Have I got a dare for you… complete with physical challenges, scenic views, and even ghost stories! Sound interesting? If so, then be sure to add the “Diana of the Dunes Dare” to your Indiana Dunes National Park itinerary.  

A group of four people stand on a sandy trail next to a sign.

The “Diana of the Dunes Dare” is a hike located at West Beach, inside the Indiana Dunes National Park. Also known as the Dunes Succession Trail (Loop 1), visitors can walk the one-mile loop year-round to learn about the different stages of dune development and get to know Alice Mabel Gray, a local legend who became known as Diana of the Dunes.  Daring to be different than what was expected of women during the early 1900s, Alice left her life in Chicago to live alone in the dunes. She loved the duneland ecology and was an early advocate for preserving and protecting the Indiana Dunes’ unique landscape.  There are even local reports of people seeing her ghost walking along the beach, her spirit still present amongst the dunes.

A man and two young teens walk up stairs on a trail

The trailhead to start the Dunes Succession Trail is near the West Beach parking lot. Right away, you can see the tall wooden staircase that ascends Diana’s Dune, the first of three sand dunes along the trail. The platform at the top provides a panoramic view of the Lake Michigan shoreline and information about Alice’s life.  

An informational sign about the Diana Dunes Dare sits on a platform. In the background are dunes covered with vegetation and Lake Michigan.

Almost instantly, as you continue, the landscape changes from a sandy, wide-open space to a thick wooded area with towering trees. The woods along this trail can be a great place to birdwatch, especially in the spring when dozens of different species of birds migrate through the region.  The annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival is held each May to celebrate over 370 species that either migrate through or live in the area year-round.   

A woman with gray curly hard and a young teen descend down a wooden staircase while surrounded by woods

As you get closer to the beach you may start to notice the smell of Jack Pines in the air.  These evergreen trees provide food and shelter for a variety of native and migratory wildlife.  You’ll see plenty of them along the boardwalks and trail’s edge for a close-up look. 

A family of four stands in front of a landscape of plant-covered dunes and Lake Michigan.

Eventually, the trail lets out onto West Beach, where you’ll turn left (west) to continue the hike toward the bathhouse. For me, a walk down to the water’s edge is a must!  There are far-reaching views and no shortage of flat stones, which are perfect for rock skipping. 

A woman hikes down a dune trail. Pine trees surround her.

At the bathhouse, be sure to celebrate completing the challenge by snapping a photo in front of the colorful “Diana of the Dunes Dare” mural.  You can pick up a free sticker to mark your achievement at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, as well as shop a variety of Diana of the Dunes apparel for purchase. 

After taking the dare, it’s easy to see why Diana so loved the Dunes terrain.  Now it’s your turn to walk in her footsteps and experience this unique landscape… I dare you!

A woman with gray hair and two teens skip rocks on the beach shore.

THINGS TO KNOW:  Throughout the trail, there are several staircases and sandy inclines you’ll need to keep in mind when planning your hike. Restrooms and a water fountain are located just off the West Beach parking lot.  Pets are allowed to join you as long as they are properly leashed at all times.  Lifeguards are stationed at West Beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day if you plan on swimming during your visit. Throughout the winter months, shelf-ice forms on Lake Michigan, and although beautiful, you should never walk on it as it’s fragile, dangerous, and unpredictable.