Dreaming of Travel: Indiana Dunes National Park
You should come to Indiana Dunes National Park to enjoy the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, but you should stay for the 50 miles of trails through varied landscapes and historical world's fair houses. Indiana Dunes National Park is easily accessible from the entire midwest. You could spend a day driving through, a long weekend, or even make a week of a visit to this lovely lakeshore area.
Getting to Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park is situated right along Interstate 94 in northern Indiana along Lake Michigan. The Visitor's Center is on the west end of the park. You should start your visit here to get a lay of the land. The National Park is intermingled with the Indiana Dunes State Park. Depending on your visit plans, you may need to pay entry for both the National Park and State Park.
Indiana Dunes National Park is roughly 1 hour from Chicago; 2 hours from Grand Rapids, Michigan; and 3 hours from Indianapolis.
Where to Stay Near Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park is easily done as a day trip from one of the close cities. However, if you want to stay the night there are some private house rentals along the lake shore. Michigan City also has a variety of lodging options. Seasonal camping is available both in Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.
Where to Eat Near Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park has so many great picnic locations along the seashore that my recommendation is to pack your lunch and find a spot with a view. Just south of the Visitor's Center, you'll find a variety of dining options from fast food to local BBQ.
What to Do in Indiana Dunes National Park
Your first stop should be the Visitor's Center. If you have kids with you, pick up the Jr. Ranger packet to earn a badge during your visit. If you are just passing through, let the ranger know you won't be able to come back with a completed packet - they were happy to give us the badges to distribute when the kids completed their packet. You can also mail in the packet upon completion.
If you want to hit the beach, pop into the Indiana Dunes Visitor's Center for an update on the beaches. Depending on the weather they can be crowded and parking lots full. The Visitor's Center monitors all of this and is happy to provide updates.
West Beach is run by the National Park Service and has lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It also has the largest parking lot. Several trails originate here, so it makes a great stop for a variety of activities. The State Park Beach is the most popular-- it has a large pavilion and it is the start of the 3 Dunes Challenge.
There are several boat launches throughout the park if you want to hit the water. There are several small rivers in the park, and the Lake Michigan Water Trail runs through the park.
There are also plenty of great hikes in the National Park. If you can catch the guided hike to the top of Mount Baldy, it is worth your time but is only available as a Ranger-led hike. The 0.7-mile Dune Ridge Trail is another great option. It traverses a variety of landscapes and provides breathtaking views from the top of the dunes. The hike is on a variety of terrains so you will want good solid shoes to complete this hike. We caught a great view of the Chicago Skyline from the Mount Baldy Beach Trail, a short but steep trail.
Birding is also plentiful along the lake shore. Grab some binoculars and hit the Great Marsh Trail, or head to the Heron Rookery for views of a variety of plant and animal life.
The park is also home to a variety of historic buildings. The Century of Progress Homes were built for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and relocated here to be part of a housing development. They are all privately occupied but can be viewed, along with informational plaques, from the road.
The Chellburg Farmhouse represents a typical 1890 Swedish homestead. Here you can learn about life on an Indiana farm. You can tour the house through ranger-guided tours.
Whatever your plans are at Indiana Dunes National Park, come prepared for an adventure. We were thankful to have gear for swimming, beach play, and hiking with us. Bathrooms and changing stations were well marked so we could easily transition from one activity to the other.
The weather frequently changes quickly. We started with a sunny morning which quickly gave way to a stormy afternoon. We were glad to have rain ponchos and a change of socks with us!
There are so many different things to enjoy here, we can't wait to come back and try some of the things we missed!
Has your family been to Indiana Dunes National Park? What did you think!? If you have any great photos of your family enjoying a day out here (or anywhere for that matter!), be sure to tag us on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!
Looking for other fun family vacation ideas? Check out our Dreaming of Travel posts on Glacier National Park, Virgin Islands National Park, Maui or White Sands National Park for some inspiration!
Enjoying our content? Please download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly-curated day trips.