5 Best Hikes in Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park Overview

Indiana Dunes National Park is located in northwestern Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan. Originally established as a National Lakeshore, the area was officially designated as a National Park in February of 2019. The park features over 15 miles of rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers and peaceful forests. Indiana Dunes State Park is also located within its boundaries but is owned and managed by the state of Indiana rather than the NPS. The best hikes in Indiana Dunes National Park, featured below, are all relatively short but moderately difficult considering the loose footing.

Nearest Metro AreaChicago, IL
Area Size15,349 acres
EstablishedFebruary 15, 2019
Hiking Trails50 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Indiana Dunes National Park

Cowles Bog Trail
Fall Colors on the Cowles Bog Trail, Photo by NPS

Explore several distinct habitats along this 4.7-mile trail including ponds, marshes, swamps, black oak savannas and beaches. Steep sand dunes near Lake Michigan can make this a strenuous journey. The trailhead can be accessed from the parking area off of Mineral Springs Road. Look for the gravel entrance road on the right just before the town guardhouse.

  • 4.7 mile loop
  • 200′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
3-Loop Trail
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Photo by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

This loop hike combines sections of the three trails at West Beach. The hike starts with the Dune Succession Trail (Loop 1), which highlights the four stages of dune development. The hike then picks up the West Beach Trail (Loop 2) for an easy hike through an area that was sand mined in the 1920s. The footing is mainly loose sand. The final section of the hike is the Long Lake Loop Trail (Loop 3). The trail follows along Long Lake and then heads into the dunes. The trailhead can be found near the parking area off of West Beach Road.

  • 3.4 mile loop
  • 250′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Dune Ridge Trail
Overview of swamp
Overview of swamp, Photo by David Fulmer

The Dune Ridge Trail offers great views of the extensive wetlands and forests south of this tall, forested dune. The different habitats you’ll see along the trail help make Indiana Dunes National Park one of the top five most biologically diverse of all the national parks.

  • 0.7 mile loop
  • 100′ elevation gain
  • Easy
Paul H. Douglas Trail
Paul H. Douglas Trail, Photo by NPS

Starting from the Paul H. Douglas Center, take the trail north or counter-clockwise around the wetland complex. Look for wildlife including beavers. The trail will run west along the top of the wetland. The trail features beautiful scenery with small interdunal ponds nestled among oak savanna covered dunes teeming with wildflowers in the spring and summer.

  • 3.4 miles out and back
  • 50′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Tolleston Dunes Trail
Wildflowers along Tolleston Dunes Trail, Photo by NPS

The Tolleston Dunes Trail winds amid 4,700 year-old sand dunes that were formed when Lake Michigan’s water level was 25 feet higher than today. Tolleston is the second youngest of four distinct dune systems found within the national park. Together these dune ridges provide a glimpse into the changing shoreline of Lake Michigan.

  • 2.9 mile loop
  • 150′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Bonus: Trail #9 (Indiana Dunes State Park)
Indiana Dunes State Park
Indiana Dunes State Park, Photo by Todd Petrie

This trail is listed last as it is technically located within Indiana Dunes State Park and not the National Park. It provides the best representative view of the dunes and a good view of the lake. The trailhead is located near the Nature Center.

  • 3.75 mile loop
  • 200′ elevation gain
  • Moderate

Featured Image: Indiana Dunes National Park, Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

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