Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

You’re walking on a bridge across a rustling creek. A gentle breeze travels through the greenish-orange leaves of the oak savannas to your right, softly narrating your stroll through Indiana Dunes National Park. Next to the dense greenery, there’s also an expansive openness. The wetlands disappear in some parts while sand remains, ready to receive your beach towel. 

But the soft brown hues reflect on the water, lighting up its uniform color with a splash of light. 

Nature has a way of softening the stress of everyday life. So it’s no wonder we have so many clients visiting our vacation rentals in the Midwest’s gorgeous Miller Beach area. 

But maybe you’re bored of the stroll, or the kids want to do something else. Luckily, Indiana Dunes National Park is brimming with potential adventures and activities. We’ll show you all the possibilities you can experience at the park while staying with us in Miller Beach. 

Best Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

Oh, America the beautiful? You dropped your diamond in the rough, aka Indiana Dunes National Park, right in our lap!

What might you find in this expansive 15-acre park with sandy beaches as you walk, bike, or glide through its 50 miles of trails? Don’t worry; you don’t have to jump into the 3-dune challenge or spend endless days walking the boardwalk.

At just a 45-minute drive, this park is one of the best beach destinations for a day trip from Chicago. Kick things off by investigating the call you keep hearing through the trees: a duck’s shrill yet exciting quacks!

1. Bird Watching

Photo Credit: Jon Lauriat

Ever wonder where the birds go when they leave for seasonal migration? You can bet that they either passed or will pass Indiana Dunes National Park, which sits center-stage of the birds’ migration route. 

We know; we know. Sand dunes don’t seem like a bird’s natural chill spot unless it’s an ostrich sticking his head in the sand. 

But the park’s sheer diversity in food and ecosystems — Great Marsh, prairies, and prey — attracts hundreds of bird species to see new habitats. Are you an expert birdwatcher? Take the reins on one of the park’s many viewing points, and relish the autumn’s abundant Sandhill Cranes. 

And if you’re just a beginner, you’re in good hands. Why not indulge in private bird-guided tours with a company like Indiana Audubon? The tour experts have experience spotting and sharing stories of over 420 different bird species across the state. 

If you bring your camera to snag a pic of a cheerful yellow warbler, just make sure you have a waterproof case. 

2. Embark on a Horseback Ride

Photo Credit: malei

Are there any budding equestrians in the house? Then, the Glenwood Dunes Trails are sure to impress. These are the only hiking trails in the park completely dedicated to horseback riding between March and December.

You’ll feel like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli traversing Middle Earth’s lush green forests in pursuit of their quest. But your quest is simple: take in all the smells, sounds, and sights around you as you bond with one of the world’s most majestic creatures. 

3. Geocaching

Photo Credit: Robert Kneschke

Do you love a good scavenger hunt? Imagine the school variety taken 100 notches higher in the real-world, exciting geocaching realm. Geocaching is a live, outdoor treasure-hunting game. All over the world, people hide little prizes and trinkets in stashed-away containers under this rock or behind this milepost, and Indiana Dunes National Park is no exception. 

Here, you have four geocache types to choose from: 

  • Traditional Geocaches: The OG geocache, where people locate a container with specific geographical coordinates. 
  • EarthCaches: These don’t have a special prize or container. Instead, EarthCaches invite the curiosity of a particular geological coordinate or earthly process. Talk about an education! Perfect for keeping your kiddos on their toes. 
  • Lab Caches: Not for beginners! These are advanced and rare geocaches that are difficult to find. You’ll need to download the Adventure Labs app to access them. 
  • Virtual Caches: No prizes here — just the prize of nature’s wonders. These geocaches are hunts for those special lookouts and unique flora within the park. 

4. Catch Some Fish to Fry

Photo Credit: Pierre Rebollar

If you’re a fan of fishing, you’ll love the fishing pier on Portage Lakefront and Riverfront. It’s a great spot to catch catfish, carp, bass fish, and salmon while also being accessible with restrooms and handrails. Boat enthusiasts can also embark on Long Lake with their motorboats, searching for even more fish and laughing upon the water. 

Crispy smelts, anyone? The ones you see at your typical Michigan fish boil often come from Indiana Dunes’ rivers and water bodies. Springtime is the smelt season at the park’s Kemil Beach. Just remember to get a permit before your trip if you’re using a net or seine. 

But for those of you with a bigger appetite? How does a juicy rainbow trout sound? You’ll find plenty along the Little Calumet River Trail, though you might be competing with the swift blue herons looking for some chow in the summer months.  

5. Park Views from Your Vacation Rental

If you stay at one of our Miller Beach rentals, you’ll be steps away from the park’s many trails, activities, flora, and fauna. Trade Chicago’s noise pollution with a warm, comforting hug from nature. 

