Indiana Dunes State Park beaches, trails, swimming, and more
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Indiana Dunes State Park: Beaches, Camping, and Trails

Indiana Dunes State Park is rated one of the best state parks in Indiana. And rightfully so! The views from the park are drastically different from those of other Indiana state parks.

Many visitors are surprised to learn that Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Park are two different places! It’s true! But they are not far from each other.

In fact, Indiana Dunes National Park is comprised of several properties that surround the state park. The state park was established long before the national park.

Where is Indiana Dunes State Park?

Indiana Dunes State Park is located in Chesterton, IN along the northern border of Indiana, touching Lake Michigan.

Address: 1600 N 25 E Chesterton, IN 46304.

List of All Indiana State Parks

How Much Does It Cost to Visit Indiana Dunes State Park?

The cost of the park varies based on residency.

It costs $7 for residents and $10 for non-residents to visit Indiana Dunes State Park. That admission fee will get the driver and everyone in the vehicle into the park. (Note: the non-resident fee is a little higher for this park than other Indiana state parks).

Note: Visitors should be prepared to wait in long lines to enter the park. Soon after opening on Saturdays, visitors flock to the park to enjoy the beach. If you are planning to come on a Saturday in the summer, plan to sit in line for 30 minutes to an hour.

History of Indiana Dunes

Unlike most dunes formed by wind, the Indiana Dunes are uniquely formed by a lake. Glaciers covered Indiana 700,000 years ago, causing our state to be quite flat. When the glaciers receded thanks to a melting process, the Great Lakes were formed.

Lake Michigan, in all its power, began eroding the rock, forming dunes. And today we have the Indiana Dunes!

Are Dogs Allowed at Indiana Dunes State Park?

Yes and no!

They can go everywhere other than the swimming beach. This means they can hike the trails with you, camp with you, and even go by the water outside of the swimming beach.

That’s most of the park!

Our dog came with us and loved it!

The Swimming Beach at Indiana Dunes State Park

The swimming beach at Indiana Dunes State Park

As stated before, Indiana Dunes State Park is well-loved for its beach. Thankfully, there is A LOT of beach to enjoy! The swimming beach stretches hundreds of yards. The picture above shows a small portion of the beach.

It is not a strenuous walk to the beach. Visitors can park in the parking lot at the same level as the beach (no dunes to climb!). This makes lugging a cooler and umbrellas to the beach much more doable!

When I’ve visited in the past, the biggest challenge has been bathrooms. There is a building far to the right of here with public restrooms. It is quite the hike to get there though, especially walking through sand. And everyone else is using the same bathrooms! My tip: Definitely don’t wait till the last minute to run to the restroom!

If you like beaches and beautiful views of the water, you may also enjoy our post on Dry Tortugas National Park in Southern Florida! Or, if you aren’t interested in traveling so far north to the Indiana Dunes, another great beach in Indiana is at Salamonie Lake!

The Trails at Indiana Dunes State Park

Unlike the beach, the trails at the state park are not crowded. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth hiking!

In fact, I think the hiking trails at Indiana Dunes State Park are some of the best in the state! They are definitely unique. That’s for sure!

Trails 4 and 8

Trails #4 and #8 cross each other on their way from the campground (trail #4) and nature center (trail #8) to Lake Michigan. They are known for being a bit challenging with lots of ups and downs, especially trail #8. But they lead out to the beach (which is beautiful!), so it makes the climb more worth it!

Trails 9 and 10

Trails #9 and #10 run parallel to each other, starting at the nature center and stretching out to the east. In fact, Trail #10 makes a much larger loop around trail #9, including running along the water for a large portion.

The south side of both trails is in the woods. If you are visiting in the summer months, this may be a great way to avoid some of the heat. We found it very beneficial when hiking with dogs! They could stay out of the hot sun that could hurt their paws, and we could put the protective booties on during the short stretch to the beach.

And you may even see a wild turkey or deer! (We saw both in the woods during our hike!)

A hiking trail at Indiana Dunes State Park

These trails also lead to the water (with a few sunny dunes to climb in order to get there). And, while you cannot swim in this area, we let our dog splash in the water. She loved it!

A dog in the water at Indiana Dunes State Park

Note: This section of the beach is really rocky. It is not the best place to sit and relax on the beach unless you have a chair or plan to sit/stand close to the water. As you can see below, our dog didn’t mind at all!

The rocky beach accessible by Indiana Dunes State Park

Trail #10 leads visitors on a path along the water’s edge. This may be an excellent option for those looking to cool down. But make sure you have water shoes, as it will be quite rocky!

The north part of trail #9 leads visitors up the dunes where they can capture some spectacular photos of the landscape.

A steep dune trail at Indiana Dunes State Park

3 Dune Challenge

Challenge yourself with the 3 Dune Challenge! This hike starts at the nature center. Hikers will trek over the three largest dunes at Indiana Dunes State Park on this 1.5 mile trail. It will include 552 verticle feet of sandy dunes on trails #4 and #8.

I know several families who have encouraged their children to complete the 3 Dune Challenge. They often say the kids feel so accomplished after they’ve completed it!

