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Celebrating Indiana Dunes National Park

Formerly Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, this is the 61st national park in the U.S., and that deserves some celebration. And explanation.

Located about an hour east of Chicago, Indiana Dunes is 15 miles of sandy beaches on Lake Michigan, along with big monster-size sand dunes, marshy wetlands, forests, and historic sites. The ecological diversity stuffed into 15,000 acres is what makes this worthy of national park status.

So that’s why, in 1966, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was created — to protect that ecological diversity, as well as some of the history and recreational opportunities this region represents.

But before that, in 1925, the state of Indiana created Indiana Dunes State Park on some of the most beautiful areas of sandy beaches.

A state park and a national park by the same name in exactly the same place with different guidelines and procedures – that’s sure not to confuse anyone. Indeed, the state park is right smack in the middle of the national park.

In 1966 when the Department of Interior decided that this area was worthy of federal protection, homes, businesses, and industry had grown up all along Lake Michigan’s southern shores.

Decades ago, people realized what a fabulous destination this is and built their homes as close to Lake Michigan as possible. So, to access parts of the park, you’ll be driving in and out of several small municipalities and neighborhoods.

What To Do at Indiana Dunes National Park

Most visitors to this area are naturally drawn to Lake Michigan’s shore, especially in the heat of the summer. Who can blame them, right? It’s like an ocean in the middle of the Midwest.

But the combination of forests, marshes and prairie in the condensed space is what earned the area admission into the coveted national park club.

A perfect hike to see it all is along the Miller Woods Trail. In three miles, you pass through wetland, a black oak savanna, through the dunes and onto the beach.

And, if you don’t want to hike back to your vehicle at the Paul Douglass Visitors Center, you can hitch a ride on the park shuttle at the beach. The beach here, by the way, is operated by the city of Marquette, not the national park. Another little confusing thing.

Also, hike an easy mile to the Bailly/Chellberg farmstead. This started out as a fur trading post in the 1820s and developed into a full-fledged farm. In September, the Park Service hosts an Apple Festival at the Chellberg Farm. 

Keep Off the Dunes

The National Park Service is very serious about not allowing you to climb the sand dunes. They are a fragile ecosystem, so when you see a sign that says “Keep Off Dunes,” then keep off the dunes.

But there are a few places where you can climb the dunes and a few special times you get to climb THE Dune.

The Miller Woods Trail is one place visitors are allowed to climb the dunes. There are other places, like Porter Beach, where the park service builds stairs that allow you to ascend the dunes and have a look around without doing any damage to the landscape. 

Mount Baldy is the highest dune at Indiana Dunes National Park and very fragile. No one knows exactly how tall it is because the sands move and shift, but it’s somewhere around 200 feet tall.

If you want to climb it, make plans to visit on a Sunday afternoon. For three hours on Sundays, the park service opens the Mount Baldy Trail to let the public give it a try.

It’s not as easy as it looks. For each step you take up, you slide back down about a half step. But the view from the top is spectacular and the cool breeze from Lake Michigan makes it worth the effort.

Where to Eat and Sleep at Indiana Dunes

Unfortunately, there are no food vendors at Indiana Dunes. You’ll find lots of locally owned places around the park. Check out The Goblin and the Grocer on Highway 12 in Beverly Shores. It’s part grocery store, so you can buy sandwiches and treats for a picnic in the park.

There’s a campground just behind The Goblin. Otherwise, your choices include Airbnb or small hotels. For something different, check out Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton, IN.

For help in planning your own trip to the dunes, visit or