On February 15, 2019, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became the 61st national park. This is a much overdue and acclaimed honor for Indiana and the surrounding Chicagoland area. In 2019 the National Park saw over 161,00 visitors bringing tourists from 46 different states. The park boasts to be the 4th most biologically diverse national park in regards to plant and wildlife within 15,000 acres, making it one of the most diverse in the United States. The park offers 15 miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline to hike, swim, horseback ride, camp, bird watch and so much more. We are lucky to be so close, so we can take advantage of this wonderful place often and are happy to share with those who visit.
Prior to your visit, I would recommend checking out the website to see what activities are available on the date you plan on arriving. Depending on the season, there are things like cross country skiing and snowshoeing available in the winter, and of course, hiking and swimming in the late spring, summer and early fall.
These are the 9 must visit spots of the Dunes to explore:
Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education
This center offers great displays about the Dunes, brochures and freebies are available about the park and park activities, as well as park rangers available to answer questions. It is a great place for kids to see displays about the park, do activities, enjoy the animals on exhibit and enjoy the Nature Play Zone. Over 3 miles of hiking starts from the center that leads you through woods and ponds and winds you to the lakeshore.
If you are looking for over 3 miles of hiking trails with great views, this is the spot! In the summer the beach is perfect for soaking up to the sun or taking a cool dip in Lake Michigan. On a clear day, the Chicago skyline is readily available for some great pictures. There is space for a picnic or grilling out at the covered shelters on site.
Cowels Bog Trail
This trail is a 5-mile hike where you get to trek through ponds, marshes, swamps, the forest to the beach makes this trail probably one of the toughest, yet most rewarding in the park. I would recommend packing a lunch and making a stop at the beach to enjoy the views before heading back. Usually, the beach here is less crowded, so it can be a peaceful, yet very enjoyable rest.
Bailly Homestead – Chellberg Farm
In March, there is the annual Maple Sugar Time Festival where you can travel back in time, enjoy food and have fun. When you go to Bailly-Chellberg it takes you back to the 1820’s fur trading post and 1900 era farm. The hike from Bailly-Chellberg winds through the woods along the Little Calumet Rivers and offers sightings of different kinds of wildlife, such as the monarch butterfly, Fowler’s toad, and red fox.
Glenwood Dunes Trail
This trail system is quite popular for horseback riders, hikers and cross-country skiers alike. There are 13 different trails to choose from, which makes the options endless. Many people choose these trails during the fall as the changing of the tree foliage is quite breathtaking during this time of the year.
Lake View Beach
The name says it all… as if you are looking for lake/beach access this is the place to go. The reason this beach is one of the most popular is that there is no access fee to enjoy the beach. You can picnic, swim, walk the beach or enjoy one of Lake Michigan’s amazing sunsets here.
If you like to camp, you can at the Dunes. Whether you are a tent or trailer camper you are able to utilize the 67 campsites. There are fees and some do require reservations, while others are on a first come first serve basis, so plan your trip accordingly.
Pinhook Bog & Upland Trail
There are two very different and distinct trails at this trailhead. The Pinehook Bog trail takes you to a unique swamp area. Unfortunately, it is not accessible on your own and you do need prior approval and be accompanied by a ranger to hike the trail. Upland Trail takes you on a 2-mile hike through a rich forest of beech and maples. Both trails are remnants of a melting glacier from around 15,000 years ago and very cool to immerse yourself in.
Mount Baldy & Beach
Mount Baldy is by far one of my favorite places at the Dunes. I can’t tell you how many times I have climbed the hill and ran down it at full speed, knowing that I was going to faceplant once my feet got ahead of me! The views from 126 above the water level are amazing. To top off your visit to Mount Baldy a side hike or a swim at the beach is a must.
We have so many memories growing up near the Indiana Dunes and are so happy that it has National Park recognition. If you are lucky enough to be in the Chicagoland area, we highly recommend a trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It is a place of great wonder that we hope so will be able to experience in the way that our family has had the opportunity to for many years.