Indiana Dunes National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

If you love sandy beaches, blue water, wetlands, and dunes, Miller Beach and the nearby natural wonder Indiana Dunes National Park just might suit your next vacation itinerary.

Why? The gorgeous Great lake views and proximity to one of America’s most unique ecosystems in the Hoosier State: Indiana Dunes National Park. Not only is Indiana Dunes National Park serene in the summer, but it’s also a jaw-droppingly stunning wonderland in the winter. 

You’ll be blown away and take home memories that last a lifetime. But where exactly is Indiana Dunes National Park, and how should you spend your time there? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about Indiana Dunes State Park, when to go, and what to do there! 

Facts and History of Indiana Dunes National Park

Photo Credit: Jon Lauriat

Indiana Dunes National Park (not to be confused with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) is about a one-hour drive from Chicago, attracting many Chicagoans and other Illinois and Indiana natives since the early 1900s for leisure and recreation. 

In fact, it was early Chicagoans who frequented the Prairie Club on Indiana Dunes that first fought for the dunes to become a National Park. They saw something worth protecting — sand mining, and steel mills were destroying the natural oasis. 

Indiana Dunes National Park is also home to some fascinating historical landmarks, such as The Bailly Homestead, the Armco-Ferro House, and Chellberg Farm

Of course, you’ll find even more historical sites and architecture within the bounds of Indiana Dunes National Park, so you can invite your know-it-all cousin, too!

When to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park

The short answer? Anytime. The National Park is open year-round; your activities will dictate the time of year you visit. 

The park is busiest in the summer when people flock to Lake Michigan’s sandy beaches for the sun’s warmth and the water’s pristine energy. In the same vein, winter is great for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

The fall and spring have their gems too. Wildflower blooms, birdwatching, and extensive hiking trails are still on in this season. This park also has a campground with great options for campsites.

Our advice? Come in the Springtime or Fall. That’s the sweet spot where you have lovely weather without the heavy crowds of the summer. 

Summer

Average Temperatures: 82 / 64 F

Special Considerations: Summer is the busiest time for Indiana Dunes National Park. If you are traveling with children or non-swimmers, stick to West Beach, as it’s the only one with a lifeguard. 

Fall 

Average Temperatures: 63 / 45 F

Special Considerations: Bring your camera to snap some gorgeous shots of the color-changing foliage!

Winter

Average Temperatures: 33 / 25 F

Special Considerations: Dunewood Campground is only open from April 1st to November 1st. West Beach facilities are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 

Spring 

Average Temperatures: 60 /39 F

Special Considerations: Keep an eye out for blooming wildflowers on your hike. Pack bug spray for the mosquitoes at dusk. 

Things to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park

This park offers beaches, festivals, wildlife, miles of trails, gorgeous scenery, and much more.

Indiana Dunes Beaches 

Photo Credit: Tom Gill

The beaches of Indiana Dunes span 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, lined with oak savanna trees, and are beautiful in every season of the year! 

While you may not be lying out in a bathing suit in January, you can marvel at the stunning shelf ice accumulating on the lake. Pick from 8 different beaches to visit along this beautiful stretch, but stick to West Beach if you’re a weak swimmer or have little ones with you. It’s the only beach with a lifeguard. 

Pro Tip: Get there early, as the beach parking lots fill up fast in the summer!

Hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park 

Photo Credit; commons.wikimedia.org

If you’re a nature lover, the sound of crunching leaves is your ideal ASMR. That, along with the gentle swoosh of a bird flying by or the gentle stream trickling into the pond. Indiana Dunes National Park is the perfect place to scratch that nature itch with its gorgeous hiking trails. 

While not a hike, ”Diana’s Dune” is also a popular excursion. Names after dun advocate Alice Mabel Gray, also known as Diana of the Dunes. Legend says she hiked and lived in the dunes on her own while living in an abandoned shanty for almost a decade in the early 1900s and stewarded over the ecology and preservation of Indiana Dunes.

Stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center for more information on the Diana Dunes Dare, which implores visitors to hike to the top of this dune and share a post or selfie to bring attention to their conservation which currently faces danger due to the creation of a power plant.

The trails span hundreds of miles and offer a world of variety. Check out these fabulous options: 

You can even climb to the top of Mount Baldy, although the Mount Baldy Summit Trail does require hikers to be accompanied by a park ranger. Seeking even more fun and adventure? Consider the Three Dune Challenge, where you climb the three tallest sand dunes in Indiana Dunes National Park! 

Pro Tip: Check out the National Park Service Indiana Dunes National Park (NPS) website’s “Plan Your Visit” feature, which tells you the length and difficulty of each hiking trail! 

Indiana Dunes Outdoor Adventure Festival 

Held in early-mid September, the Indiana Dunes Outdoor Adventure Festival actually happens in all of Northwest Indiana’s parks. You’ll find an activity for every interest and age. Whether you or your family enjoys hiking, geo-caching, paddling, or running a friendly 5K for charity, this festival will keep you busy. 

Make sure to visit Chellberg Farm, where you can learn to make applesauce and apple cider! Kids can even visit the farm animals and help feed them! This festival is perfect for you and your family to get into the fall spirit! 

Pro Tip: The Outdoor Adventure Festival doesn’t include a national park entrance fee; however, you’ll have to pay a daily car fee of $7 if you’re a state resident and $12 if you’re from out of state. 

Bird Watching in Indiana Dunes

Photo Credit: nps.gov

Budding ornithologists to the front (bird experts and ecology enthusiasts)! Indiana Dunes National Park is a cornucopia of species of birds, from the Blackburnian Warbler to the Louisiana Waterthrush. 

This park is a haven for migratory birds and beyond. Chalk it up to the endless ecosystems and habitats, from wetlands to prairies. You’ll experience some of the most magnificent bird watching in the midwest here, catching glimpses of waterfowl, wetland birds, and even hawks.

Are you planning to be in the Porter/ Gary area on the third weekend in May? The National Park helps host the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival. During this 4-day event, you’ll relish wonderful, small guided hikes where you’ll learn about the best birding spots. 

Pro Tip: Birds come out to play in the spring, but you might not escape the rain. If you visit in May, prepare for the wettest month with an umbrella and proper camera protection!

Winter Activities in Indiana Dunes National Park 

Are you visiting in the chilly, snowy months? Don’t stress about the cold — you’re in for a treat. 

With a blanket of snow worldwide, Indiana Dunes has become the perfect place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The Paul H. Douglas Trail, the Glenwood Dunes Trail, and the Tolleston Dunes Trail are some of the best trails for these activities. 

Not much of a skier? Who doesn’t like tobogganing? If you want to go sledding, the West Beach Trail is the only place where it’s permissible. As for the snowmobile enthusiasts, we hate to burst your bubble. Unfortunately, the park doesn’t permit the sport on any area of the grounds.

Pro Tip: Rent a pair of snowshoes at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education, just up the Paul H. Douglas Trail.

Stay Around Indian Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park is an absolute gem to visit. Birds, glorious hikes, and geocaching await! 

Are you traveling with a large bunch of friends or family? We have a vacation rental for every party, but you might love our Dream Retreat’s extravagance and comfort. Trust us; the park is the type of attraction you could center an entire vacation around, especially if you’re just considering a long weekend. 

So, of course, we consider every detail when furnishing and preparing our comfortable Miller Beach rentals. But we can’t discount the appeal we offer in our proximity to Indiana Dunes National Park!  Book today!

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