Indiana Dunes National Park Family Guide

We visited Indiana Dunes National Park on a recent trip to the area. This national park sits right on the shore of Lake Michigan and is split and scattered like many other parks in the eastern United States. There is a Visitor Center and an active Junior Ranger program. This park is also more of a recreational park rather than a viewing park, like we are used to out West. 

sand dune at Indiana Dunes National Park with clouds in the background
The sand dunes are quite large!

Basic Info about Indiana Dunes

This National Park has many entrance points. You drive in and out of the National Park to visit the different trails and locations, so plan on showing your pass at some, and at others, leaving the pass on your dashboard. We have included addresses of each of the locations we visited to help you find your way.

We found the National Park Sign by the Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is located toward the east end of the park (1215 N State Rd 49, Porter, IN). We printed our Junior Ranger booklets beforehand and completed them as we worked our way from west to east, and then turned them in before it closed. Make sure to check their hours beforehand.

The Visitor Center is small, but we liked reading the historical signs.

Since you will be driving to and from different areas, make sure to map out your route so that you don’t end up doubling back. We listed our day in the order that we visited below.

West Beach

Address: 376 N Country Line Rd, Gary, IN

We decided to try a couple of different areas of the park, but the most interesting by far, was West Beach. This area had some nice swampy marshes, as well as a few hikes and a beach. There were a lot of people playing on the beach, but we were more interested in what we could see on our first visit, so we didn’t spend much time at the water.

Long Lake

After you pass through the West Beach gate, there are a few wide marshy areas and then a lake. It is difficult to stop, but there are a few pullouts, and one or two parking lots where you can look at Long Lake. There is actually a trail that run along the lake and around to the beach called the West Beach trail. We just stopped at a parking area and walked to the edge of the marshy lake.

We spotted a wide variety of birds, including great blue herons, and great egrets, both of which are pretty great. There were also frogs along the shore, and a few deer along the treeline.

Long Lake is a pretty little spot.
water lily on the water
We loved the water lilies on the water.
turtle on the log surrounded by lily pads
We spotted a few turtles and frogs.
There were swans hanging out in Long Lake.

Dunes Succession Trail

Farther down the road, there is a really big parking area. We parked a walked a short trail that included a lot of steps. Our 9 year-old counted 499 going up and down, but you can double check him when you visit. This walk made for a nice hike through the undergrowth, and it was mostly shady. A few interpretive signs told of an early resident named Alice Mabel Gabel, also known as Diana of the Dunes, who loved this area and worked to protect it. This hike walks you over the large Indiana Dunes that make up this National Park.

sandy trail through the dunes at Indiana Dunes National Park
The dunes are sandy, but covered with trees and bushes.
boardwalk stairs over the sand dunes
There were a lot of stairs up and down.
You can see Lake Michigan in the background.
The stairs were tiring, but it was better than walking in sand the entire hike.
We learned about Diana of the Dunes.
The end of the hike is through the sand.
Finally you make it to the great Lake Michigan.

West Beach

Eventually, the trail comes out on the beach. It was long and sandy, and the water was cold. When we visited on the last day of May, it wasn’t too busy, but it probably gets jam packed by July. Still, we waded, threw rocks, and enjoyed the sunshine. You can see the skyline of Chicago across the water. A short path leads directly to the parking lot, and most people skip the hike and just use this access point. 

The water was pretty cold in late May.
There is a lot of space to spread out on the West Beach.
There is a nice place to wash off the sand and clean up after the beach.

Chellberg Farm

Address: Mineral Springs Rd, Porter, IN (north of Highway 20)

We enjoyed a quick stop to walk through the Chellberg Farm area. There was a beautiful little walk through a maple forest to a sugar shack, where they talk about making maple syrup, which this National Park still does. Then we came to the pretty little farm house and yard. There were some chickens in the coop that we said hello to before heading back to our car. You can also extend your hike and explore more of the Bailly Homestead, but we ran out of time on this visit.

The large trees at the farm were shady and beautiful.
The homestead continues to make maple syrup.
We couldn’t go inside, but we liked looking at the old farm house.
The boys had to stop and make friends with the chickens.

Great Marsh

Address: Broadway Ave, Beverly Shores, IN (north of Highway 12)

The other area of Indiana Dunes National Park that we enjoyed was the Great Marsh. This is a hike through a large marshy area. We saw some beautiful animals like deer, turtles, and a lot of types of birds. We also saw several ticks. Be aware, if you visit the Great Marsh, of the ticks. Bring bug spray and wear appropriate clothing. This hike was short and gentle, and very, very spongy, so take your time and enjoy the birds.

Great Marsh sign in Indiana Dunes National Park
The trails are well signed in Indiana Dunes National Park.
The trail walks through the greenery.
There are little marshes all over as you head toward the Great Marsh.
Can you tell it’s a white tailed deer?
We saw a lot of sandhill cranes.
There are a few viewing areas for the Great Marsh.
We love how green everything is back east.

Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes has few other nice spots, but we were unable to try them on this trip. There are other beaches and hikes to try, so let us know if you have a favorite spot in Indiana Dunes National Park. Here are some other trails we had listed, but didn’t make it to on our visit, if you are looking for a few ideas. More details on all of these trails here.

This is where the Riverwalk Trail begins.
  • Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Trail (this trail was closed when we visited, but we did visit this area and use the restroom)
  • Calumet Dunes Trail (also closed when we visited, but it is short)
  • Dune Ridge Trail (a mix of dunes and woodlands)

If you love National Parks like we do, then check out our National Parks page where we share family guides for all of the parks we have visited.

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