Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan between a steel mill and a power plant; surrounding the busiest shipping port in the great lakes is a 17,000 acre oasis. Formed by glaciers millions of years ago, this now protected area coexisting with industry consists of beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, and forests and ranks as the 4th most biodiverse national park in the country. The Indiana Dunes. Wait, Indiana? Sand dunes? Beaches? Biodi-what? Are we talking about the same mid-west? Yes! You would be surprised at all the accessible lake-front and coastal attractions around Lake Michigan, and the north-west corner of Indiana offers some of the best parts of it!
NATIONAL OR STATE PARK?
The answer is… both! In the early 1900s people recognized the beauty and value of the area so the state of Indiana secured part of the land as a protected state park. The National Park Service later stepped in and designated land around the state park as National Lakeshore. Over the years the protected area grew and In 2019 it was reassigned as a National Park. Whatever you call it, this beautiful, biodiverse section of lakeshore is under the protection of the state and the country in hopes of preserving and healing the natural landscape, plants and animals while giving us a safe way to enjoy it.
The Indiana Dunes State Park consists of over 2,000 acres with more than 3 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan. There is a pavilion at the beach with a sit down restaurant, snack bar, and convenience store. You can also find changing rooms and bathrooms in case you don’t want to travel in your swimsuit.
The State Park Campground offers 138 paved camp sites with electrical hookups. There are no water or sewer connections, but there are water fill and dump stations easily accessible. There are also two large bath houses with showers and toilets.
Within the state park, there are lots of trails that range from steep sandy hills to flat packed dirt taking you through the dunes nature preserve. You will venture through the back dunes in a heavily wooded area and then come out at the lake shore to a jaw dropping view of Lake Michigan. On a clear day you can see the city of Chicago across the lake. The state park also has a nature center with live snakes and animals to get a closer look at the local wildlife.
The state park is a great snapshot of the dunes nature preserve, but the national park will give you the whole picture. With over 15,000 acres stretching on either side of the state park, you will find trails that give you a much more in-depth wilderness experience. They will take you through forests, past wetlands, over rivers, up and down sand dunes, and along 15 miles of shore line. Among the green backdrop of trees and ferns you will find pops of color from wild flowers growing along the paths. Make sure to stop by the park office for maps, information, and history about the park.
Dunewood campground is the national park campground and offers 53 conventional paved campsites. There are no hookups, but there is a water fill and dump station available. There are also flush toilets and showers.
Remember that each park has its own fees and requirements, so make sure to check their websites before you go.
The Indiana Dunes is home to hundreds of animal species. With over 350 species of birds alone, the dunes area is a popular spot for birders. We personally saw a few types of birds, including one very confused cardinal that continually dive-bombed our motorhome. We also encountered several raccoons. These bold and crafty little trash pandas can and will get into anything, so make sure to secure all your food and garbage!
Outside the Parks
OK. So you are sunburned from the beach, you have blisters form hiking, and the mosquitos are fatter than before you showed up. There are still things to do! Michigan City and Chesterton are right next to the park and both offer fantastic restaurants, shopping, and entertainment for when you are done with nature or get rained out.
The Indiana Dunes State and National Parks both offer and experience like no other. Whether you are a nature lover, bird watcher, or just want to enjoy the beach, this diverse area allows you to experience coastal activities in the heartland of America. However you choose to enjoy the Indiana Dunes, there is plenty to do for everyone in any season.
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