How to make the most of your visit to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Did you know that Indiana has a beach?

Lake Michigan offers a closer alternative for travelers desiring similar views to the ocean within a reasonable drive of the Midwest.

Sunset Indiana Dunes National Park 5

Indiana Dunes National Park is located about an hour from Chicago, 2.5 hours from Indianapolis, and 4.5 hours from Cincinnati, and provides a great escape to enjoy the outdoors.

I spent two days in the area and want to help you make the most out of your visit to the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Sunset Indiana Dunes National Park

1. Stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center First

(located at1215 IN-49, Chesterton)

The rangers are super helpful and they will assist you in getting the most out of your visit to the area by sharing information that you might not have accessed otherwise.

They will tell you about special programs and events in the area and with guidance on how to make the most of your time based on what you enjoy doing.

You can rent bikes from a vendor located in the parking lot of the visitor center too.

Indiana Dunes Visitor Center

The visitor center has several interactive displays that educate you about wildlife in the area.

There is also a movie that you can watch in the small theater.

Indiana Dunes Visitor Center 2

2. Get there early!

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is extremely popular and can have long lines later in the day.

If you go early, you increase your chance of getting your desired parking space closer to the beach.

Also, be prepared to pay for parking to help reduce time in line.

Indiana Dunes National Park entrance

3. Pack for a Long Visit

Once you get into the park you will want to stay there for several hours. I would recommend eating before and packing snacks or meals in a cooler.

The park has campsites if you want to stay longer.

Sunset Indiana Dunes National Park 2

4. Bring an Umbrella and Something to Sit On

If you have little kids or need some shade you will want to bring your own umbrella, chairs, and blanket to make your time on the beach more comfortable.

Don’t forget the beach toys and balls!

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5. Bring Cash or a Card if You Want to Rent a Stand Up Paddleboard 

During our visit, the water was perfect to try a SUP.

rental on the beach

6. If the parking lot at the National Park is full, try parking near Porter Beach which is located next to the National Park

Porter Beach is a great backup option on a crowded day. 

Beach sign

7. If the kids need to burn off some extra energy, there is a large dune to climb by the beach where they can cool off in the water afterward

Indiana Dunes National Park 5

8. Check out the Dunes Nature Center inside the Indiana Dunes State Park

The nature center has a lot of interactive exhibits that kids will enjoy and areas to learn and observe nature.

Nature Center
Indiana Dunes Nature Center 7
Indiana Dunes Nature Center 8

9. During your visit make sure that you plan to watch the sunset

We witnessed the most gorgeous glow with the Chicago skyline in front of the sun during sunset.

I don’t have any pictures that would do it justice but just know that all of us vividly remember how awesome it was and were talking about it days later.

Sunset Indiana Dunes National Park 7

10. Try the Indiana Dunes 3 Dune Challenge

It’s called a challenge for a reason. The boys and I took the challenge at the hottest time on one of the hottest days of the summer.

Not the best idea, but the views were beautiful and now we can cross it off the list. There are a lot of steps, and the inclines are steep, so this challenge is not for the faint of heart.

3 Dune Challenge 8

The 3 Dunes Challenge takes you along trail #8 near the Nature Center on a 1.5-mile challenge trail with 552 vertical feet to climb.

We carried our flip-flops during the hike. The sand was really soft and created quite the workout. I kind of enjoyed it barefooted.

3 Dune Challenge 9

1st Dune- Mt. Jackson

This climb was really steep and I think maybe the most challenging. We took several breaks on our way to the top.

3 Dune Challege at Indiana Dunes 2
3 Dune Challege at Indiana Dunes 3
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3 Dune Challege at Indiana Dunes 4

2nd Dune- Mt. Holden

Another view to reward us for our efforts.

3 Dune Challege at Indiana Dunes 5
3 Dune Challenge 6

The trail goes up and down which gives you a little relief.

3 Dune Challege at Indiana Dunes e1471224707428

Final Dune- Mt. Tom

The steps seemed a little easier to climb after walking up two dunes.

stairs to 3 Dune Challege
3 Dune Challenge 4
3 Dune Challenge

I’m so glad that the boys and I pushed ourselves to complete the challenge.

3 Dune Challenge 3
3 Dune Challenge 5

We enjoyed our visit to Indiana Dunes.  If you have never been there before, I would encourage you to check it out and if you are feeling adventurous, take on the 3 Dune Challenge!

You can find out more about things to do around Indiana Dunes from the Indiana Dunes Beaches and Beyond website.

Indiana Dunes National Park 6

Thanks to Indiana Dunes for hosting our visit. All opinions are my own. 

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How to make the most of your visit to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

6 thoughts on “How to make the most of your visit to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore”

  1. Hi! Could you let me know from which beach you watched the sunset? Are there great views of the sunset from all of them? I”m a photographer and would love to try and shoot a photo of the sunset with the Chicago skyline!

  2. Your advice is lovely, but the nature center is inside the Indiana Dunes State Park. The National Park has many other areas to explore! ??

  3. An amazing discovery where we were plunged into this lakefront wilderness from the concrete jungle of Chicago in about 40 minutes.

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