East North Central Parks

Indiana Dunes National and State Parks Visitor Guide

The newest national park in the United States is quickly becoming known as one of the most fun parks to visit in the summertime.  With an abundance of fantastic beaches, miles-and-miles of great hiking and biking trails, and some of the biggest sand dunes you will find in North America, Indiana Dunes State and National Parks are a summer hot spot in the Midwest United States.

If you are into hanging out by the lake, camping out on a beautiful summer night, and doing some challenging hiking, then you will absolutely love Indiana Dunes.  The park has some of the most beautiful beaches in the great lakes, which should come as no surprise as the park is known for its gigantic coastal sand dunes.  These same dunes create some of the most unique and beautiful landscapes for hiking as well.

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If you would like to visit the park, I would definitely plan ahead.  Since becoming America’s newest national park in early 2019, Indiana Dunes has become inundated with visitors.  People are flocking to the park to enjoy the beautiful summer days on the park’s beautiful beaches and amazing hiking trails.

In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information that you need to make your visit to Indiana Dunes State and National Parks a success.  I will outline the top things to see and do within the parks, give you some advice on when to visit, where to stay, and where to eat.  I will also discuss the other things to see and do on an extended trip to the area.

How to Get There

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Indiana Dunes State and National Parks are located on the Southern end of Lake Michigan, just to the East of the city of Chicago, Illinois.  It sits just inside the state of Indiana to the East of the city of Gary and the west of Michigan City.  Because of its close proximity to the city of Chicago, Indiana Dunes is a great side trip to take on any visit to the Windy City to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown.

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The park is comprised of both state and national parklands, with beautiful beaches and concentrations of sand dunes in each of the park areas.  There is a fee of $7 for Indiana residents and $12 for out-of-state residents to enter the state park area and a fee of $6 to visit the West Beach section of the Indiana Dunes National Park.  To give you a better understanding of the layout of the park, I have included a park map for you to review below.

Indiana Dunes National Park Map

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If you are planning on visiting Indiana Dunes from outside the region, I have included some information on how long it will take to drive to the park from some major metropolitan areas with large airports.  If you are flying in to visit, your best bet is to fly into Chicago’s Midway International Airport, which is on the south side of Chicago.  If you aren’t able to find a flight into Midway, you can also try Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which is on the North side of Chicago.

Indiana Dunes Driving Distances
City Driving Miles Driving Time
Chicago, IL 46 miles 55 min
Milwaukee, WI 148 miles 2hr 20min
Indianapolis, IN 163 miles 2hr 30min
Madison, WI 199 miles 3hr 10min
Detroit, MI 236 miles 3hr 30min
Cleveland, OH 300 miles 4hr 30min
St. Louis, MO 317 miles 4hrs 40min
Columbus, OH 282 miles 5 hrs

Resources

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In addition to all of the information I have outlined in this guide, here are some additional resources for Indiana Dunes State and National Parks that you can use to help plan your trip.

Top Things to See and Do

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If you are into the outdoors, then there will be no shortage of things for you to see and do in Indiana Dunes State and National Parks.  Whether you are into hiking, boating, biking, swimming, or just hanging out on the beach, the parks have a little bit for everyone of all interests.  In case you need some ideas for things to see and do while you are inside the parks, I have included a list of some of my favorites for you to review below.

And if you are looking for some things to see and do in the surrounding region, I have you covered there as well.  Below are a map and list of just some of the nearby attractions that you can add to any extended trip to the area.

Indiana Dunes Nearby Attractions Map

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Indiana Dunes State and National Parks
Deep River Waterpark
Chicago, IL
Milwaukee, WI
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Tomb
Gateway Arch National Park

Hike the Sand Dunes in the State Park

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One of my favorite activities to do while in Indiana Dunes State and National Parks is to hike among the gigantic sand dunes.  When you see the size of these dunes in person, it will absolutely blow your mind.  In addition to being massive, they are also really pretty.  However, make sure you bring lots of water with you on your hikes because hiking in loose sand can be a real workout.

Indiana Dunes State Park Hiking Trails Map

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Hang Out at the Beach

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It should come as no surprise that a park that is known for its coastal sand dunes has amazing beaches, but I think a lot of people are surprised by just how big and beautiful the beaches at Indiana Dunes are when they first visit.  Because the parks are located so close to the city of Chicago, I think many people don’t expect to see so much wild space set aside and don’t expect to see such pretty beaches.  Believe me, they are beautiful beaches.  If you would like to spend some time relaxing on one of the many stunning beaches, I have included a map of the most popular beaches in the parks for you to review below.

Indiana Dunes Beaches Map

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West Beach
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach
Porter Beach
Kemil Beach
Dunbar Beach
Lake View Beach
Central Avenue Beach
Mount Baldy Beach

Visit the Nature Center

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Another great thing to do in the Indiana Dunes State Park, especially if you are visiting with children, is to visit the Nature Center.  The educational displays and learning programs teach you about all of the animal and plant life that is native to the dunes of Indiana Dunes State and National Parks.  It is definitely worth checking out on your visit to the parks.

