Looking for a fun place to both hike and swim? Get a workout in and then relax on the beach? (Or one over the other – I won’t judge!) Indiana Dunes National and State Park is the perfect place for that!
Indiana Dunes State and National Park is located along the northwestern edge of Indiana, next to Illinois and its shoreline is of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. This was my first time going to a “Great Lake” and I’ve heard that Lake Michigan is one of the nicest and warmest of the Lakes, so I’m glad that I made it to Lake Michigan. (More on this later!) It’s about 2.5 hours from Chicago, and 2.5 hours north of Indianapolis.
Indiana Dunes is both a state and national park – the state park is essentially located within the national park. If you go, you’re likely to pay the national park fees to enter and park, but also be aware of any state park fees. The national park entrance fee for the day is $6.00 per car.
When I visited this park, it was July and super busy. It took nearly two hours of stop-and-go traffic just to enter the park. There was, however, plenty of parking so we didn’t have to worry about that. I’m sure that it’s regularly busy like this during the summer, and especially on the weekend. It was perfect weather for hiking and beach lounging, so I understand why it was so busy.
Before relaxing on the beach, we decided to go for a hike. There are several trails of varying distance that you can take throughout the park. We were going to hike an 8 mile trail that goes throughout the entire park, but instead decided up the “3 Dune Challenge.”
What’s the 3 Dune Challenge? It’s a 1.5 mile trail that takes you up and over 3 gigantic dunes, each progressively getting steeper and steeper. And yes, these are sand dunes so they’re very difficult to climb – you take two steps forward and slide one step back. The first dune is 176 feet tall and gives you a view of the surrounding area.
The second dune is 184 feet tall and give you a beautiful view of Lake Michigan
The third and final dune is 192 feet tall and so steep that they built stairs to get over the dune because climbing the dune itself is too challenging. I’m honestly super appreciative of the stairs because climbing the dunes is HARD. Seriously, it’s not for the faint of heart. I exercise regularly (although quarantine has altered my workout routines quite a bit), but I’m still not in tip-top peak shape. HOWEVER, when I took my time and really focused on my breathing and just moving forward, I was able to make it up all three.
I was covered in sweat and sand by the end of each climb, but it was so much fun. The majority of the hike (in between each dune) is shaded in the forest, and much of the dunes are shaded, but there are a few sections, like towards the top, where it’s not shaded. Going down is fun because you can essentially slide down. If I had a slide, like in White Sands National Park, it would’ve been fun to slide down.
Of course, climbing these dunes – they’re made of sand. So sand got EVERYWHERE. Seriously. Weeks later, I was still feeling sand in my sneakers. But, it’s nice because you can change into your swimsuit and rinse all of the sand off in the lake.
After completing the 3 Dune Challenge, we changed into our swimsuits and headed over to the beach. When I say the beach was crowded, it was CROWDED. The lack of social distancing was concerning. However, I bought some kettle corn (we were starving after the hike) and asked the vendor if she knew of any spots that we could go where there wasn’t a bunch of people. She told us to walk about 10-15 minutes further down the beach because people generally don’t go that far out. We followed her advice and walked down the beach away from people and she was right – there wasn’t nearly as many people. The only downside was that the bathrooms are located where all of the people are, so if bathrooms are your concern, you’d need to stay closer to the crowd. The bathrooms weren’t terrible, I suppose, there was just a lot of people.
Oh, also – the sand was hot as heck! I always take my shoes off once we hit the sand because it’s easier to walk, but oh my goodness. Taking your shoes off was asking for blisters on your feet.
Once we found our own little spot on the beach, we set up our towels, lathered on the sunscreen, munched on some kettle corn, and headed out into the water. It felt soooo good. The nice part of this beach is that it’s not super rocky. There is a rocky section that you have to walk over in order to get into deeper water, but it’s not too terrible and the rocks aren’t too sharp.
The water was amazing. Since it had been warming up in the summer heat, it was fairly warm towards the shoreline. But once you ventured out further, the water progressively gets colder I grew up in California, so I’m used to frigid cold water temperatures and didn’t think that it was that bad.
I’d never been to any of the Great Lakes before and usually always swim in oceans, not lakes. I think that I still prefer oceans, but I really enjoyed my time at Lake Michigan. I appreciate that there are hardly any waves and the water doesn’t burn your eyes if you put your head under the water. It’s kind of refreshing to not have to be concerned about getting saltwater in your eyes or mouth, and to not feel super sticky and salty once you get out of the water. It’s also pretty cool that the lakes are so big that you can’t see the other side so it’s almost like you’re swimming in the ocean. I’m not fully converted to lakes, but I appreciate them.
After swimming for a bit, we would come back to shore to eat more kettle corn, drink water, reapply sunscreen, sunbathe and go back in the water to cool off again. The rest of the afternoon progressed in this endless cycle until it reached 6pm. They don’t let people go out into the water after 6pm and begin closing down the beach. This unfortunately means that you can’t really watch the sunset at the beach, which is one of my favorite things to do.
Eventually it was time to go and I was dragged away from my beloved beach. I’m definitely a beach girl at heart. Give me salty sea air and the sound of crashing waves, and I’ll be content forever.
Thank you for reading! Have you ever completed the “3 Dune Challenge”? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!