It’s no mystery that my family and I love traveling. One of our goals is to travel all 50 states and to visit all National Parks. Sadly, living in the Midwest doesn’t give us too many choices. So when I heard that Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore became the 61st National Park, I knew it was time to revisit. With a few hikes under their belt, I knew my kids would be able to hang.
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Acquaint yourself at the Visitors Center
Whenever we go hiking, I think it’s best to start at the VIsitor Center. The park rangers’ insight as to which trails were best for our family was so valuable. Plus, she also gave us a heads up about the 30 minute wait to get into the Indiana Dunes State Park. Armed with maps in hand, we were all ready to get started with our first adventure!
Tip: Don’t forget to get your National Park book stamped here. Plus, it’s a great spot to use the potty.
Just dune it
Since we were full of energy we decided to try the 3 Dune Challenge, a chance to climb three dunes totaling 552 feet total and 1.5 miles. You can opt to start the challenge at the highest point (clockwise with entrance by the campground) or by the Nature Center with a natural ascending progression (counterclockwise). We decided that the best course for us was starting at the Nature Center.
Tip: Stop by the Nature Center for one last chance to use the potty before starting the challenge.
At first, we were cruising and then all of a sudden we understood why they called it a challenge.
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We followed the signs (follow Trail #8) until we reached the top of the each dune. This was the perfect time to relax, drink water, enjoy the views, and take an obligatory photo by the markers. For the kids, it meant time to sit down and play in the sand and take out the sand from their shoes.
I heard that that going up the last dune, Mt. Tom, was not so difficult since stairs are available to use. By this point, I didn’t know which was more difficult – stairs or sand.
But in the end we made it to the top!
The kids were such good troopers but were totally done. Instead of looping back down, we wanted to take the shortcut back to the parking lot (Trail #4) but ended up back on Trail #8. We spied views of the lake and beach and just couldn’t resist ourselves — we had to see it ourselves. So we ran down the dunes to the beach and dipped our toes in the lake.
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Now let me tell you running down the dunes may have been fun, but going back up the dunes was just painful. In fact, this hike back up the dunes under the scorching sun may have been a lot worse than hiking up all three dunes. We eventually found our way back on shortcut to the Nature Center then drove to the Visitor Center again to collect our reward — stickers to commemorate our hard work!
Another trail (but easier)
I really wanted to squeeze one more trail in and heard that West Beach was pretty easy. Since it was a Saturday and pretty busy, we didn’t want to risk not finding parking so we went to West Beach with plenty of spots. ($6 parking fee) Visiting later in the day worked to our advantage as people were already leaving.
From the parking lot, we spotted the stairs from far away. We were ready!
But we weren’t mentally prepared for the walk through scorching hot sand with flip flops and sandals. Thankfully, the stairs weren’t too far away. From then on it was smooth sailing and mostly shaded. Stairs, boardwalk, and more stairs.
Beach it up
Our reward at the end of the day was to relax and play at the beach. Boy, were we glad to have our beach wagon with us. The walk from the parking lot to beach was a little further than expected and hauling our beach gear (and kids) was so much easier. Yes, it may have been a little busy (even as flocks of people were leaving) but we found a spot and had a great time splashing in the water and digging up holes. It was a great way to end our day at Indiana Dunes!
Have you been to Indiana Dunes before? What is your favorite thing to do there?
RELATED: Find out what else you can do in Indiana’s South Shore here.