Do the Three Dunes Hiking Challenge

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My favorite activity in the parks, by far, is the Three Dunes Challenge hike inside Indiana Dunes State Park.  This roughly 1.5-mile hike may seem like a fairly easy hike, but it consists of hiking up three of the park’s tallest sand dunes.  While these dunes aren’t extremely high when compared with mountains in other parks, the fact that you are hiking up loose sand makes the hike really challenging.  Not only is it rewarding to finish the hike, but when you make it to the top of each of the dunes the views are quite rewarding as well.

Indiana Dunes - Three Dunes Challenge Hike Map

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Hike the Dunes Succession Trail in the National Park

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While the Three Dunes Challenge hike is probably my favorite hike within the entirety of the state and national parklands at Indiana Dunes, my favorite hike within the national park area is the Dunes Succession Trail near West Beach.  Unlike the state park area of Indiana Dunes, you aren’t allowed to hike on much of the sand dunes in the national park areas.  The dunes have been closed off to better protect and preserve the delicate dunes.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t hike among the dunes and enjoy them.    The Dunes Succession Trail meanders through some of the prettiest areas of the dunes near West Beach and offers some absolutely stunning views of Lake Michigan and beautiful West Beach.  In my opinion, no trip to Indiana Dunes is complete without hiking the Dunes Succession trail and enjoying this beautiful area.

Indiana Dunes - Dune Succession Trail Map

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Best Times to Visit

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Because the biggest draws of Indiana Dunes State and National Parks are the lakeside sand dunes and the beautiful beaches, it should come as no surprise that the best time to visit the parks is during the summer months.  To give you a better understanding of the weather that Indiana Dunes experiences throughout the year so that you can better determine when it would be best for you to visit, I have included some data on the average temperature and precipitation throughout the year below for you to review.

Average Temperature (°F)

If you are visiting Indiana Dunes to enjoy the beaches and the water, then you are going to want to plan your visit during the months of May thru September.  The end of May thru the beginning of September typically see the warmest temperatures and thus the best beach weather.

However, if you are just visiting to hike the dunes and explore the wilderness areas away from the coastline, then you might be better off avoiding the hot and crowded summer months and aim to visit in late spring or early autumn instead.  The months of April and October typically have milder temperatures that are ideal for hiking and the parks are far less crowded then they are during the summer months.

Average Amount of Precipitation (Inches)

If you are going to be visiting Indiana Dunes to enjoy the beach and the water, then you are going to want to try and plan your visit for when you have the best chance of seeing sunshine.  Unfortunately, the months that see the very least amount of rainfall at Indiana Dunes are also some of the coldest months of the year (January and February).

Beginning in the Spring months of March and April, the area starts to see more rainfall and that continues into the summer months.  However, starting in mid-July thru the end of August, the area does start to dry out a bit more.  If you are looking for the ideal time of year to enjoy a warm and dry visit at Indiana Dunes, I would definitely recommend planning your trip during this time.

Where to Stay

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If you want to fully enjoy the outdoor experience and go camping while you visit Indiana Dunes State and National Parks, there are a number of great campsites that you can stay at in the area of the parks.  If you are interested in finding a campground, I have included a map below that highlights some of the more popular campgrounds in the area.

Indiana Dunes Campgrounds Map

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If you would like to enjoy the parks, but aren’t all that interested in camping, there are also plenty of hotels in the area of the parks for you to stay at as well.  The closest city with the most reasonably priced hotels is Michigan City, Indiana.  If you are interested in finding a hotel for your trip to Indiana Dunes, I have included a list of hotels at various price points for you to review below.

Indiana Dunes Hotels Map

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Super 8 by Wyndham Michigan City ($)
Econo Lodge ($)
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Michigan City ($$)
Quality Inn ($$)
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Michigan City ($$$)
Hilton Garden Inn Chesterton ($$$)
Hampton Inn & Suites Michigan City ($$$)
Hampton Inn LaPorte ($$$)
Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa ($$$$)
The Brewery Lodge ($$$$)

Where to Eat

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Because I am recommending that you stay in Michigan City if you are going to be looking for a hotel for your trip, I am also going to focus on Michigan City for the restaurant recommendations that I am going to give you.  Michigan City is a decent-sized city with a number of great restaurant options.  If you are looking for a good restaurant recommendation while you are visiting Indiana Dunes, below is a list of some of the most recommended restaurants in Michigan City on TripAdvisor for you to review.

Michigan City Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Cost
Holly’s Restaurant and Pub American, Bar, Pub $$-$$$
William B’s Steakhouse American, Steakhouse, Veggie $$$$
Fiddleheads Michigan City American, Bar, Veggie $$-$$$
Shoreline Brewery American, Brew Pub, Bar $$-$$$
Galveston Steakhouse American, Steakhouse, Veggie $$-$$$

 

Hiking in Indiana Dunes

Hiking the sand dunes in Indiana Dunes was one of my favorite experiences during my visit to the parks.  If you would like to get a sense of what that experience is like, I have included a short video that you can watch below.

Photo Gallery

Indiana Dunes State and National Parks are some of the most beautiful parks in the Midwest United States.  It was an absolute joy to be able to visit and photograph these beautiful parks.  Below is a gallery of just some of my favorite pictures that I took during my visit.

Indiana Dunes National and State Parks

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