Autumn is one of my favorite times to visit the Indiana Dunes. The summer crowds are thinning, local schools are back in session and leaf colors can be seen peaking across the region. For me, the beach is my happy place and I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to summer than by enjoying the fall colors along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Fall hiking

If you’re looking for a great combination of towering, vibrant autumn trees and the unforgettable view of Lake Michigan’s shoreline, be sure to check out Trail 7 at the Indiana Dunes State Park. It’s a one-mile trail, which starts next to the Nature Center and lets out atop a sand dune at Lake Michigan… and yes, you can run down to the lake!

My kids and I recently visited the Indiana Dunes State Park and decided to hike Trail 7 to enjoy the changing of the seasons. The trail is wooded all the way to the beach with a variety of native trees. Although my kids and I have hiked it before, this was our first-time discovering Trail 7 during the fall.

Dune climb in fall

Almost immediately after starting our hike, we noticed lots of Sassafras trees with bright yellow autumn leaves peaking. The Sassafras tree is native to Indiana and they always make us smile. It has three different shapes of leaves, which my family calls: the mitten, the teardrop and the dinosaur track. Plus, leaf shapes aren’t the only fun feature of the Sassafras tree. During a ranger-led hike, on a previous visit, we learned that the roots of the Sassafras tree can be used to make root beer. For us, a hike at the Indiana Dunes isn’t complete without searching for a Sassafras tree. Luckily, they’re easy to spot along the trails which makes it a great outdoor activity with kids.

Sassafras leaves

Fall family hike

Trail 7 winds through the woods and the fall colors throughout were lovely. So many fallen leaves on the ground to crunch through on our way to the beach. Reaching Lake Michigan is incredible! As we neared the end of the trail, the trees seemed to frame the beautiful shades of blue on the horizon. Quite a contrast from the mixtures of yellows, oranges and reds. Before running down the sand dune to the shoreline, we made sure to get a good look at the view. On a clear day, off to the west, we’ve been able to see the Chicago skyline before.

Lake Michigan views

Each time we visit Lake Michigan, we work on our rock skipping skills. It’s a family tradition of ours that my kids still enjoy perfecting… and it’s harder than it sounds. Thankfully, we never have to look too hard to find plenty of smooth, flat beach stones on the sand. Seagulls either!

Trail 7 Autumn Colors

After spending quite a bit of time at the shoreline, we climbed up the sand dune to get back to Trail 7. It was late afternoon and the angle the sunlight was hitting the treetops made them look bright and glowing. It was hard not to keep looking up to admire them.

Before leaving for the park for the day, we couldn’t resist stopping to look at the historic stone structures at the entrance. I absolutely love these buildings from the past and look forward to their warm welcome each time we visit the Indiana Dunes State Park. We hope to see them again soon!