Indiana Dunes Overview

Indiana Dunes National Park, nestled on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, USA, represents a unique natural tapestry of dune ecosystems, forests, wetlands, and prairies. Spanning over 15,000 acres (approximately 60 square kilometers), this national park is located in the northwest corner of Indiana, near the towns of Gary and Michigan City. It was designated as the 61st national park in the United States in February 2019, although it has been protected as a national lakeshore since 1966.

The park’s geography is a testament to the power of natural forces, with more than 15 miles (24 kilometers) of shoreline offering breathtaking views and access to Lake Michigan’s sandy beaches. The dunes themselves are a remarkable feature, formed over thousands of years by the winds and waters of Lake Michigan, with the highest dunes reaching nearly 200 feet (about 61 meters) above the lake level, providing spectacular vistas.

Indiana Dunes National Park is celebrated for its rich biodiversity. It is one of the most biologically diverse U.S. national parks, home to over 350 species of birds, numerous plants, and wildlife adapted to this unique environment. The park’s varied habitats support rare species of flora and fauna, making it a significant site for ecological study and conservation.

Recreational opportunities abound within the park’s boundaries. Visitors can enjoy hiking through more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) of trails that wind through dunes, wetlands, prairies, and forests. The park also offers camping, bird watching, fishing, and winter sports, making it a year-round destination for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.

Indiana Dunes National Park serves as a crucial green space and recreational area for the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region, offering a serene escape where nature and culture intertwine. Its preservation allows future generations to explore and appreciate the unique landscapes and ecological diversity of the Indiana dunes.

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Park Map
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Indiana Dunes National Park Highlights


Indiana Dunes National Park, a treasure trove of biodiversity at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, offers bird enthusiasts a unique opportunity to observe a rich variety of bird species that inhabit its dunes, forests, wetlands, and prairies.

Piping Plover – A small, endangered shorebird, the Piping Plover is often seen on the park’s beaches during migration, its delicate sand-colored plumage blending into the shoreline.

Sandhill Crane – Known for their large size and striking red forehead, Sandhill Cranes migrate through the area in large flocks, their haunting calls a herald of changing seasons.

Bald Eagle – America’s national bird, the Bald Eagle, has made a comeback and can be observed soaring above the park’s waterways, a majestic symbol of wilderness.

Eastern Bluebird – The Eastern Bluebird, with its vibrant blue back and rusty chest, is a cheerful presence, often spotted in open fields and along forest edges.

Red-headed Woodpecker – Distinctive for its bright red head and bold black-and-white pattern, the Red-headed Woodpecker is a striking sight against the park’s trees.

Great Egret – The Great Egret stands tall in the park’s marshes, its white plumage and graceful hunting technique a beautiful example of avian elegance.

Common Yellowthroat – A small warbler with a distinctive black “mask,” the Common Yellowthroat is often heard trilling from within thickets and marshes.

American Kestrel – The American Kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon, is often seen perched on wires or hovering over fields in search of insects and small rodents.

Indigo Bunting – The Indigo Bunting, a small bird with brilliant blue feathers, lights up the park’s fields and forest edges, especially during the breeding season.

Tree Swallow – Agile in flight, Tree Swallows swoop over the park’s open areas, their iridescent blue-green upperparts catching the light as they chase insects.

The birdlife of Indiana Dunes National Park, from the rare Piping Plover to the acrobatic Tree Swallow, showcases the incredible avian diversity of this unique national park, offering birdwatchers and nature lovers alike a rich and rewarding experience.

Indiana Dunes National Park Pictures

Engaging Indiana Dunes

Explore the diverse landscapes of Indiana Dunes National Park by hiking its scenic trails. With over 50 miles of trails to choose from, hikers can traverse through towering sand dunes, lush forests, serene wetlands, and picturesque beaches.

Highlights include the challenging 3 Dune Challenge, which offers panoramic views of Lake Michigan from the tallest dunes, and the Cowles Bog Trail, which meanders through a unique wetland ecosystem teeming with wildlife.

Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll or a more strenuous trek, hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park provides endless opportunities to immerse yourself in nature and discover its hidden gems.

Spend a day soaking up the sun and enjoying the sandy shores of Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park’s beautiful beaches. Whether you prefer swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, or beachcombing, the park offers several pristine beaches to choose from, each with its own unique charm and amenities.

Popular beaches include West Beach, known for its calm waters and scenic trails, and Kemil Beach, which offers stunning views of the Chicago skyline on clear days. With miles of shoreline to explore, Indiana Dunes National Park is the perfect destination for a fun-filled beach day with family and friends.

Indiana Dunes National Park Trails

West Beach Trail Loop

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 250 feet (76 meters)

Description: This loop offers a diverse experience through dune succession, forest areas, and along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Hikers can enjoy panoramic views from the top of the dunes, observe a variety of plant and animal life, and experience the unique ecosystem of the Indiana Dunes. The trail includes a boardwalk and several observation decks.

Cowles Bog Trail

Rating: Moderate to Strenuous

Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.7 miles round trip with variable elevation gain due to dune terrain

Description: Despite its name, Cowles Bog Trail offers a challenging hike through wetlands, woods, and dunes. It’s a National Natural Landmark site for its ecological diversity. The trail culminates at a stunning beach along Lake Michigan, rewarding hikers with beautiful views. Portions can be sandy and steep, providing a good workout.

3 Dune Challenge

Rating: Strenuous

Distance and Elevation Gain: 1.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 552 feet (168 meters) across all dunes

Description: This challenging trail takes hikers over the three highest dunes in the park, offering spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area.

It’s a popular challenge for those looking to test their stamina and enjoy some of the best views in the park. The steep climbs and sandy trails make it a tough but rewarding hike.

Trail 9 - Heron Rookery Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.3 miles one way with minimal elevation gain

Description: Known for its beautiful wildflowers in the spring and bird watching opportunities, the Heron Rookery Trail offers a peaceful hike along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River. The trail is relatively flat and is a great way to experience the quieter side of the park’s diverse habitats.

Glenwood Dunes Trail

Rating: Easy to Moderate

Distance and Elevation Gain: Varies, up to 6.4 miles loop with minimal elevation gain

Description: This extensive trail system offers a variety of loops through beautiful dune landscapes, oak forests, and open meadows. It’s accessible year-round, popular for hiking, horseback riding, and in winter, cross-country skiing. The trails are well-marked, offering options for all skill levels and interests, including access to the Glenwood Dunes Extension for longer hikes.


1. What is Indiana Dunes National Park known for?

Indiana Dunes National Park, located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana, is known for its stunning sand dunes, diverse ecosystems, and picturesque beaches.

The park features over 15,000 acres of dunes, woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, offering visitors a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities. It is renowned for its towering sand dunes, some reaching up to 200 feet (61 meters) high, which provide breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape.

Indiana Dunes National Park is also known for its rich biodiversity, with over 350 species of birds and diverse plant and animal communities found within its boundaries.

Additionally, the park’s scenic beaches attract visitors seeking swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing opportunities along the shores of Lake Michigan.

  • All Trails, Best Trails in Indian Dunes National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Indian Dunes National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Indiana Dunes, Official Guide,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
  • National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • National Park Service, Indiana Dunes,, retrieved April 2024.