Indiana Dunes: The National Park You’ve Never Heard of

Did you know that there’s a National Park in Indiana? Neither did I until a few weeks ago when I happened to see it on a map.

One of the nation’s newest National Parks, Indiana Dunes was previously designated as a National Lakeshore. The area was elevated to National Park status in 2019 – in the same bill that included funding for the wall with Mexico.

The park is so new, in fact, that many of the road signs haven’t been updated to reflect its new status.

Going for a hike in Indiana Dunes

About the Park

Indiana Dunes National Park comprises 15 miles of stunning shoreline along the southern end of Lake Michigan. A short drive from Chicago, the National Park includes miles of hiking and biking trails as well as swimming beaches in summer and snowshoeing opportunities in winter.

The Indiana Dunes *State* Park is located in the middle of the *National* Park, which I found somewhat confusing. The Visitor Center includes information about both parks. Daniel and I decided to start there to plan out our visit.

Since we only had an afternoon to explore the Dunes area, we decided to check out Trail 9. As one of the park’s most popular trails, it showcases some of the area’s best scenery.

If we had more time, I would have also completed the Three Dune Challenge. This hike climbs the three tallest dunes in the state park. Plus you get a sticker once you’ve completed the challenge.

Welcome to Indiana Dunes National Park!

Trail 9

Trail 9 is a 3.8-mile loop that traverses both mature forests and sandy dunes. The trail affords spectacular views of Lake Michigan. We could see all the way to Chicago from the shoreline.

We began our hike by heading east through a shaded oak forest. After a while, we realized that we were hiking on compacted sand. Apparently the oak trees grow on top of the sand dunes.

Trail 9 begins here
Walking through mature forests on top of sand dunes

As we approached Lake Michigan, the forest gave way to woody shrub vegetation and grasses. We made our way to the lake shore and spent some time on the beach looking at pebbles.

Hiking towards the lake shore
Almost there!
Trail 9 trail marker
We have arrived at the lake!
My goal is to dip my feet into all five Great Lakes. Two down, three to go!
We can see all the way to Chicago from the lake shore.
Daniel at the beach

Eventually, Daniel and I climbed back up the dunes and headed south along a ridge. The path was mostly comprised of loose sand along this section of trail. It was slow going.

Heading back up to the ridge along the dunes
Walking along grass-covered dunes
View of the lake from the top of the dunes. This is one of the blowouts.
The sand is very loose here and hard to walk on.

Just before returning inland, we passed Beach House Blowout. Here the wind has carved out a significant section out of the shoreline. It’s an impressive reminder of the power of wind.

The Beach House Blowout
Hiking back to the main trail
We had to stop periodically and dump the sand out of our shoes

A New Time Zone

After completing our hike, we ran some errands and then headed north. Daniel and I had reservations that night at Warren Dunes State Park which was 45 minutes away. While I was tempted to stay longer at Indiana Dunes, we had to get to Michigan (for reasons which I’ll explain later).

I didn’t realize that we’d pass a into a new timezone upon entering Michigan. The day had gotten away from us and we left Indiana Dunes later than planned. As we drove north, we crossed the state line …and suddenly it was an hour later. As a result, it was super late when we arrived. The sun sets earlier these days and we set up camp in the dark.

The good news is that we didn’t plan to travel again for a couple of days. I was looking forward to taking a break from driving.

We found a White Castle fast food joint as we left Indiana Dunes and had to stop for a snack.
Daniel took this photo from the outside of the back window after we had set up camp for the night.

Where are we now?

We are at Indiana Dunes National Park!

Date: September 22, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 79

Starting Location: Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
Ending Location: Warren Dunes State Park, MI
Miles Traveled: 52.5
Total Trip Mileage: 4904.1

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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