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Indiana Dunes State Park Guide — Camping, Beach, and More 

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Indiana Dunes State Park is a stunning park in Chesterton, Indiana, an hour’s drive from Chicago. The park features vast dunes, 3 miles of beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, and fantastic hiking trails. With almost 2 million visitors annually, it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and families looking for a fun day out.

How To Get to Indiana Dunes State Park

Where Is Indiana Dunes State Park?

Indiana Dunes State Park is about 40 miles east of Chicago in Chesterton, Indiana. The park covers 2,182 acres and features primitive, picturesque, historic, and unique Hoosier terrain. It’s at the north end of State Road 49 in Porter County and boasts more than 3 miles of pristine beach along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

Indiana Dunes National Park is just a few minutes from this state park. While both parks have stunning dunes, they are 2 separate entities with unique offerings.

Indiana Dunes State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

The state park is open throughout the year from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but some facilities, like the Nature Center, have different operating hours. Additionally, certain activities and amenities are available only during specific seasons, so check ahead to ensure you can do everything on your list.

Nearest Airports to Indiana Dunes State Park

Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) is the nearest airport, about 55 miles from the park. This airport’s airlines include Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Porter, Southwest, and Volaris.

Nonstop flights are available to domestic and international destinations, including Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Ontario, Phoenix, and San Juan. After arriving at this airport, you can rent a car or arrange a ride-share service to reach the park.

Driving to Indiana Dunes State Park

Driving to Indiana Dunes State Park is a breeze no matter what direction you are coming from. You can take I-94 and get off at Indiana 49. From there, head north, and you’ll arrive at the park quickly.

Taking the Train to Indiana Dunes State Park

South Shore Line is a commuter rail line that provides train service to Chesterton. It’s only a 2-minute drive from the train station to Indiana Dunes State Park.

Taking the Bus to Indiana Dunes State Park

Currently, no bus service is available to take you directly to the park. Plans are underway to introduce buses to this area of Indiana via the South Shore Line.

Getting Around Indiana Dunes State Park

The most efficient way to explore the park is by driving around, finding a good place to park, and then continuing your adventure on foot. This way, you can cover more ground and take in all the sights and sounds the park offers. The park provides a printable map with all the major attractions, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints to help you plan your route and make the most of your time.

What To See and Do in Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park offers various activities, including hiking, visiting nature centers, participating in ranger-led programs, and fishing.

The 3 Dune Challenge

3 Dune Challenge
Image Credit: Indiana Dunes Tourism

Indiana Dunes State Park is a wonderful destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts. One of the most sought-after experiences at the park is the 3 Dune Challenge. This challenge allows visitors to hike up the park’s 3 tallest dunes, providing spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape.

The 3 Dune Challenge is a fun and exhilarating adventure that can be done alone or with friends and family. The trail is challenging, covering 1.5 miles and a 552-foot vertical climb.

Hot Tip:

Visitors should wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water as climbing can be physically demanding.

Birdwatching

The park’s unique blend of diverse habitats makes it a haven for over 350 species of birds. Visitors can spot various birds, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, sandhill cranes, and songbirds.

The park’s birdwatching opportunities are abundant year-round. During the spring and fall migration seasons, visitors can witness flocks of birds passing through the park on their way to and from breeding grounds. In the summer, visitors can catch sight of the park’s breeding birds, including the American goldfinch, eastern bluebird, and red-tailed hawk.

Cross-Country Skiing

This park is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. During the snowy months, the park’s trails offer visitors a unique opportunity to explore the winter wonderland while cross-country skiing. The well-groomed trails cater to skiers of all levels, from beginners to experts, and provide a range of terrains to suit different preferences.

As you ski through the park, you’ll be surrounded by stunning views of snow-capped trees, sparkling snowdrifts, and expansive vistas of Lake Michigan. The crisp winter air and peacefulness of the park’s surroundings offer a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Fishing

This park is a beloved destination for anglers looking to immerse themselves in a truly exceptional fishing experience. It offers many fishing opportunities, including fishing from the shore, in the lake, and even in the nearby creek. With abundant fish species available, anglers can try their luck at catching bass, bluegill, catfish, and many more.

Hiking Trails

Hiking Indiana Dunes State Park
Image Credit: Jeff DeWitt via Unsplash

Indiana Dunes State Park is a hiker’s paradise, with an extensive network of trails covering over 16 miles of stunning natural terrain. The trails are well-maintained and marked, making navigating and enjoying the breathtaking scenery easy. The park offers diverse landscapes, from rugged dunes to peaceful forests and serene wetlands.

