Dunes 101: Where are the Indiana Dunes beaches?
The Indiana Dunes beaches get a lot of attention—and for good reason! Many people consider the 15-mile coastline to be among the best beaches in the world. Visiting an Indiana Dunes beach is a no-brainer, but which beach should you visit?
Note: All nine of the Indiana Dunes beaches require a fee to enter. You can purchase the State Park pass at the gate and the National Park pass is available at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, West Beach gatehouse, and at several nearby gas stations. The State Park beach and the National Park beaches require different passes!
What are the Most Popular Beaches?
Two of the most popular beaches are the Indiana Dunes State Park and West Beach of the National Park. Both locations have amenities like ample parking, restrooms, rinse-off stations, and lockers. There is also a fee to enter both locations.
Indiana Dunes State Park Beach
The state park beach is one of the most popular in the Indiana Dunes. When you see a picture of the Indiana Dunes online with a large pavilion building near the shore, that’s the Indiana Dunes State Park. The entrance is at the north end of State Road 49, which makes it easy to find. Dunes line the beach and several trails, including The 3 Dune Challenge, make for great hikes when you’re ready for some adventure on land.
West Beach | Indiana Dunes National Park
West Beach is the westernmost beach in the Indiana Dunes National Park. It has the largest parking lot of any of the national park beaches. There is a bathhouse with a concession stand and outdoor picnic tables. The Diana of the Dunes Dare is a rewarding hike with some of the most beautiful views in the Indiana Dunes. Keep your eyes open when hiking and you might spot a Prickly Pear Cactus! West Beach is one of several National Park access points along Highway 12. With the most parking and amenities of all the National Park sites, it’s a great spot for a beach day!
Which Beaches are the Quietest?
If you’re looking for a quieter beach experience, the smaller National Park beaches are local favorites. Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk, Cowles Bog, Porter, Kemil, Dunbar, Lakeview, Central, and Mount Baldy beaches are all excellent beach day locations. These parking lots are just down the road from the beaches, so be prepared to walk a little bit, and bring a picnic lunch because these beaches don’t have concessions.
Kemil Beach and Dunbar Beach | Indiana Dunes National Park
Kemil Beach and Dunbar Beach have limited parking and few amenities. These beaches are right next to each other and offer a quieter beach experience. Don’t be tempted to park on the streets in the nearby neighborhoods or you’re very likely to get a parking ticket! The Dune Ridge Trail shares a parking lot with Kemil Beach.
Mount Baldy Beach | Indiana Dunes National Park
Mount Baldy is the largest living dune in the national park. Its peak hovers 126 feet above Lake Michigan’s water level. The dune is moving inland at a rate of several feet per year. The beach is open to the public and requires a short hike from the parking lot to the beach, but climbing the dune off-trail is prohibited. National Park rangers do offer guided hikes up the dune several times a year.
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk | Indiana Dunes National Park
You would never know it, but Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a reclaimed industrial site. The 57-acre park has an indoor pavilion, a concession stand with outdoor seating, and an accessible boardwalk. The boardwalk allows for those with limited mobility to get close to the shore to take in the views or fish. It also has a small beach. This is a great spot to grab a snack and watch the sunset.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
Here’s an insider tip: Visit during the week before 10:00 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m. on summer weekends when there are fewer crowds. On holiday weekends, the early bird not only gets the worm—it gets the parking space. Visiting during the fall, winter, or spring will give you better parking, as well as spectacular seasonal views of the park.
Some Helpful “Dunes and Don’ts”
- Watch out for those pesky community parking rules. The towns of Beverly Shores and Porter have private lots that require parking permits. There is also no parking allowed along the side of the road.
- The National Park allows alcohol on all of their beaches except West Beach and Porter Beach. The State Park does not allow alcohol on its beach anywhere.
- Glass bottles of any kind are not allowed on any of the Indiana Dunes beaches.
- Pets can hang out with you at every beach except the swimming areas of the State Park beach and West Beach. Make sure they’re leashed!
- Lifeguards are stationed at the State Park and West Beach Memorial Day through Labor Day. The other National Park beaches do not have lifeguards. Be aware of swim warnings and closures due to rip currents. Take these warnings seriously! You can call the Visitor Center for this information.
- The dunes include some of the most unique ecologies in the world! To help preserve it, personal motorized vehicles like jet skis are not permitted on any of the State Park or National Park beaches.
- Kayaks, however, can be launched at the State Park or any National Park beach. Just be sure to bring a sea kayak that’s made to handle Lake Michigan’s waters. Please carry your kayak to the water rather than dragging it.
- We know you’ll be hungry after a whole day at the beach. Inside the State Park, you can grill near the pavilion using your own grill, or use the provided grills at the many picnic areas. Grilling is allowed in the National Park picnic areas at West Beach, Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, Tremont, Glenwood Dune, and Lakeview.
That about covers it. Thanks for joining us for Dunes 101—we’ll see you on the beach! And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a single video in the series.