Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park {Indiana}

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.

If you enjoyed this visit to one of the lesser known US national parks, then you may also be interested in these:

New River Gorge National Park – West Virginia

Capital Reef National Park – Utah

White Sands National Park – New Mexico

Thanks for coming along on this visit to Indiana Dunes National Parks. May your feet be steady in the shifting sands of time.

23 responses to “Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park {Indiana}”

  1. I really admire the US national park system (and state parks too, come to that) We always make sure to include some in our road trips, but this is an area we haven’t visited. Those skeletal trees are very photo-worthy!

    • We are national park and state park admirers too. When we moved to Tennessee we made the goal to see all of the state parks here and we’re almost half way to that goal. And we are always wanting to visit the national parks whenever we can. Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Thank you Marion 🙂 Someday we will reach the goal of seeing all the national parks. It was really fun to explore this park that is so little known compared to the bigger more popular ones. I hope all is well with you.

  2. Agreed; there is something special about the lesser known National Parks. I have never heard of this one, but it sounds so interesting. I have never heard of shifting dunes either; so I got an education today! 😊 Your photos are beautiful and I loved reading about the history of the park. It’s on my bucket list for when we return to the states!

  3. The skeleton trees do look a little spooky. Good that they’re protecting the sand dunes, so many places still aren’t doing that. Love the stormy clouds over Lake Michigan. Maggie

    • I think that was probably the best thing about it becoming a national park was that it afforded the dunes better protection than it could have had otherwise. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  4. Oh wow, it’s so nice to see a NP I’d never heard of – it looks beautiful and so nice to explore one a bit more off the beaten path. Thanks for sharing Meg 🙂

    • Thanks Hannah 🙂 It really is kind of a hidden gem of the national parks. There are a few other national parks up by the Great Lakes that we are feeling all the more eager to go and visit now that we’ve seen Indiana Dunes.

  5. I had never heard of this park, it has a really intimate vibe to it. I love the little beach and the contrast of the marshes. Appreciated the historical overview and learning the terms “living” and “wandering” dunes. After my experiences in the dunes of Qatar, I should’ve known that! Amazing shot at the end with those stunning cloud formations. By the way, $80 a year sounds like a steal for annual access. Great piece, Meg.

    • Thanks Leighton 🙂 I don’t think these dunes could compare to dunes in Qatar, but it was a really lovely park to explore. The national park pass really is a great buy because it covers all the national parks, monuments, historic sites, etc that falls under the national park service. We have been a little spoiled here because the two closest national parks are both free. But we got a new pass because now we are itching to check out the other national parks up by the Great Lakes.

  6. Made into a national park in 2019 – just before the pandemic hit. Bad timing, huh? And how interesting to have a national park surround a state park. I wonder if that’s happened anywhere else…

    • Bad timing indeed. Probably why it is such a unheard of national park. It is strange to have the national park and state park like that and really confusing trying to make sure youre in the right place. Maybe they are still working on the paper work to get it all under the park service.

  7. Great day out Meg what a lovely spot. You are very lucky to have so many national parks to visit. Not sure I would enjoy that cold water though!

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