The trails are designed to accommodate hikers of all abilities, from easy, flat paths perfect for beginners or families with young children to more challenging routes that test even the most experienced hikers. Along the way, you’ll encounter various wildlife, including deer, foxes, and a wide variety of birds.

Nature Center

The Nature Center is a haven for nature lovers and curious minds alike. Its wide range of informative and engaging programs offer a unique window into the park’s vibrant ecosystem. From the diverse wildlife that calls the dunes home to the geology that shapes the area’s distinctive terrain, there is much to discover and explore.

At the center of it all are the interactive exhibits, which invite visitors to explore the Indiana dunes in a hands-on and immersive way. With each discovery, the wonder and majesty of the dunes come to life, creating an unforgettable experience that will inspire and delight visitors of all ages.

Swimming

Indiana Dunes State Park is a paradise for beach lovers. Its sprawling 3-mile stretch of sandy coastline allows visitors to soak up the sun, breathe in the fresh lake air, and enjoy various water activities.

The park features a designated swimming area spanning over 1 mile, where visitors of all ages can splash around in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan. Whether you want to build sand castles, take a refreshing dip, or relax on the beach, the park is ideal for a fun-filled day in the sun.

Hot Tip:

Be sure to read the park swimming policies before heading out to enjoy the waters.

Best Times To Visit Indiana Dunes State Park

This park is a beautiful place to explore throughout the year. Depending on your interests, certain times of the year may be more appealing to you.

Best Time To Visit Indiana Dunes State Park in Winter

Indiana Dunes State Park is a winter wonderland for those who love outdoor winter activities. With over 15 inches of snowfall in January, this is the best month to visit for winter fun. The park offers visitors the perfect opportunity to enjoy a variety of snowy sports, such as cross-country skiing. The beautiful winter landscape also provides a picturesque backdrop for hikes and nature walks.

Best Time To Visit Indiana Dunes State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Many travelers like to visit the park when it’s not too crowded. November is the least busy month to visit this park. Planning a visit during this month will enable you to explore the park at your leisure without worrying about crowds, long lines, or traffic.

Best Time To Visit Indiana Dunes State Park for Ideal Weather

Indiana Dunes State Park for Ideal Weather
Image Credit: Todd Petrie via Wikimedia Commons (license)

Planning a vacation can be challenging, and weather plays an important role in determining the success of the trip. If you’re planning a trip, September is the best month to consider for ideal weather. Temperatures range from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, making it an excellent time for outdoor activities. However, it may rain during September, with an average of 6 rainy days.

Cheapest Time To Visit Indiana Dunes State Park

You can enjoy an affordable trip to Indiana Dunes State Park with a little research and planning. The prime time to visit and save money is mid- to late September, when flight and accommodation prices are at their lowest point of the year.

Annual Events in Indiana Dunes State Park

This state park hosts several events regularly, such as bird and reptile programs, guided hikes, and stargazing events. Several annual activities also take place here.

Indiana Dunes Birding Festival

The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival is an annual weekend event in May. It is hosted by the Indiana Audubon Society and is dedicated to the diverse range of birds that inhabit the Indiana Dunes region. Birdwatching enthusiasts can attend the festival to enjoy unique opportunities and learn about local conservation initiatives and how the economy supports the area’s bird population.

Sand Sculpture Contest

Every year, Indiana Dunes State Park hosts the Annual Sand Sculpture Contest, where sculpting groups showcase their creativity with sand sculptures. This exciting event takes place in mid-July and has a unique theme each year. The park’s volunteers judge the sculptures, and participants can win in adult and child categories for the funniest, most creative, and most thematic creations. This contest is a great way for visitors of all ages to have fun.

Where To Stay in Indiana Dunes State Park

There are several accommodation options available when visiting the state park. The park has a beautiful campground for nature lovers. Plenty of lodging options are available in the nearby towns for those who prefer a more conventional stay.

Inside the Park

Camping Indiana Dunes
Image Credit: Indiana Dunes Tourism

Visitors looking for a place to stay overnight in the park can enjoy camping in the great outdoors. The park has a developed campground with 140 sites for tents or RVs. This campground is located less than a mile from the beach and is within walking distance from the South Shore Rail Station.

One of the most popular campgrounds in the area, reservations for the park’s campground fill up quickly. Visitors are advised to make reservations in advance. Amenities at this campground include full electric hookups, modern bathhouses, picnic tables, grills, and a nearby laundry area.

