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Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana

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Did You Know … ?

  • There are more than 1,135 native plant species in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • The national park’s 126-foot-high Mount Baldy moves inland at an average rate of four feet a year.
  • It takes 1.6 times more energy to run on sand than on a hard surface.
  • Lake Michigan water levels, naturally fluctuating over decades, have varied by up to five feet in the last 15 years.
  • Decades ago, Indiana’s tallest dune (200 feet), was carried way by makers of plate glass and fruit jars.

Nature’s sand piles

      It may come as a surprise to some to learn there are sand dunes in Indiana. The dunes sit along the state’s Lake Michigan shoreline, having been created in discernable stages at the same time the lake itself was formed by a melting Ice Age glacier.

The dunes also, as it happens, harbor a diversity of plant life and wildlife — especially birds — sufficient to warrant the creation, after much push and pull between conservationists and developers, of the Indiana Dunes State Park in the 1920s and the adjacent Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966. Together, the parks extend 15 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

From the touristic standpoint, the parks are, most of all, places for outdoor activities, available in all seasons and ranging from some very vigorous pursuits to the satisfying relaxation associated with a do-nothing beach day. In the first category, visitors are challenged to climb the three tallest sand dunes at one go, but have other hiking options, as well as opportunities for cycling, kayaking or skiing on snow-covered dunes. Other excursions aren’t so much hikes as nature walks, and there are programs on offer from park rangers.

Boating and fishing (with an Indiana fishing license) on Lake Michigan are popular, too, but motorized boats must launch from nearby communities, such as at the Portage Public Marina, not from inside the parks.

The national seashore is home to a few historic buildings — former homesteads and the like — that attract sightseers, but the towns beyond the parks add considerably more to the range of attractions and diversions available to visitors. There are lakefront communities — Beverly Shores, Dune Acres, Ogden Dunes and the Pines — as well as towns to the south of the parks. They have their own historic buildings, as well as entertainment, festivals, factory tours, shopping, even ghost tours. Visitors can buy snacks in the state park and camp in either park, but neither park is set up with restaurants and lodging.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Climb the three tallest sand dunes in Indiana’s dunes country, either at a walk or at a run. Make a race of it with friends.
  • In winter after a good snow, hit the trails for cross-country skiing. Or, move around on and off the dunes on snowshoes. Bring your own equipment.
  • Camp in the Indiana Dunes State Park, which has a nature center with natural history programs. In the national park, camping is available April through October at the Dunewood Campground.
  • Sample anywhere up to 125 different beers at the Valpo Brewfest, slated for autumn in Valparaiso. Vote for your favorite Indiana craft beer.
  • Paddle a kayak on Lake Michigan or on such waterways as the Little Calumet River or the Burns Waterway. Visitors can launch hand-carried nonmotorized boats from all national lakeshore beaches except West Beach and from the far west side of the state park.
  • Given the more than 48 miles of trails in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, find a trail that suits your stamina and ambitions. The state park also has 16.5 miles of trails.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Stay at Riley’s Railhouse, a B&B created from a 1914 New York Central freight stationhouse, in Chesterton. It has two rooms and a fascinating great hall.
  • Cycle on the Calumet Bike Trail or other park trails, especially attractive in autumn as leaves change colors.
  • Fetch the binoculars for a walk along the Great Marsh Trail, a popular feeding and resting area for migrating wetland birds. Also, bird-watching is particularly gratifying during spring and fall migrations. More than 350 bird species live or pass through Indiana’s dunes country.
  • Experience the dunes while aboard a fishing charter on Lake Michigan. Charters are available outside the parks at places like Portage. In fact, you can fish from a pier at Portage.
  • Attend the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival in September. Compete in the Popcorn Panic, a 5-mile run/5K walk. Enter the kids (ages 2-9) in the Lit’l Kernel Puff Run.
  • There are sites of historical interest in and near the parks. Seek them out. In autumn, join the annual ranger-led tour to five houses, in Beverly Shores, that were built in 1933 for the Chicago World’s Fair to embody then-modern home construction ideas.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Swim at West Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • Hike the one-mile Succession Trail to the top of a dune for views of the Chicago skyline.
  • At Hobart, tour the Broken Wagon Bison Farm, or at Valparaiso, get the tour and a taste at Valpo Velvet, the ice cream makers.
  • Check for interpretive programs at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Join a ranger-led event of interest.
  • Picnic in either park.
  • Look for the endangered Karner blue butterfly in the national lakeshore.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Indiana Dunes Tourism at www.indianadunes.com