Indiana Dunes National Park

We visited IDNP in August 2022, as part of Big Trip #4

hazy Chicago skyline from Indiana Dunes
That’s Chicago in the background!

Indiana Dunes National Park, like Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is an urban park. It’s one of the newest national parks in the US, protecting an important shoreline ecosystem on Lake Michigan, and providing accessible nature experiences to people who live in near cities. It’s so urban that you can see the Chicago skyline across the lake on a clear day, and on any day it’s easy to spot the steel plants, power plants, and other signs of heavy industry nearby. Not the types of plants you expect to see at a national park!

The park is spread along the lakeshore and offers different activities in different sections: there’s hiking in the dunes, birding in the wetlands, strolling along (or sitting on) the beach, and our favorite, a surprising walk past a collection of five unique houses built for the World’s Fair in 1933.

Bugsy chasing a stick into Lake Michigan
on the beach at Beverly Shores

We started off our stay not liking Indiana Dunes National Park. Hiking in sand is the worst, and the bang for the buck for slogging through sand was low. So Day 1 in the park was kind of a bust, but Morning 2 in Beverly Shores was a success! More on that below.

Campground

We stayed at a commercial campground in Michigan City, because the NPS campground, Dunewood Campground, didn’t have a spot for us. Read about our non-national park experiences in this post. Dunewood is tucked into the trees not far from the beaches in Beverly Shores, with a general store and restaurant just outside the gates. The campsites don’t have any hookups, but there’s water and a dump station available. Be sure to read the details when reserving a site to be sure your RV or trailer will fit.

Things to do

walking the beach at Beverly Shores
Enjoying the beach at Beverly Shores

Indiana Dunes National Park allows dogs on trails and beaches, except for West Beach. Hooray!

Hiking – West Beach

hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park
Hiking the 3-Loop Trail

We had time for one hike in Indiana Dunes and chose 3-Loop in West Beach. The hike crosses no-dogs West Beach, but it was Bugsy’s day off from hiking, so that didn’t affect us. But there were dogs on the beach, so if you want to hike 3-Loop with your dog, maybe it’s ok.

distant Chicago skyline over the beach at Indiana Dunes
3-Loop view, more Chicago back there

3-Loop is 3.5 miles long and has some pretty parts in the dunes, and in the forest, and along the marsh. But we reallllllly don’t like hiking in deep sand, and the interpretive trail section of the hike didn’t have any brochures in the box. It was during this hike that we realized we could leave town a day early…

Exploring – Portage Lakefront

Portage Lighthouse, or channel marker

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Trail is on a former steel mill waste processing center at the west end of the national park. It’s an environmental success story and a neat place for a quick visit to view the channel marker, and in season, check out the shops or snacks or whatever is in the pavilion. We were out of season (? it was before Labor Day) so all we did was watch the surfers and admire the cool channel marker.

Exploring – Mt Baldy

This was on our to-do list, but we didn’t get to it, since we left a day early. Mt Baldy is the largest dune in the park, and you can view it from Central Beach, and at certain times you can climb it. It was closed while we were there, and also, we don’t like hiking in sand.

Beaching

Bugsy enjoying the beach at Beverly Shores

There are several beaches in the national park and state park. The only one we saw on Day 1 was West Beach, which was very crowded. On Morning 2 we went to Beverly Shores and it was peaceful and scenic–at 8am, anyways. People were starting to arrive and it looked like they were setting up for a long beach stay with swimming and cooking out. But early in the morning there was a great scene of bikers and runners along the lakefront road, and people collecting shells on the beach, and other people walking dogs by the water. Bugsy loved her time on the beach, and we enjoyed the pretty walk.

the Florida Tropical House, one of the Century of Progress Houses in Beverly Shores
one of the Century of Progress Houses in Beverly Shores

But the best part was the World’s Fair Century of Progress houses! These houses were built for the 1933 World’s Fair, purchased after the fair ended, and moved to Beverly Shores via barge and truck. The houses are on 50-year leases to tenants who have rehabilitated them and agree to open them every last weekend of September for a house tour. The House of Tomorrow is currently looking for a tenant to fix it up! It could be you!

Indiana Dunes State Park

Hiking in the state park is also dog-friendly, but dogs are not allowed on the beach in the state park. Keep in mind that the state park charges a separate entrance fee from the national park. The trails we had earmarked, but didn’t get to, were:

  • 3 Dune Challenge – Trail 8 – a 1.5-mile hike with views, but mostly it was the “challenge” part that attracted me. Good marketing!
  • Trail 9 has mix of dunes and lake views for 3.75 mi. I read that this is the best trail in the state park.

Conclusion

walkway to the lighthouse or channel marker at Indiana Dunes

If we return to this park–which we would consider for a night if convenient–we would stay in Dunewood and skip the hiking in the park and just hang out on the beach in Beverly Shores.

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