Indiana Dunes National Park – Trails, Camping and Best Tips

Petr Novák

Indiana Dunes National Park reveals its major allure in its name. Spanning 14.91 mi of Lake Michigan shoreline in Indiana, the park’s primary attraction is the sand dunes. The tallest of these is 194 ft high and, if you’re up for it, you can undertake the famed “3 Dune Challenge”. Are you prepared to race the equivalent of 55 floors on the shifting sands?

Indiana Dunes National Park | ©

Table of Contents
  1. Overview of Indiana Dunes National Park
  2. Attractions and Activities in Indiana Dunes National Park
  3. When to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park
  4. Entrance Fees for Indiana Dunes National Park
  5. Directions to Indiana Dunes National Park
  6. Accommodation Options in Indiana Dunes National Park
  7. Tips and Recommendations for Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park
  8. Photos of Indiana Dunes National Park

Overview of Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park can be succinctly described as a grassy, sandy, undulating landscape on the shore of a lake. With an area of 23.94 mi2 (the same size as San Marino), it is the second smallest national park.

The lowest point in the park is the surface of Lake Michigan, sitting 597 ft above sea level, while the highest point is the sand dune of Mount Tom, reaching a peak at 791 ft.

Among USA national parks, Indiana Dunes is one of the newest, having been designated on February 15, 2019. The purpose of the designation was to protect the fauna unique to sand dune landscapes. In 2021, it welcomed 3,177,210 visitors.

Indiana Dunes Park boasts a rich biodiversity, being home to 46 mammal species, 18 amphibian species, 23 reptile species, 23 fish species, 60 butterfly species, and 60 species of various dragonflies. Among the larger animals in the park, you may spot the short-tailed skate, eastern mole, bats, squirrels, groundhogs, or deer. The bird kingdom is represented by the aspen warbler, the great crested grebe, and the great titmouse.

The park is home to 1,130 native plant species, among which the rare ones are Pitcher’s thistle, garden flower, yellow gentian, undergrowth, and white flat-leaved plantain. The most abundant are grasses and deciduous trees such as oaks, limes, poplars, and walnut trees.

Attractions and Activities in Indiana Dunes National Park


Indiana Dunes National Park offers 14 hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty, totaling 50 mi. Most of them are accessible year-round, with the most intriguing ones including:

  • Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, Little Calumet River, and Many Prairie Trails
    This 3.42 mi circuit showcases the diverse nature within the national park. In about two and a half hours, you will encounter a forest of maples, beeches, lindens, and oaks, the Little Calumet River, and historic farms.
  • Calumet Dunes
    This short wooden boardwalk trail, just 2,625 ft in length, leads to the Calumet Dunes, the location of Lake Michigan’s shoreline 12,000 years ago.
  • Cowles Bog
    This 4.72 mi trail winds through beautiful countryside, encompassing ponds, marshes, wetlands, oak woodlands, and beaches. The most challenging section is the sand dunes at Lake Michigan.
  • Glenwood Dunes
    This trail system, totaling 6.84 mi in length, consists of several interconnected trails. Most traverse mature forests, and these trails are popular with hikers, runners, and cross-country skiers.
  • Tolleston Dunes
    This diverse 2.92 mi trail runs through oak savannas and wetlands. Among the plants you might encounter are the prickly pear cactus, tuber cactus, and lupine.

Beach and Swimming in Lake Michigan

With 14.91 mi of sandy beaches, you can sunbathe and swim in Lake Michigan. The following beaches offer parking (open from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm), drinking water, and restrooms. Showers and lifeguards are only provided at the former.

When on the beach, remember to stay hydrated, apply sunscreen, and wear headgear. Please note that the bottom of Lake Michigan is uneven.

“3 Dune Challenge”

Running in sand alone requires 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface. Indiana Dunes has upped the ante by creating a challenge that involves running up the three highest sand dunes.

A special 3 Dune Challenge Loop of 1.49 mi includes a hike up Mount Jackson (177 ft), Mount Holden (184 ft), and Mount Tom (194 ft). The trailhead is next to the parking lot. Some areas of the sand dune have gradients of up to 40 degrees, so prepare for a slow climb. The entire trail has an elevation gain equivalent to that of a 55-story building.

It generally takes approximately 45 minutes to complete the entire loop at a regular walking pace.

When to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park

The weather at Indiana Dunes National Park is significantly influenced by Lake Michigan. The summer season typically lasts from May to September, with fairly consistent temperatures above 68°F (68°F). The temperature exceeds 86°F on roughly 14 days each year. There are around 10 rainy days per month.

