Explore Indiana Dunes National Park & The Great Lake Michigan

How to Explore Indiana Dunes National Park

Looking to explore Lake Michigan? Will you be traveling along I90 and want to go for a swim? Indiana Dunes National Park runs along the shore of Lake Michigan and offers 15 miles of beaches. This post will help you explore Indiana Dunes National Park. 

The idea to explore Indiana Dunes National Park (National Seashore at the time) was a last-minute decision for us. It was one of our last stops on the way home from the Grand Canyon National Park. 

This was our first ever cross country rv trip and where we fell in love with the National Parks. The original plan was to visit the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park and then make our way home. Indiana Dunes National park was on our way east. we learned about the Indiana Dunes and realized it was on our route home.

Since we hadn’t planned this trip originally it was just a day trip. Yet, it was enough time to learn about the Park, complete the Jr Ranger Program, and go for a quick dip in Lake Michigan.

Stopping to explore Indiana Dunes was a great choice, and hope we can inspire others to explore it as well.

How to Get There 

How to Use the Map  

Click the tab in the top left-hand corner to view the different layers. Click on the checkmarks to hide, or show different layers. By clicking on the pins in the map you will learn about each location. By clicking the star next to the title this map will be added to your Google Maps. 

The National Park spans three counties and fifteen cities. Therefore, you can take a few different routes to reach Indiana Dunes, National Park. Interstate 94, the Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 80/90), U.S. Highways 12 and 20, Indiana State Road 49, and other state roads will get you to the Park.

The Visitor Center is located on Indiana State Road 49. From Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 80/90), take exit 31 north. From Interstate 94, take exit 26 north.

Highway 12 will give you access to the majority of the national park’s facilities

Things to Do at Indiana Dunes National Park

Marcus and Bryce Taking a Dip in lake Michigan
Marcus and Bryce Taking a Dip in lake Michigan

Start at the Visitor Center

We always recommend starting at the Visitor Center. Here you can pick up the official national park map and guide. There will be a uniformed Park Ranger that can answer questions. Here you can also stamp your Passport, and get the Junior Ranger guidebook. 

The Indiana Dunes visitor center has plenty of parking for cars, buses, and thankfully Rvs. There are great displays about Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter County. You can enjoy two short orientation videos. 

Since this National Park covers so much area we highly recommend starting here. 

Visit the Center for Environmental Education

The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education is a great stop if you are looking to go hiking. It is also a great place to learn about the surrounding environment.

The Center will bring you to a great hiking trail. This trial has many options for short or longer hikes through the oak savanna, wetlands, and dune and swale habitats.

The center will connect you to the surrounding natural environment through educational hands-on exhibits, ranger-guided hikes, lectures, live animals, and nature-based arts and crafts.

Explore the Beaches | Go for a Swim 

Explore Indiana Dunes

As mentioned, this was an unplanned stop for us. However, we did find time to go for a swim in Lake Michigan. Fortunately, there are a number of beaches to choose from.

We will say that Western Beach is certainly a great place to start. It has the largest parking lot of any of the national park beaches. There is also a bathhouse with a concession stand and outdoor picnic tables.

Below you will find information on the different beaches to help you make your decision. 

Regardless of which beach you choose, you won’t be disappointed 

 

West Beach | Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Fee: $6 per vehicle/$30 per bus
  • Lifeguards: yes, from Memorial Day to Labor Day
  • Pet-Friendly: Leashed pets are allowed on the trails, but not the swimming beach. Pets may walk through the swimming beach area to get to trails, but cannot remain on the beach.

Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk | Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Fee: None.
  • Lifeguards: None. Swim at your own risk. Be sure to check the weather and water conditions before swimming.
  • Pet-Friendly: Leashed pets are allowed.
  • Parking: 125 parking spaces.

Porter Beach | Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Fee: None.
  • Lifeguards: None. Swim at your own risk. Be sure to check the weather and water conditions before swimming.
  • Pet-Friendly: Leashed pets are allowed.
  • Parking: A small lot with 66 parking spaces and restrooms.

Indiana Dunes State Park Beach

  • Fee: $7 for in-state plates/$12 for out-of-state plates
  • Lifeguards: yes, from Memorial Day to mid-August
  • Pet-Friendly: Leashed pets are allowed everywhere in the state park except for the swimming beach.
  • Parking: 1800 spaces. The main lot and west lot are right on the beach.

Go For a Hike 

Hiking is also a great way to explore Indiana Dunes National Park.

The park offers more than 50 miles of trails. Included below are a few of the featured trails throughout the Park.

 

Paul H. Douglas Trail | Located at the Education Center 

  • Featured hike: Moderate, 3.4 miles in length, hike time of 2 hours.
  • This hike through Miller Woods winds through several habitats including wetlands, globally rare black oak savanna, open dunes and beach. The views of the lake and the dunes are incredible.

Calumet Dunes Trail

  • Featured hike: Easy, 0.5 miles in length, hike time of 20 minutes.
  • This short hike on a paved trail features the Calumet Dunes ridge, which was the shoreline of Lake Michigan over 12,000 years ago.

Cowles Bog Trail

  • Featured hike: Moderate to rugged, 4.7 miles in length, hike time of 4 hours.
  • This hike highlights an area of such outstanding plant diversity that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark. Explore several distinct habitats including ponds, marshes, swamps, black oak savannas and beaches.

Glenwood Dunes Trails

  • Featured hike: Moderate, 6.8 miles in length, hike time of 4 hours.
  • This extensive trail system features interconnected loops in mature woods ranging from less than a mile to nearly 15 miles and is popular with hikers, runners, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers.

 

 

Camping at Indiana Dunes National Park

The National Park offers one campground for visitors. 

The Dunewood Campground is a small campground with 66 campsites. 

It is made up of two loops containing 53 conventional drive-in sites and 13 walk/carry-in sites. 

For those traveling in an Rv, there are no hookups in the Dunewood Campground. 

Reservations can be made at Recreation.Gov 

We would love to add a review. Unfortunately, we did not stay at this particular campground. When we made the original reservations we had not heard of Indiana Dunes and stayed at a private campground. Unfortunately, the campground we did stay at has been sold and is no longer available. 

Conclusion 

There is plenty to do while stopping to explore Indiana Dunes National Park. 

We always recommended partaking in the Jr Ranger Program. Regardless of your age, this program will help you learn all about the park. 

Exploring the beaches and the dunes will leave you breathless.

If swimming is not your thing there are over 50 miles of hiking trails. Each trail explores the unique environment around the park.

Hopefully, we have inspired a few to visit and explore Indiana Dunes National Park. 

We love to hear from our followers. Please leave a comment below. 

Have you visited Indiana Dunes National Park? Is there something you would like to learn about Indiana Dunes N.P.?

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Cape Cod to Grand Canyon Itinerary and Reviews 

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Trip Totals

21 Days 

4 National Parks – 1 State Park

19 States

5,915 Miles

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