Towns Near Indiana Dunes State Park

There are several towns near Indiana Dunes State Park. No matter what you’re looking for, you can find a perfect home base just a short drive from the park.

Chesterton, Indiana

Indiana Dunes State Park is in Chesterton, a great place to set up a home base for visitors who want to stay near the park. From cozy bed and breakfasts to luxurious hotels, Chesterton offers a range of accommodations to suit every budget and preference.

The town’s vibrant restaurant scene serves up a variety of cuisines, ranging from traditional American fare to exotic delicacies from around the world. The town also boasts plenty of recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, and fishing.

Bottom Line:

With everything just a stone’s throw away from the park, Chesterton makes for a perfect home base for an unforgettable vacation.

Valparaiso, Indiana

Valparaiso, a picturesque town in the northwest region of Indiana, is approximately 15 miles from the park. It’s known for its quaint streets, historic architecture, and vibrant cultural scene. Valparaiso has plenty of eateries, ranging from cozy cafes and friendly diners to upscale restaurants serving gourmet cuisine.

Valparaiso has an array of lodging options to accommodate all budgets, including charming bed and breakfasts, modern hotels, and spacious vacation rentals.

Where To Eat in Indiana Dunes State Park

Several dining options are available within the park, and plenty of restaurants are in the surrounding towns. If you get hungry while exploring, you can drive to a nearby restaurant and then return to your park explorations.

Dunes Pavilion

Dunes Pavilion is inside the park within a beautifully restored historic building from the 1930s. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily, offering a menu that features appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and customizable beach bowls. It’s a perfect spot to refuel and recharge after a day of adventures in the park without having to leave the premises.

The rooftop lounge serves a variety of options, including fine wines, draft beers, signature cocktails, and delightful Mexican dishes. You can relish great food and drinks while enjoying the sweeping vistas from this historic building’s rooftop.

Octave Grill

Octave Grill is one of Chesterton’s top-rated restaurants, around 3 miles from the park. It’s open from Thursday to Monday for late lunch, dinner, and snacks. The restaurant offers a diverse menu that includes gourmet burgers, classic favorites like lasagna and meatloaf, unique desserts, and signature cocktails.

Stacks Bar and Grill

Stacks Bar and Grill is widely recognized as one of the finest restaurants in Valparaiso. The menu offers a range of creative appetizers, soups, salads, specialty pizzas, and entrees made with fresh seafood, chicken, and high-quality steaks. It’s an excellent place to unwind and recharge after a long day of exploring the park.

Indiana Dunes State Park Facts

Indiana Dunes State Park
Image Credit: Scott Gundersen via Unsplash

1. It Was Established in 1925

In the early 1900s, the Indiana Dunes area was used by scientists, nature enthusiasts, and recreationists who fought to preserve the region. As a result, the state park was established in 1925.

2. It Features Towering Dunes

The sand dunes at this park rise nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan and are a breathtaking sight.

3. The Park Is One of the Best Places to Hike

Indiana Dunes State Park has been recognized as one of the top hiking destinations in Indiana by USA Today. Trail 9 stands out as the most exceptional, offering stunning views and towering dunes that will leave you in awe.

4. The Park Is on the Indiana Birding Trail

This state park is part of the Indiana Birding Trail, offering fantastic opportunities to observe a wide variety of birds while exploring the park.

5. It’s Separate From Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park are 2 distinct entities with similar names. Although both parks are worth visiting, they are separate parks and require separate fees. Each year, nearly 4 million visitors are attracted to these parks. The state park boasts better beaches and hiking trails, while the national park offers historic landmarks, amazing trails, and much more.

Final Thoughts

Indiana Dunes State Park offers a plethora of activities, such as camping, bird watching, hiking, and beachgoing. It’s no surprise that this park is one of the most visited parks in Indiana. Book your trip to this state park today and discover why nearly 2 million visitors flock there each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Indiana Dunes State Park?

It costs $9 per vehicle to enter the park. Indiana license plates receive a $2 discount.

How long should I plan to spend at Indiana Dunes State Park?

Spending a full day exploring this park to see all the sites is recommended.

What are some attractions I should visit near Indiana Dunes State Park?

There are plenty of attractions to visit near Indiana Dunes State Park, such as Indiana Dunes National Park, wineries, waterparks, and casinos.

Can I bring my dog to Indiana Dunes State Park?

Dogs are welcome in most park areas but not permitted on the beach.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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