Nothing makes a weekend like a visit to a national park. This weekend had us venturing to the very north of Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan to experience Indiana Dunes National Park. Created as a national lakeshore in 1966 and then elevated to a national park in 2019, Indiana Dunes is one of the country’s lesser known national parks.
It is a little confusing because there is an Indiana Dunes State Park that is surrounded by the national park. The different areas have different fees and different lists of allowed activities. National parks have different requirements and protections given them because they are maintained at a federal level instead of at the state level. Before you go to either park, be sure to stop at the visitor center so they can direct with where you want to go and what entrance fee you need to pay. If you are just driving through, then you do not have to pay the fee but if you plan on stopping anywhere then you will have to have your receipt on your dashboard.
We of course opted for the national park area of Indiana Dunes. The entrance fee for the national park was $25 that gave unlimited access for the next 7 days, or if you would like an annual pass to all of the country’s national parks then it is $80. We drove down the main road through the park and then went down along the Lakefront Drive. We pulled into the parking lot and headed down the sandy trail to the water’s edge.
Indiana Dunes is only about 20 miles long, so it is one of the smallest national parks. The main road is lush and green everywhere and it is not until you step onto the trails that you are facing the waters of Lake Michigan. On a clear day you can look across the lake and just make out Chicago in the distance. It was not a clear day for us, but we loved the moody grey skies set against the subdued lake blues.
This area served as a hunting camp for the Native American communities. The earliest evidence suggests that there were communities here around 200 BCE. The 1500s brought European explorers and traders. Over the centuries, this area became a mid point in a all the movement from east to west. In the 1900s is when this area really began to see the buildings of communities. But in 1916 there was a great movement to protect the area from development due to its large amount of unique flora. It would be a long process to finally get approved as a state park and then a national lakeshore.
We went down to the water and found an empty stretch of beach to enjoy. We went from soft sand, to rocky sand, and then into the cold water of the lake. From the picture you would think it was a peaceful spot by the water, but in fact there were many groups enjoying the beach with families, dogs, music, and food. The cold water and the light rain were not about stop anyone from getting out and splashing around.
After playing in the water, we continued down the main road of the park. There was a break in the trees and there was large marshy area. Skeletal trees poked out of the green filmed water of the marsh. It seemed like such a contrast to the lush green on the other side of the road. A little eerie looking to be sure, but also a different kind of natural beauty that makes up the park.
With an entire park named after the sandy dunes everywhere you wouldn’t think that there would be a favorite one. But in this case, the most iconic spot in the park is the largest dune named Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy is 126 feet tall and is considered a ‘living dune’ or a ‘wandering dune’ because it constantly shifts and changes.
It use to be that visitors could climb the 302 steps to the top of Mount Baldy and look out over the lake towards Chicago. But because of the erosion that was being caused to the dune, this was closed off to visitors. Now you can only view Mount Baldy from the bottom as they work to protect this shifting dune. The national park service has planted grasses at the bottom of the dune in an effort to slow the erosion.
We loved getting to see this national park and see the beautiful sandy dunes and the slate blue water of Lake Michigan. There is something special about these lesser known parks that makes visiting them all the better.
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Thanks for coming along on this visit to Indiana Dunes National Parks. May your feet be steady in the shifting sands of time.