There is also a 10 Dune Challenge. Both can be quite a challenge. But what an accomplishment in the end!

The Nature Center at Indiana Dunes State Park

The nature center is small but informative.

It highlights the area’s animals, such as birds native to the area. In fact, birdwatching is very popular in the area. There are over 360 species of birds that have been documented in northern Indiana along Lake Michigan.

Birds on display at the nature center at Indiana Dunes State Park

If interested in learning more, check out this blog. There is even an observation pavilion you can access from trail #3 or from the parking lot of the beach.

But the nature center also explains how the dunes were formed.

I found this graph below fascinating. The soil layers actually allowed different species of trees to form on the dunes at each stage.

A poster at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center

Camping at Indiana Dunes State Park

Maybe six years ago I camped at Indiana Dunes. I remember the sites were pretty sunny overall. But we were in a tent in the summer months, so it may not be so bad for you! We were the crazy ones!

Almost all of the camping sites are electric, something I don’t believe they have at any of the National Park campgrounds. (Most, if not all, are primitive.)

Trail #4 leads campers out to the water from the campground. The trail is considered moderate. As long as you are ready for some rough spots and wear shoes that can handle the sand, you’ll probably be fine.

Tips for Indiana Dunes State Park

Check Out the National Park

You’ll definitely want to check out the national park just minutes away from the state park. There are several beaches and trails to explore, though I believe the state park has better trails. Here’s more on our experience at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Bring the Right Footwear to Indiana Dunes State Park

It is really important that you consider footwear while hiking the dunes. I made the mistake of wearing close-toed walking sandals thinking I could wear them on the trails (which was perfect!) and also go without shoes on the dunes (which was not so perfect!). In June going without shoes on the dunes is not an option! The ground was way too hot!

But wearing close-toed sandals allowed the sand to fall into my shoes. At each shady spot, I was stopping to pour sand (more like a bucket of sand!) out of my shoe in order to continue walking.

In hindsight, I probably should have worn tennis shoes that covered the tops of my feet. It would have been more difficult to collect the sand in my shoes and I wouldn’t have endured the heat of the sand.

Though my hiking buddies DID have to pour some sand out of their tennis shoes too!

If you will be walking along the water or swimming in the water, a great pair of water shoes would be helpful too!

Indiana Dunes State Park Scenic View of the water from a trail

What Is the Best Time to Visit Indiana Dunes?

This is really dependent on what you like to do!

If birdwatching is your thing, visit in the spring. Or, even better, check out the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival in May which will take you into both the state park and national park.

If you love swimming and enjoying the beach, the summer months are best. According to the NOAA, the average temperature in July is 81 degrees. Just be ready for the crowds. This is definitely the busiest time of the year at Indiana Dunes State Park!

If you love hiking and camping, I’d suggest the spring or fall when temperatures range between 45 and 74 degrees (according to the NOAA).

What Do You Suggest Bringing to Indiana Dunes State Park?

  • Beach Gear! Enjoy the beach with towels, umbrellas, a good book, and more!
  • Bug Spray and Tick Repellant if you’ll be in the woods. The ticks were pretty bad!
  • Tennis Shoes and water shoes (read the above section on footwear!)
  • If your dog will be joining…. 6ft leash, dog booties, a water dispenser, and some pet waste bags. If you’re going in the summer, please make sure your pups are ready for the heat!

Any Suggestions for Those (Like Me!) with Food Allergies (Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free)?

Unfortunately, there really aren’t great options around the dunes for those with food allergies.

Goblin and the Grocer located down SR 12 in Beverly Shores (just right down the road from Indiana Dunes State Park) has a few salad options. It’s not great, but it’s something!

Octave Grill in Chesterton, IN has gluten-free hamburger buns, though they DO contain dairy.

Or, for those camping, there are great Paleo Camping Recipes which will all be gluten, dairy, and grain-free!

And snacks can be your best friend on the hiking trails! Grab a few grain-free snacks (Costco has some great options!) and hit the trails!

A beautiful beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park

Summary of Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park, one of the best state parks in Indiana, highlights northern Indiana’s unique ecosystem and topography. Spend a day relaxing on the beach or hiking the dunes. Or get the best of both worlds by camping for the weekend!

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7 months ago

Looks like your pup had a great time at Indiana Dunes State Park. It’s always a good day when you can bring them along.

7 months ago

Indiana Dunes state Park sounds like a gem! So many fun things to do and see!

Supraja Lakshmi N
Supraja Lakshmi N
7 months ago

I’m so glad I came across your article about the Indiana Dunes State Park. I had no idea that such a beautiful and diverse place existed in Indiana. You did a great job of showcasing the different attractions and activities that the park offers, from the beaches and the camping to the trails and the wildlife. I was especially impressed by the photos of the sand dunes and the beach views. They look amazing.

Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog
Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog
7 months ago

We love exploring state parks. Indiana Dunes State Park loves like a phenomenal place to camp and explore.

7 months ago

Indiana Dunes State Park looks beautiful. I was surprised how clear the water was! I would enjoy the hikes and my husband would love the nature center.

7 months ago

Wow what a beautiful park! I love these sort of places, especially when they visitor centers with local information on wildlife!