. As businessman solicited federal funds for the creation of a port in the area, the organization to preserve the dunes sought to raise funds to buy and preserve more of the dunes. In the 1960s, a bargain was struck to bring the port to Indiana (Burns Waterway Harbor) as well as create the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The original allotment of 8,330 acres was subsequently expanded in 1976, 1980, 1986 and 1992 to reach 15,000 acres.

Historic Sites

Bailly Homestead was a pioneer trading post established in 1822. It was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962.

Pinhook Bog was formed by a postlacial kelle moraine left behind 14,000 years ago. The bog is a national natural landmark but access is restricted to ranger-led guided tours.

Cowles Bog is a fen westland named for Henry Chandler Cowles, a biologist and ecologist. The bog is a national natural landmark.

Dune Climbing

Mount Baldy in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is normally open for those who want to climb a dune. However, in 2016, it was closed to visitors.

Mount Tom in the Indiana Dunes State Park is the highest dune in the state of Indiana, at 192 feet above Lake Michigan. Trail 8 is a rugged 1.5 mile hike that takes visitors up Mount Tom as well as Mount Holden (184 feet) and Mount Jackson (176 feet). On a clear day, the Chicago skyline can be seen from the top of Mount Tom.

Birding

There are 350 bird species that either inhabit or migrate through Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. In the spring, as many as 300 hawks can be seen soaring over the dunes in a single day during peak migration in March and April. Cowles Bog, West Beach, Long Lake, Heron Rookery and Portage Lakefront & Riverfront all attract bird watching enthusiasts to the national lakeshore. In the state park, visitors enjoy the bird observation tower, hiking trails, the marshwood boundary and the beach for adding to their bird count. Stop in to the Nature Center to find out about recent bird sightings.

Fishing

The shores of Lake Michigan, Little Calumet River and Long Lake offer ample opportunity for fishing anglers to have a good day on the water. During the spring, Kemil Beach offers smelt fishing using a net or a seine with a special permit. In the summer, yellow perch in Lake Michigan are the catch. In the fall, Skamania steelhead, lake trout, chinook salmon and coho salmon are highly sought after catches.

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk in the national lakeshore offers a fishing pier to catch smallmouth bass, salmon, trout, carp and catfash. Fishing is allowed 24 hours a day but a special free permit is needed when the park is closed.

There are also several inland lake and river possibilities. Motor boats are permitted on Long Lake, which is accessible by trails and a public access area. The Little Calumet River can be accessed from Heron Rookery and the Little Calumet River Trail.

Water Park and Other Things to Do

There are many things to do outside of the Indiana Dunes. One of them is Seven Peaks Waterpark Duneland, which has ten water slides, a gigantic wave pool and 2 kiddie attractions. it is one of the largest water parks in Indiana. There is also the Zao Island Amusement Center, the Taltree Arboretum Railway Garden, the Memorial Opera House and the Hoosier Bat Company (third largest manufacturer of wooden bats).

Hiking Trails:

There are more than 60 miles of trails in the national lakeshore and state park. Trails range in difficulty from easy to hard and range in length from a 1/2 mile to 10 miles long. There are seven trails in Indiana Dunes State Park. There are 45 miles of trails in the national lakeshore with popular ones including the Glenwood Dunes Trail, the Heron Rookery Trail, the Cowles Bog Trail, the Marquette and Calumet Dunes trails, and the Bailly Homestead and Cheliberg Farm Trail.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Indiana Dunes a national park?

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became the nation’s 61st national park and the first national park in Indiana when Congress passed and the President signed appropriations legislation in 2019. The area’s preservation against industrial encroachment to protect the Lake Michigan sand dunes began in 1916 and it was designated a national lakeshore by Congress in 1966. The dunes contain more than 1100 native plants, the fourth most diverse plant ecosystem.

Can you swim at Indiana Dunes?

There are 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline for swimming. Lifeguards are offered at West Beach and the Indiana Dunes State Park. Visitors are advised to avoid swimming when there are high e coli bacteria levels or rip tides. Temperatures may not reach an acceptable level until June or early July depending on the season.

What is the 3 dune challenge?

The 3 Dune challenge is a 1.5 mile course through Indiana Dunes State Park which involves climbging the three highest sand dunes in the park, Mount Jackson (176 feet), Mount Holden (184 feet) and Mount Tom (192 feet). It begins at the nature center. There is a separate admission for the state park from the national park.

How far are the Indiana Dunes?

The Indiana Dunes are 45 miles from South Bend, 50 miles from downtown Chicago, 130 miles from Grand Rapids, 150 miles from Milwaukee, 160 miles from Indianapolis, 240 miles from Detroit and 300 miles from Cleveland.

Nearby Parks

Indiana Dunes State Park – The park was created in 1925 to preserve the dunes. It contains 2,182 acres including the Dunes Nature Preserve on the east side of the park. The state park is surrounded on all four sides by the national park.

Warren Dunes State Park – A 1,952 acre Michigan state park on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. It is one of Michigan’s most popular state parks with around one million visitors a year. The park includes three miles of shoreline and a 260 feet high dune formation.

William W. Powers State Recreation Area – This 580 acre Illinois State Park southeast of Chicago at the Illinois-Indiana border is located on Wolf Lake.

Pullman National Monument – This was the first model, planned industrial community in the United States. It is located about 40 miles west of the park.

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