Visiting Indiana Dunes: big outdoor adventure on and off the dunes
This is a sponsored post through Indiana Dunes Tourism. We have been compensated by Indiana Dunes Tourism, but all opinions remain our own. We would never steer you in the wrong direction!
For us, a weekend getaway is about two things: disconnecting from our work lives, and reconnecting with each other.
Ever since Cole and I lived outside for a year, we have found that the best way for us to reconnect is by getting outdoors. As soon as our phones say “no service,” we know we’re home.
As we prepared for our weekend in Indiana Dunes, in northwestern Indiana along Lake Michigan, we wanted to find the best and most under-the-radar hiking, biking, and kayaking opportunities in the area, and I’d say we were quite successful. In true Switchback Kids fashion, we found amazing views and empty trails.
Today we’re sharing our own experiences and additional options for exploring the Indiana Dunes area by foot, pedal, and paddle.
Whenever we plan a trip, no matter where we are headed, we always look at hiking opportunities. In Indiana Dunes, we found plenty of options both on and off the dunes.
Because the area is extensive, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes State Park, and several smaller parks, we searched for hikes comprehensively through the visitor website and sites like All Trails. These sites both gave us a good overview of our options.
As we drove into the Dunes from the west, we headed straight to West Beach, in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which features a moderate 3.5-mile loop trail encompassing three smaller loop trails. The trail includes several scenery changes, from dunes and a view of Chicago’s skyline to Long Lake and water bird spotting. Because of its diversity of terrain, this was our favorite hike of the weekend.
On our second day in Indiana Dunes, we decided to beat the heat and hike the popular 1.5-mile 3 Dune Challenge loop — in Indiana Dunes State Park — during sunrise. This is a difficult trail that climbs the three tallest dunes in the state park. It is popular and hot during the peak summer season, so we’d recommend arriving early in the day to hike. If you plan to watch the sunrise, we’d suggest trying to time it when you climb Mt. Jackson, as this was the best view. And, stick to the trail! We accidentally started backwards, from the beach side, and entered the trail incorrectly, which got us quickly lost. Once we found the trail back, it was very clearly labeled, but it’s important to stay off the fragile terrain.
Finally, we hiked the Little Calumet River Trail, an easy 3.7-mile loop near Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm. This trail winds through a forest and past the homestead of the first non-native resident of the region. It also traverses a preserved field of tallgrass, which makes up 1/10 of 1% of the original tallgrass in this area.
Beyond the three hikes we completed, here are few other highly-rated trails to check out:
- Cowles Bog Trail (4.4 miles, 324 ft. elevation gain)
- Tolleston Dunes (3.2 miles, 272 ft. elevation gain)
- Glenwood Dunes Loop (7.4 miles, 265 ft. elevation gain)
- Dune Ridge Trail (1 mile, 147 ft. elevation gain)
We like to implement a little biking into our trips if possible, so even though we decided to leave our own bikes at home, we were still able to enjoy this activity by renting bikes through Pedal Power.
Pedal Power is located right at the Indiana Dunes visitor center, so it was easy to park there and bike along the 2.2 mile paved trail to the beach. We booked a self-guided sunset ride, which are available each Friday and Saturday. Even though our ride was complimentary, we were fully ready to pay the affordable $10 per person for this tour. We appreciated their great service, flexibility, and of course, not having to lug our own bikes around with us the rest of the weekend.
There are many other opportunities for biking throughout the Dunes area that we didn’t make it to:
- Imagination Glen Outback Trail (10-mile mountain biking trail)
- Prairie Duneland Trail (10.4-mile paved path)
- Calumet Bike Trail (9.2-mile gravel trail)
Ever since we bought an inflatable kayak for our year in the national parks, we try to use it as much as we can, especially when exploring a new area.
We did a lot of research online before arriving, but as always, the best information we found was face-to-face at the visitor center upon arriving. A park ranger gave us two suggestions, and we were able to explore both before the weekend was over.
Our first outing was to Marquette Park in Gary, about 10 minutes west of our hotel (Best Western in Chesterton). There is a handicap-accessible non-motorized watercraft launch into the lagoon located near the pavilion. It took us about an hour to leisurely paddle around the lagoon, which led us under four bridges and right up next to the dunes. After we hiked on the dunes and saw them from the beach, paddling up to the dunes gave us a unique perspective.
On our last morning, we woke up early again to paddle a new area: Trail Creek, located about 15 minutes east of Chesteron in Michigan City. Another handicap-accessible ramp from Hansen Park, located behind Blue Chip Casino, leads into the creek, which gently winds down through parks and a golf course. Downed trees prevented us from going too far, but we were still able to enjoy the changing leaves and the gentle creek path. It was a slow-flowing creek, so we were able to paddle upstream then float our way back downstream.
Other options for paddling your way around the dunes include:
- Other stops along the Lake Michigan Water Trail
- Kankakee River (using a shuttle car or an outfitter for transportation)
- Valparaiso Chain of Lakes (Long Lake, Loomis Lake, and Spectacle Lake near Valparaiso)
Of course, if hiking, biking, and kayaking aren’t your thing, you can still find plenty to do in Indiana Dunes’ great outdoors. There are ample opportunities for birding, fishing, camping, and relaxing on the beach throughout the area.
And we didn’t just stay outside all day. Stay tuned for next week’s post about the local culture, arts, food, and history we experienced during our weekend getaway.
This post was sponsored by Indiana Dunes Tourism, but all opinions are our own.