The Indiana Dunes National park is located in Northwest of the Indiana state about 1hour drive from Chicago (if you don’t hit traffic). Known as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore since 1966 it became in February 2019 the 61st National Park in the US. The park runs for about 25 miles (40 km) along the southern shore of the Lake Michigan. The park has many preserve areas and ecosystems such a sand dunes, wetlands, forests, and river.
I visited Indiana Dunes National Park during the beginning of April, honestly, it was a little early, a month later the spring would have made nature even more beautiful I think. But I needed to have a break from the city so I jump on the opportunity to discover the newest National Park.
The best thing to do when you arrive at the National Park is to go to the Visitor Center, in Porter, to find all the information you need to know about the Park, the safety instructions or alerts for the beaches, to know if some dunes are closed and have a map of the Park to know which areas to visit. Exhibitions and short films are proposed in the visitor center to discover the fauna and flora of the National Park but also of the region. The National park is pretty huge with 15 miles of Beach and 50miles of trails. If you have plenty of time you can, of course, explore the whole park, if not the best is to use the map of the Visitor Center to know where to stop. Since I had just a weekend to explore the Park I decided to visit mostly the dunes following the road along the lake shore. Here few of my favorite spots.
What to visit:
The Mount Badly:
This is a good way to start your visit of the National Park. These 37 meters (126 ft) tall dunes are super impressive! The Dunes are moving every year that’s why it is called living dunes. Before 2018, it was possible to hike on the dunes but it is currently closed to protect the flora and the dune itself. However, the beach is not closed and from there you can really appreciate how tall and impressive are the dunes. The dunes are so high that there not only plants that grow there but also real trees. Unfortunately, when I visited it, trees didn’t have leaves yet but I’m sure that the contrast with the yellow dunes and the green of the leaves might be something nice to enjoy!
From The Mount Badly, the drive through the Great Marsh is the such a relaxing drive and perfect to enjoy nature. The Great Marsh is a wetland that has always been known as a nesting and migratory layover for many birds. The level of water changes depending on the season and the Marsh is home to various fauna such as Heron, wood ducks, Kingfishers, I even saw a beaver!
Dunbar Access Point – Kemil Road beach
The area has a nice residential neighborhood beach and a picnic station. But you might want to stop here for time traveling and be sent back in 1933. The Century of Progress Architectural District consists of five historic homes from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. All the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
From the five Homes of Tomorrow, my favorite is the Florida Tropical House with its pink bright color and its Art Deco style. Designed by the architect Robert Law Weed from Miami, this is the only Century of Progress Home that has been state-sponsored by the state of Florida to seduce tourists to go to visit the Sunshine State. The building has various window to bring together indoor and outdoor and a flat roof with an open terrace for sunbathing. With time the pink flamingo color of the house became a visual landmark for navigators on Lake Michigan.
State Park Beach:
The State Park Beach just before Porter Beach is the perfect place to watch the sunset when the weather is nice. I was not lucky enough to have the chance to see the shadows of the skyline of Chicago in the horizon appearing in the sunset. I believe the weather needs to be extremely clear to see it. But the sunset reflecting on the lake and having the feeling that the sun is disappearing inside the lake is still fantastic. State Park beach offers many hiking trails such as Mount Tom. You can also admire a great neo-Moorish style dunes pavilion from the 30’s. During summer this is the most crowded beach. (if you are just passing by and don’t want to pay the fee to enter the Park to see the sunset you can just stop in Porter Beach).
Don’t waste your time stopping by Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, well the name seems quite attractive but it is actually a small preserved area stick to the huge industrial complex of siderurgy ArcelorMittal. This is one of the biggest contradictions of the National Park it is bounded by two huge polluting industries ArcelorMittal in the West and nuclear power plant in the East. Keep going west to the great West Beach to enjoy the amazing views of Lake Michigan from the top of the Dunes Succession trail stairs! ( I believe during summer there is a $6 fee to enter West Beach)
After visiting all these great spots you might be a bit hungry and need to rest, here few tips.
Where to Eat:
If you are visiting the park and you do not want to leave it to eat, the best option is the very nice Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill & Tavern. With a nice atmosphere and friendly staff, the place has a very relaxing patio for summertime. The food is very tasty and the prices are super affordable!
You might also want to visit the lovely little city of Chesterton and discover very nice food spots too!
The two dinners Northside Dinner and Peggy Sue’s Dinner are both two amazing places for breakfast and brunch. They both have such an authentic style that makes you feel you are back in the 50’s /60’s. They both make homemade biscuits which is the best thing on earth. I did feel Northside was more crowded than Peggy Sue’s Dinner so if you don’t want to wait for your breakfast you know where to go. But honestly, both are great.
For lunch and dinner, Octave Grill is a good option. The place very vivid and their hummus is simply delicious!
But the best place in Chesterton is without a doubt Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor. They do have amazing ice creams, with very unique tastes, the atmosphere is very fun, the staff is extremely friendly and enthusiast. The boss gifted us with an amazing pistachio ice cream that I will never forget!
Where to Stay:
Hilton Garden Inn Chesterton
I stayed in Hilton Garden Inn Chesterton. The hotel was very quiet and clean. Rooms are spacious and very clean (the bed was a bit too strong for my liking). Located near to downtown Chesterton and the National Park on Indiana Dunes it was a good option. Prices weren’t too expensive but I bet during summer, prices aren’t the same.