The best conditions and school holidays attract most visitors to the park in the summer, with July typically being the most crowded month.

Indiana Dunes NP is the least crowded between November and February. Winter temperatures hover around the freezing point, and there are five to six rainy days per month. The temperature falls below 64°F on around 15 days each year.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers at Indiana Dunes National Park

The average temperatures at Indiana Dunes National Park. Visitor numbers are based on a 2017-2021 average. The data source is the National Park Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 34°F 23.00°F 5.5 68 759 🟩
February 36°F 24.80°F 4.9 81 643 🟩
March 46°F 32°F 7.5 140 015 🟨🟨
April 57°F 41°F 9.2 127 681 🟨🟨
May 68°F 50°F 10.9 201 486 🟨🟨
June 77°F 61°F 10.8 270 476 🟧🟧🟧
July 81°F 64°F 11.2 418 906 🟥🟥🟥🟥
August 79°F 64°F 10.6 322 816 🟧🟧🟧
September 73°F 57°F 9.0 260 389 🟧🟧🟧
October 61°F 46°F 8.2 138 032 🟨🟨
November 50°F 37°F 7.1 89 480 🟩
December 37°F 27°F 6.4 65 171 🟩

Entrance Fees for Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park charges an entry fee. For a passenger car with all its occupants, the charge is $25. If you enter the park on foot, the charge is $15.00 per person. Payment is made at the entrance gate.

If you plan to visit multiple national parks in the USA within a year, you might want to consider purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass. This pass allows you to visit all national parks for the next 12 months at no additional cost for a one-time fee of $80.

Directions to Indiana Dunes National Park

While Indiana Dunes National Park is not far from Chicago, a rented car can make exploring the park much easier. The park’s roads are paved, so a 4×4 is not necessary.

South Shore Railroad commuter trains make a stop at Dune Park station, which is a 10-minute walk to the visitor center. If you don’t bring a bicycle, you will have to walk between different locations.

Provided below are commute times and distances from nearby towns to aid in your route planning:

From / To Distance Driving Time Route
Detroit 236 mi 3 hours 35 minutes View Route
Chicago 47 mi 55 minutes View Route
Indianapolis 163 mi 2 hours 35 minutes View Route

Several parking lots are available within the park for your vehicle. Large brown signs are placed to help you navigate between locations.

Accommodation Options in Indiana Dunes National Park

🏨 Hotels

Thanks to its proximity to both Lake Michigan and Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park offers a range of lodging options. However, due to its popularity as a recreation area, availability can be quite limited for last-minute reservations.

Rates for motel rooms start around $55. On Booking, I’ve found it useful to select accommodations with a rating of 7/10 or better. Anything lower might present issues or less comfort. A rating of 8/10 or higher is generally of a very good standard, while 9/10 or higher assures a great experience. Ensure the number of ratings is 100 or more – with fewer, the score may decrease over time.

For value for money in the Indiana Dunes National Park area, consider Motel 8 in Michigan City. It is among the most affordable options, offers breakfast included, and has a decent rating of 7.0/10 for a simple overnight stay. The motel is a 10-minute drive from the park.

⛺ Campsites

Two campgrounds are situated in the neighboring Indiana Dunes State Park, just a short drive from the national park.

  • Dunewood Campground (map)
    This campground has 66 tent sites, showers and restrooms, but no water or electricity hookups. If you arrive in an RV, the per night charge is $25.
  • Dunbar Group Site (map)
    This smaller campsite is designed only for tents, with a capacity for 30 people. Toilets are available on site, but instead of shower facilities, you can wash up in Lake Michigan, which is just 1,148 ft away.

Tips and Recommendations for Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

For information about the park, Lake Michigan, and the surrounding area, visit the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center (also known as the Dorothy Buell Visitor Center in some places).

The visitor center is open all year round and is easily accessible from I-49. There is ample parking, restrooms, an electric car charger, and park rangers are available to answer your questions.

👍 Useful Information

The National Park Service website provides plenty of background information to help you plan your visit. You can download the official mobile app, beach and trail maps, or the The Singing Sands newspaper.

Photos of Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park | ©
Indiana Dunes National Park | © Adam Bouse /
Indiana Dunes NP | © Jeff DeWitt /
Indiana Dunes National Park | © Jeff DeWitt /
Indiana Dunes National Park | © Gigin Krishnan /

US National Parks

  1. List of US National Parks
  2. America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  3. Timed-Entry Reservation for US National Parks

Travel Guides to USA National Parks

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