Dunes 101: Where to hike at the Indiana Dunes
There’s no better way to get up close with nature in the Indiana Dunes area than exploring the more than 70 miles of trails that wind through the National and State Parks. There are a wide variety of trails, including one of the most scenic hikes in the nation, and each has its own level of difficulty, length, and unique features. So, no matter your skill level or interests, you’ll find one that fits you.
Indiana Dunes National Park
There are 14 trail systems in the Indiana Dunes National Park. Of those, one of the most popular is the Dune Succession Trail at West Beach, a moderate to difficult hike that leads to the top of a high dune. Follow the loop through dunes, woods, prairies, and ponds. When you get to the top of the 250 steps, you’ll be rewarded with what some say is the most spectacular view of the dunes. While on this hike, you can learn about the local legend, Alice Mabel Gray, and complete the Diana of the Dunes Dare! Once you complete the Dare, stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center or Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education for your free sticker or decal. You may also want to buy a t-shirt or hoodie as a reward for yourself at indianadunes.com.
Not up for all those stairs? That’s okay! Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk is a modest stroll that blends lakeshore, dunes ecology, riverfront, and industry. The paved walkways are great for those who need an accessible hike. It’s also a perfect location for watching migrant birds in the spring and fall and observing shelf ice that forms along the beach in the winter.
Another trail system in the National Park is Tolleston Dunes, where you can hike along the ancient dune ridges from thousands of years ago. This is a great place to go cross country skiing in the winter!
If you want to include a little history in your hike, check out Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm in the Little Calumet trail system. These easy to moderate hikes are open year-round, so you can watch the seasons change as you explore local history.
Indiana Dunes State Park
The Indiana Dunes State Park also has access to some incredible hiking trails. Let’s start with the most adventurous—the 3 Dune Challenge. This 1.5-mile hike will lead you up and over the highest peaks in the Indiana Dunes: Mt. Jackson (176 feet), Mt. Holden (184 feet), and Mt. Tom (192 feet). This trail offers amazing views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline, and the surrounding landscape. When you’ve conquered the 3 Dune Challenge, stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center for your free sticker or decal. You may also want to buy a t-shirt or hoodie as a reward for yourself. When you conquer all three dunes, you’ll know you’ve earned it!
At 5.5 miles, Trail 10 is the longest trail in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Adventurous hikers who tough out this trek will be rewarded by beautiful white pines and a tree graveyard amidst the blowout dunes.
And we can’t leave out Trail 9 in the Indiana Dunes State Park, which USA Today named one of the top scenic hikes in the nation. You’ll truly feel at one with nature along this beautiful hike, and you’ll never forget the spectacular views of the park and Lake Michigan.
Shake off the sand south of the dunes
Hiking adventures can also be found south of the dunes! Shake off the sand and head to the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, where you can experience 5 miles of trail through open prairie and along Coffee Creek. Meadowbrook Nature Preserve is another great location, featuring the restoration of agricultural fields into forested habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife. Sunset Hill Farm is also a great spot for a family hike. Or venture even further south to Gabis Arboretum and Gardens in Valparaiso. Gabis offers over 6 miles of trails that wander through diverse habitat, and it’s a great spot for birdwatching. There’s also a railway garden that kids absolutely love. You can watch the trains chug through intricate replicas of well-known historical sites.
The only thing left to decide is—where will you start hiking at the Indiana Dunes? Thanks for watching Dunes 101. Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a single video!