Our beachfront Villa Santorini sits on a 60-foot dune bordering Indiana Dunes National Park. Think Hellenic boat vibes with the home’s nautical theme, enveloping floor-to-ceiling windows, and blue-white hues — white shades from the clean, crisp kitchen and blue shades from Lake Michigan’s blue waters, sights seeping through the villa windows. 

We also have a wooden paradise of a rental — the Dream Retreat Compound. It’s a direct neighbor of Indiana Dunes National Park, placing you in a strategic spot to enjoy endless bike rides, bird watching, and hikes nearby. 

6. Paddle, SUP, or Sail Your Heart Out

Photo Credit: NicoElNino

Water sports attract tons of visitors to Miller Beach and the Indiana Dunes State Park area. Whether you’re a paddleboard lover, sailor, or kayaker, you can enjoy whatever floats your boat on Lake Michigan’s refreshing water. 

Just remember that the park doesn’t have a dedicated marina or rental service. Instead, you’ll have to venture into town near the Lake and Porter counties for these. Isle Surf and SUP has great options for paddleboards and also offers guidance on the best areas to splash in.  

But if you’re staying with us? You’re rarely more than a few minutes walk from the beach, so you can always bring your kayak or jet ski to our rental. 

7. Go on a Bike Ride

Photo Credit: Hitdelight

Fancy a sunny afternoon rushing through winding trails that pepper your vision with raspy-barked hickory trees and gentle rolling sand dunes? 

Breezy bike rides or adventurous treks await all levels of hikers and cyclists — even electric cyclists. Oh yes, Indiana Dunes National Park even allows e-bikes on some of its trails. 

If you’re looking for a challenge, take on the Calumet Bike Trail. This off-road trail spans over 19 miles, which isn’t an easy feat for the out-of-shape traveler!

But don’t feel intimidated. 

You can try the more relaxed (even therapeutic) Oak Savannah Trail. Why therapeutic? Because this particular trail belongs to the region’s Park Prescription Program, where doctors and park staff identify certain trails to direct client prescriptions for “exercise.”

Boo-yah! If you have trouble getting approved for time off, ask the doc if they’ll prescribe the park’s Oak Savannah Trail.

Here are a few more bike trails to try alone, with your date, or with the entire family: 

8. Step Back in Time With Historical Sites

Photo Credit: Steve Shook via Flickr CC2.0

Not feeling a bike ride today? Indiana Dunes National Park invites your slow strides as you explore its many historical sites. Maybe it’s a day in the life of an 1800s fur trader or the struggle of a Swedish settler trying to lay down roots. 

Our personal favorite? A trip to Indiana Dunes National Park isn’t complete without checking out the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes. In 1933, a house developer purchased various buildings and homes during the Great Depression. 

A visionary, he moved the structures by road to the then Beverly Shores, close to Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The National Park Service has since restored them. As a result, the exhibit features unique and, at the time, modern homes: Florida Tropical, Rostone, Armco-Ferry, and Cypress homes, each showcasing different architectural styles. 

You’ll walk back centuries in different styles, exploring concrete walls, cypress wood, porcelain-steel panels, and rustic structures. 

9. Indulge in a Nature Picnic

Photo Credit: Pressmaster

Don’t get us wrong; a stay in our vacation rental always offers you a first-class cooking experience. Even our smaller Sandhill Flat is equipped with all the bells and whistles of a chef-approved kitchen and an outdoor grill to keep those hot dogs flowing all afternoon. 

Why not take the food party to Indiana Dunes National Park? Grill up a few patties and take them to go. Pack up a potato salad, or opt for simpler snacks like cheese blocks and grapes. Eating is always better with a view, and you have endless to choose from in the park. 

10. Slide Across the Snow on Ski or Snowshoe

Photo Credit: Artur Didyk

Remember how the Glenwood Dunes Trails hosted horseback riding for visitors? When enough snow hits the ground, those trails become dedicated to winter sports, namely snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

These two sports offer a whole new way to interact with Mother Nature in the Winter. What was once knee-deep snow becomes a much more manageable stroll as your new platforms help you easily glide across.

Anything cross-country is a safe bet on all fronts. You’ll still have fun if you’re not so experienced. Plus, you won’t have to worry about the harsh tumbles of downhill skiing for the little ones. 

Stay Around Indiana Dunes National Park

Over 3 million people visited this gem of a park in 2021 — can’t you see why? With endless hiking trails, unique ecosystems, wildflowers, historical points, and opportunities for connection, Indiana Dunes National Park presents a refuge from the city life’s hustle and bustle. 

Our advice? Start your park journey at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center. They’ll advise you on the best trails for hikers versus skiers, water bodies with lifeguards, and how to find the oh-so-coveted beach trail.

We’d love to have you even if you only have time for a weekend road trip or getaway. Book your Miller Beach Vacation Rental today

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