8 Best Hiking Trails at Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes National Park boasts an impressive collection of gorgeous landscapes, biodiversity, and unique historical sites. The region is particularly famous for its sweeping sand dunes, rich wetlands, and beautiful lakefront beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan.

One of the best ways to explore the park is to embark on some of the Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trails. The Indiana Dunes National Park trail system, stewarded over by the National Park Service, boasts over 50 miles of trails, each offering something unique and beautiful. This area is also fantastic for learning about the native ecology, with the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education and Indiana Dunes Visitor Center each providing nature learning experiences.

In this guide, we break down the best Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trails, including their distance, difficulty, type of terrain, and the surrounding ecology. Each incredible hiking trail is just a short jaunt away from your beautiful Miller Beach vacation rental.

Cowles Bog Trail

Photo Credit: Eddie J. Rodriquez

  • Distance: 4.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Cowles Bog Trail is a moderately difficult loop trail that just might take gold for the best Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trails.

The trail loops through the woods, through sand dunes, and takes you right onto the beach for some spectacular lake views. Even though the trail is rated moderate, that’s mostly for its length. The hike only has 216  feet of elevation gain, and the trail is very well maintained. The most difficult part of the hike is probably the sand dune section, although many hikers report that’s their favorite part!

Keep in mind, this hike is through a bog, so it can get buggy, particularly in the summer months- you’ll want to bring along some bug spray! The trail is leashed dog friendly, so feel free to bring along your furry friend.

West Beach Dune Succession Trail

Photo Credit: RonaldL

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you’re looking for an easy Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trail that still offers some unique terrain, take a look at the West Beach Dune Succession Trail. This hiking trail takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, and you’ll go up and down about 100 feet worth of stairs to get down to the beach and back.

The terrain of the trail is a mix of sand and stairs, so while it is an easier hike, the terrain might be difficult for some.

If you want to get some good photos with the water in the background, this is an excellent hike because the views from the stairs are great. In addition to the stairs and the views of West Beach and Long Lake you’ll also traverse through a beautiful, grassy oak forest growing right out of the sand.

The Dune Succession Trail is the perfect example of how a beach can transform into a forest. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trail, and keep an eye out for the poison ivy serving as nature’s protector and lining the edges of the path.

Tolleston Dunes Trail

  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Tolleston Dunes Trail is a beautiful, moderately difficult, 2.9-mile loop trail that winds through 4,700-year-old sand dunes.

Over the course of the trail, you’ll wind through several different habitats and ecosystems, including oak savanna, wetlands, and of course, the ancient sand dunes.

If you visit in the summer months, expect to see plenty of beautiful wildflowers. Along the trail, it’s also common to see deer, birds, turkeys, and even snakes.

The terrain of this Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trail is mostly loose sand, although it includes packed dirt and boardwalks in some places. Dogs are welcome on this trail as long as they’re leashed, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for poison ivy.

Heron Rookery Trail

Photo Credit: DavidnKeng via Flickr CC 2.0

  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

If you want to do a hike that features an abundance of wildlife, you’ll love the Heron Rookery Trail. This 3.2-mile trail is mostly flat, out & back, and the terrain consists of packed dirt and clay. If it’s rained recently, the trail can get a bit slippery, so be mindful of that and bring the proper footwear.

This Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trail follows the Little Calumet River, which used to be home to over 100 Great Blue Heron Nests!

While today, the Great Blue Herons no longer nest here, there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen from the trail, especially birds. The woods surrounding the trail are full of woodpeckers, warblers, kingfishers, and more.

While the vivid greenery of the woods and little river are beautiful, the star of this hike happens in the springtime, when the woods are absolutely exploding with wildflowers. The peak time to see wildflowers is from late April through mid-May.

Miller Woods Trail

Photo Credit: Tom Gill via Flickr CC 2.0

  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Spanning 3.5 miles, this out & back trail takes hikers through a unique blend of landscapes ranging from lush wetlands to open dunes and the beach. The Miller Woods Trail also meanders through rare and beautiful black oak Savannah, where you’ll be surrounded by delicate grasses and beautiful wildflowers including lupines. The Miller Woods Trail showcases a fantastic display of plant diversity.

Do note, the trail is mostly shaded, but the end of it is completely exposed. Be sure to bring along some sunscreen or cover-up if you’re visiting on a sunny day.

The trail is only rated moderately difficult, but the terrain isn’t the easiest. The trail is rugged, and a portion of it scales a large sand dune with fairly loose sand.

While you hike past the wetlands, be sure to keep an eye out for Great Blue Herons, beavers, geese, and other types of wildlife. Dogs are allowed on the trail, as long as they are leashed.

Great Marsh Trail

Photo Credit: Indiana Dunes National Park via Flickr CC 2.0

  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you’re passionate about birding, get your binoculars ready for the Great Marsh Trail! This 1.4-mile hiking trail takes you through the largest wetland complex in Lake Michigan, and it’s fantastic for birdwatching.

From the trail, it’s quite common to see wood ducks, coots, and mallards. Visitors also report spotting tree swallows, kingfishers, and rusty blackbirds.

Graceful egrets, sandhill cranes, and herons often wade through the wetlands, providing perfect photo opportunities. During migratory seasons, expect to see large flocks of ducks and geese. If you listen carefully too, you might hear the songs of warblers and red-winged blackbirds.

The terrain of the Great Marsh trail is mostly grassy, with a few sections of packed dirt or a wooden boardwalk with railings. If you visit in spring, you’ll even get to see some beautiful wildflowers.

Overall the Great Marsh Trail is a beautiful, short Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trail that’s fantastic for birding.

Mount Baldy Beach Trail

Photo Credit: Anna Westman

  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you’re looking for less of a rigorous hike and more of a short and enjoyable beach walk, check out the Mount Baldy Beach Trail. This Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trail encompasses rolling, wooded hills in the first part of the trail and ends with a steep little jaunt up to the top of a dune with an absolutely stunning overlook. From here, you can see Lake Michigan’s panoramic views; and on clear days, you can even see the distant Chicago Skyline.

If you want to extend the hike, you can walk along the lakeshore in either direction. Keep in mind though, if the lake levels are high and the waves are strong, beach access isn’t safe.

Pro Tip: If you’re hiking in winter and it’s icy, stay off the shelf ice, it’s often unstable, and it’s possible to slip through.

Bailly Homestead/Chellberg Farm Trail

Photo Credit: Thomas Barrat

  • Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Bailly Homestead Trail, also known as the Chellberg Farm Trail, is more than just a hike- it also gives you a chance to explore some unique historical sites!

This easy trail kicks off at the trailhead near Chesterton, then winds through a lush forest full of maple, beech, oak, and basswood trees before leading you to a scenic clearing- the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm.

Built in the 1820s by fur trader and pioneer Joseph Bailly, the now fully restored homestead offers a glimpse into pioneer life. You can also explore the Chellberg Farm, which was built by Swedish immigrants in the late 1870s, who used the farm to produce maple syrup about 6 decades later.

While the trail is fairly easy, there can be some muddy patches after it rains. Be sure to bring along some bug spray, watch out for poison ivy, and give yourself plenty of time to explore the homestead, old Bailly cemetery, and the working Chellberg Farm.

Enjoy the Best Indiana Dunes Hiking Trails

From leisurely strolls to more vigorous hikes and even cross-country skiing in the winter months, these incredible Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trails offer something for every type of traveler.

End your days of hiking in one of our beautiful Miller Beach villas, the perfect place to come back to after a day of exploration.

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