Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide for Indiana Dunes National Park - Indiana Dunes Purple Guide

Indiana Dunes National Park is the 61st national park in the US. Its main attractions are its sandy beaches and hiking trails through miles of sand dunes. This Indiana Dunes Purple Guide explains the best things to see and do for a relaxing vaction in Indiana Dunes National Park.
Considering the location of the park on the shouthern shores of Lake Michigan, most people are surprised to hear that there are sand dunes so far north in the United States. Taking into account that Indiana Dunes National Park is located less than 50 miles from downtown Chicago and that not many people outside of the Chicago area have ever heard of this park, we think that this park can be considered to be one of the best kept secrets in the country.

Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach boardwalk
Indiana Dunes National Park West Beach

But not much longer – we are going to spill the beans and provide you with a detailed guide to Indiana Dunes National Park.

In this guide, we will tell you what we consider to be the major attractions, provide google maps links to help you get there, our experiences and often links to the attractions if they have a website.
To help you find out what best fits you, we have added lots of photos and links to additional reviews.
This is not an in-depth guide. You can buy those from the big travel guide companies.
Our goal is to help you Make Memorable Moments on a relaxing trip and help you build the perfect itinerary for your trip.

For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Indiana Dunes Purple Guide.

Table of contents

What is Indiana Dunes National Park?

In 2019, Indiana Dunes National Park became the 61st national park in the US. This 15,349 acre (6,212 ha) park runs along the southern section of Lake Michigan for about 20 miles and it surrounds the much older Indiana Dunes State Park which was established in 1925.

About 40,000 years ago, the continental glacier had thinned significantly and at its end, it deposited the glacial till and sand that it was carrying. When the glacier receded north about 20,000 years ago, it left the Indiana Dunes on the southern shore of what is now Lake Michigan.
The first recorded settlements date back to the Hopewell culture in 200BC and the first European settlement dates back to the early 19th century.

First attempts to protect the sand dunes as a national park date back to 1916 but it took until 1966 when Congress created the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore which was redesignated Indiana Dunes National Park in 2019.
In 1925, the Indiana Dunes State Park was established. The state park still exists and nowadays it is surrounded by the National Park.

Nowadays, the dunes are mostly covered with vegetation, but the lake shore is basically one long beach.
With more than 1,400 plant species Indiana Dunes National Park ranks 8th in total plant species among all National Parks.

Where is Indiana Dunes NP located?

Indiana Dunes National Park is located on the Southern end of Lake Michigan between the cities of Gary and Michigan City in Indiana.
Chicago, IL lies about 50 miles to the north west of the park and its skyline can be seen on a clear day from Indiana Dunes National Park.

Indiana is located in the Central Time Zone of the United States.

Map showing the location of Indiana Dunes National Park in the US
Map showing the location of Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana

Why should I visit Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park are collocated on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. The highlights of both parks are their beaches and hiking trails. The beaches have fine golden and beige sand and the seafloor is also sandy, which means you don't need water shoes. Most beaches are at least 30ft (10m) wide and gently slope into Lake Michigan. The beaches are either on street level and accessible through a sandy path or you need to walk down from the street level to reach the water. Many beaches have live guards from Memorial Day to Labor Day and the gentle slope into Lake Michigan makes them suitable for a family vacation even with small kids.
Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park have lots of hiking trails. They are mostly flat but you may need to climb some sand dunes. Some trails are in open terrain, while others go through forested areas.
When you come in July, you are in for a treat, as there are tons of blackberry bushes on many of the trails.

Last but not least, Indiana Dunes National Park is also the home of six buildings that were built for the 1933 World Expo in Chicago. They are now private residences and you cannot go into them, but you can look at the buildings from the outside and read the signs that explain why these buildings are so special.

Highlights of Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park

Climate in Indiana Dunes National Park

The average monthly temperatures and precipitation that you can expect during your trip to Indiana Dunes National Park are shown in the diagrams below.

Average monthly temperatures in Indiana Dunes National Park
Average monthly precipitation in Indiana Dunes National Park

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ) ABOUT INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND INDIANA DUNES STATE PARK

Indiana Dunes National Park directions

Indiana Dunes National Park is large. It has 2 visitor centers and many beaches and parking lots. Directions to the West Beach parking lot can be found here.

How far is Indiana Dunes State Park?

You can find the distance to Indiana Dunes State Park here.

Directions to Indiana Dunes National Park visitor center

Indiana Dunes National Park has 2 visitor centers; directions can be found here:
Dorothy Buell Visitor Center
Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education

Where is Indiana Dunes Park located?

Indiana Dunes National Park is located in the US state of Indiana, 47 miles east of Chicago. The park is large and you can find more information here.
Indiana Dunes State Park is located in the US state of Indiana, 47 miles east of Chicago. You can find more information here.

What county is Indiana Dunes State Park in?

Indiana Dunes National park is located in Porter County, Indiana, United States, 47 miles east of Chicago. You can find more information here.
Indiana Dunes State Park is located in Porter County, Indiana, United States, 47 miles east of Chicago. The park is large and you can find more information here.

Where is Indiana Dunes beach?

The beach in Indiana Dunes State park is often called Indiana Dunes beach. You can find the distance to Indiana Dunes Beach here.
Keep in mind that Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park have about 15 miles of beaches. There are multiple access points to the beach front and some people call this entire stretch of lake front Indiana Dunes Beach.
In Indiana Dunes National Park West beach is the most popular beach. Directions to the West Beach parking lot can be found here.

Indiana Dunes National Park weather forecast

The weather forecast for Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park can be found here.

Indiana Dunes National Park weather by month

The average temperature and precipitation of Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park can be found here.

