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The first stop on our fall road trip was Indiana Dunes. We figured we might as well stop this time because even though it’s close to home, wee never go to that area. This was the time!
This was a park we decided to just make a quick stop at so instead of a whole day we only gave ourselves a couple of hours at Indiana Dunes. Like usual, there was no early start for us. What’s new?
After breakfast and coffee, we set off for the visitor center to hopefully get a mug. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any but I still got my patch and postcards so it’s ok.
From here we drove down past the Century of Progress homes then went back around to do the Dune Ridge trail. This is a short trail and definitely considered easy but man was I out of breath on here! And it’s not like it’s at a high elevation or anything.
What this trail was was not at all what I was expecting and this park made me think I don’t know what dunes are, which I very well may not. I was expecting a trail through, well, sand dunes, you know, like at White Sands or Great Sand Dunes. It was not.
This was basically a trail through the woods with no sand dunes in sight, at least not the typical sand dunes you would expect, so if you want sand, sand, and more sand, this isn’t it. But it’s still a really nice little walk that you should still do.
It was surprisingly cold here for early October but being right on Lake Michigan is probably why. Make sure you’re prepared for that and bundle up! After this we walked over to the beach and walked around there for a bit.
This was my first time on a Lake Michigan beach and I was blown away! It literally felt like we were in Florida, but it was actually Indiana. You could see the Chicago skyline off to the left and some industrial stuff to the right.
We didn’t spend much time on the beach because it was so cold, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s definitely not in my top parks, pretty close to the bottom actually, but it still isn’t a bad park.
It’s what I call a city park because of its proximity to civilization. Other city parks to me would be Cuyahoga Valley and Hot Springs. This also means you get a lot of the city things in the views that you do get which is a bummer (I think.)
It’s a strange little park. It’s super spread out with towns and houses scattered around which makes navigating it a little difficult. It doesn’t just have one main road like Arches or Canyonlands so you need to actually navigate with Google Maps or something instead of just the park map, which I like doing.
While it may be towards the bottom of the list, it’s still worth a visit if you’re in the area. It’s a nice little park and it’s cool being able to go to a beach like this in Indiana even if it was freezing. I would imagine it’s a lot nicer in the summer.
Things to do in Indiana Dunes with two hours
Stop at the visitor center
This is a must-do on any national park trip to get info on the park, tips on hikes or things to see if you didn’t plan ahead (not that I have any experience with that. Ha.) and to get your postcards, patches, stickers, mugs, or other goodies.
Robert Bartlett brought twelve buildings from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago to what is now the Century of Progress Historic District. Five of these buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan now make up the exhibit that you can visit.
There is a tour of the homes every year at the end of September. Tickets go on sale in August but sell out fast. Even without doing the tour, the houses are still really cool to see.
Hike the Dune Ridge Trail
This is a nice trail that takes you into the woods, a part of the park most people probably don’t think about or don’t even know exists (like, me.) I would say this is probably considered easy but it does have some steep parts. It’s not a sandy hike though, so that helps make it a little easier.
This is a 0.7 mile trail with 73 feet of elevation gain and 11% grade (the steep parts). You should plan about 30 minutes for this short hike.
Walk along the beach
Finally, after you hike the Dune Ridge Trail, stay parked at the trailhead then head back toward the beach. It’s a short walk along the road. There is no sidewalk so just be careful and aware of traffic as you walk! Once you get to the beach you can head either direction to enjoy Lake Michigan and the beach.
Other things to do in Indiana Dunes with limited time
These are the perfect activities and short trails for a quick visit to Indiana Dunes. Whether you have a couple of hours or half a day, you’ll be able to experience a lot of the park pretty easily.
Visit the old buildings
In addition to the Century of Progress homes, there is the Chellburg farm and the Bailey homestead. These are great ways to see how people lived here in the 20th century and what life was like for them. These are good stops if you’re a history buff.
See Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy is the tallest moving sand dune in the park and a must-see (that we didn’t see.) There is a beach here you can enjoy, but you can’t climb the dune because of preservation. There are ranger-led hikes to the top of it though occasionally.
Hike the Calumet Dunes Trail
This is a 0.5 mile paved trail (stick to the left at all the trail junctions and walk it in a counter-clockwise direction) that takes you through the woods around the Calumet Dunes.
This is a 0.9 mile paved trail with some boardwalk sections and one set of stairs. It’s a great place to experience the park year-round, seeing leaves change in fall, the ice shelf forming in the beach in the winter, and migrating birds in the spring and fall.
Hike to the Tolleston Dunes Marsh Overlook
This is an easy 0.1 mile boardwalk, a nice 15ish minute walk through 4,700 year old dunes! You’ll get a nice view of the Tolleston Dunes Wetlands. This is the perfect short walk to experience park and a couple of it’s habitats.
How long do you need for Indiana Dunes National Park?
One whole day would give you plenty of time to see a lot of things, but if you only have a few hours just passing through, you can still see some of the park highlights. Planning out a little at least ahead of time will help use whatever time you have there most efficiently because it’s a weirdly spread out park.
Where is Indiana Dunes National Park?
Indiana Dunes is right on the shores of Lake Michigan, about an hour from Chicago,1.5 from Holland, and 3.5ish from Detroit. Michigan City and New Buffalo are good option for somewhere to stay nearby.
What to bring to Indiana Dunes National Park in October
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Cozy Sweatshirt – I have a few different Patagonia sweatshirts and love them all. They’re great for layering in cold weather. I have two Re-tools, a Better Sweater, and a Synchilla. Sometimes you can find them on sale on REI or Backcountry. I also like to keep an eye out for them on Poshmark (use code REDAROUNDWORLD for $10 off your first purchase) and Mercari (you can save $10 with that link as well!) I’ve found some really good deals on both.
Is Indiana Dunes worth it?
I think so! I will say, this isn’t a park I would drive very far just to see. Like, max one hour each way detour to see it. It’s cool and I liked it but it’s better for a stop along road trip instead of an end destination on a road trip. It still deserves to be on your national park bucket list, though!
Have you been to Indiana Dunes? What did you think of it? Do you want to go?