How much does it cost to get into Indiana Dunes National Park?

Starting March 31, 2022, Indiana Dunes National Park charges admission. As of the time of writing, the fees are:
7-Day Park Entrance Pass - Motorcycle Pass - $20.00
7-Day Park Entrance Pass - Family-Size Vehicle Pass - $25.00
7-Day Per Person Entrance Pass (Organized, non-commercial groups) - $15.00
Commercial Tour Fee - Sedan (1-6 persons) - $25.00
Commercial Tour Fee - Van (7-15 persons) - $40.00
Commercial Tour Fee - Mini Bus (16-25 persons) - $40.00
Commercial Tour Fee - Motor Coach (26+ persons) - $100.00
Indiana Dunes State Park also charges admission: $7 for noncommercial vehicles with Indiana license plates and $12 for noncommercial vehicles with out-of-state license plates.

Indiana Dunes National Park visitor center

Indiana Dunes National Park has 2 visitor centers; directions can be found here:
Dorothy Buell Visitor Center
Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education

Indiana Dunes National Park visitor center hours

The Dorothy Buell Visitor Center is open every day with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day from 8am-6pm Central Time (9am-4pm during Covid and from Labor Day to Memorial Day). Shorter hours during federal holidays. For more details see here.
The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education is open from 9am to 5pm Central Time (Friday of Memorial Day weekend through Monday of Labor Day weekend). (9am-4pm during Covid and from Labor Day to Memorial Day). Shorter hours during federal holidays. For more details see here here.

What Indiana Dunes beaches are open?

The National parks website provides alerts on closures. Check them out here.

When does Indiana Dunes beach open?

The Indiana Dunes State Park hours, where Indiana Dunes beach is located, are 7am – 11pm Central Time year round.
The West Beach park entrance in Indiana Dunes National Park welcomes visitors from 7am to 9pm Central Time year round.

What time does Indiana Dunes State Park open?

Indiana Dunes State Park is open from 7am – 11pm Central Time year round.

Indiana Dunes National Park map

A beach map of Indiana Dunes National Park and things to see and do can be found here and a map of the Indiana Dunes National Park hiking trails can be found here.

Indiana Dunes State Park map

A map of Indiana Dunes State Park and things to see and do can be found here.

Indiana Dunes National Park camping

The Dunewood Campground at Indiana Dunes National Park is open from April 1 through October 31. It consists of two loops containing 66 camp-sites (53 conventional drive-in sites and 13 walk/carry-in sites). Four sites are wheelchair accessible (numbers 15, 30, 41 and 55). Each loop has modern restrooms and hot/cold showers. Some sites have limited recreational vehicle length.

Indiana Dunes National Park camping reservations

All camp sites at Dunewood Campground at Indiana Dunes National Park can be reserved in advance here starting six months in before the check-in date, with November 15 being the first day reservations open for the following camping season. There is a $25.00 per night camping fee and some discounts are available.

Indiana Dunes National Park camping reviews

Reviews for camping at Dunewood Campground in Indiana Dunes National Park can be found here.

Indiana Dunes Beach

Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park share the same lakefront. The beach in Indiana Dunes State park is called Indiana Dunes beach. You can find more information about Indiana Dunes beach in Indiana Dunes State Park here.

Indiana Dunes National Park things to do

There is no doubt, the main attraction of Indiana Dunes National Park are the many beaches – you can find more information about the beaches here.
West Beach is the most popular beach – more information can be found here.
Besides the beaches, Indiana Dunes National Park has miles of wonderful hiking trails. More information about hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park can be found here.
Last but not least, Indiana Dunes National Park is home to the 1933 “Century of Progress” Chicago World Fair homes. You can find more information here.

What to do at Indiana Dunes State Park?

Indiana Dunes National Park has three main attractions: 1) Its beaches, 2) its hiking trails and 3) the 1933 “Century of Progress” Chicago World Fair homes.
You can find more information about the beaches here and a link to West Beach, Indiana Dunes National Park most popular beach, can be found information here.
A link to the miles of wonderful hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park can be found here.
Last but not least, a link to the 1933 “Century of Progress” Chicago World Fair homes in Indiana Dunes National Park can be found here.

Which Indiana Dunes beach is best?

West Beach is the most popular beach in Indiana Dunes National Park. It has large parking lots and can get crowded in summer. It is one of the few beaches with lifeguards on duty in summer. You can find more information here.
If you are looking for more secluded beaches in Indiana Dunes National Park, then you have a large selection. Find the right beach for you by following the link here.

How long to spend at Indiana Dunes National Park?

If you only have one day, you may want to spend it at West Beach and spend the day on the beach or hiking. If you are interested in architecture, then you can add an hour for the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World Fair homes.
If you have more time, then you can visit more beaches and do more hiking.

Is Indiana Dunes National Park worth it?

We loved Indiana Dunes National Park and recommend it to everyone who is interested in water sports, sunbathing on a beach, hiking and the architecture of the 1933 “Century of Progress” Chicago World Fair homes. Best of all, Indiana Dunes National Park is only a stone’s throw away from Chicago and less than 4h from Detroit.

Which part of Indiana Dunes National Park do you want to visit next?

Backpack and Snorkel Indiana Dunes National Park Beaches Travel Guide - Indiana Dunes Beaches Purple Guide
Backpack and Snorkel Indiana Dunes National Hiking Trails Travel Guide - Indiana Dunes Hiking Trails Purple Guide
Backpack and Snorkel Indiana Dunes National Park World Fair Homes Travel Guide - Indiana Dunes World Fair Homes Purple Guide
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