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I “drove by” Indiana Dunes National Park on my trip through the Eastern 26. I’ll give you a rundown of my thoughts about the park below. Overall, I personally rank it below average for my taste. But, I’ll provide some reasons and suggest why you might (or might not) enjoy the visit. Again, here’s the link back to the overall post for the trip. And a link to the entire Indiana portion. And, maybe a few answers to why visit Indiana Dunes?
After leaving Michigan, I visited Indiana Dunes National Park. (I know, I already said that!) This one became a National Park in February 2019. Before its National Park status, Indiana Dunes became a National Lakeshore in 1966. The National Park Service (NPS) also operates National Lakeshores.
(In addition to National Parks and National Lakeshores, the NPS has about 20 additional naming designations. For example, National Battlefields, National Historic Sites, and National Monuments.) Here’s a link to the National Park Service website. By the way, there’s likely a lot more than you want to know!
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More about “Why Visit Indiana Dunes”
Indiana Dunes makes a great view along Lake Michigan. So, why do you want to visit? I’ll get to that in a minute. I wanted to show you three more pictures above. The lake offers sailing as well as beach-going. The park does lie near several large population centers. And near two major east/west Interstates. Both I-90 and I-80 run nearby.
10 Reasons to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park – Why Visit Indiana Dunes
Here’s a list of the reasons, with a short paragraph below the list.
- It’s a National Park
- It’s on “my” bucket list!
- Learn more about sand dunes on the Great Lakes
- Another mid-western beach experience
- Birding and “creature-watching”
- Hiking through a nature preserve
- Get a break from the summer heat
- “It’s along my path!”
- It’s one of the most biodiverse parks in the country
- And it’s close to Chicago!
It’s a National Park. Why Visit Indiana Dunes?
For some people, that’s all it takes. They just want to see or enjoy any national park, although…
It’s on “my” Bucket List
..is likely a better reason to visit! My personal “bucket list” includes all the National Parks. However, it’s not important enough that I go hundreds of miles out of my way to see them all. I’m sure many of you feel the same way. I’m my “humble” opinion; this is a park you shouldn’t go out of your way to see. (Sorry, you lovers of this park!)
Learn more about sand dunes on the Great Lakes
This park presents an excellent opportunity to learn about sand dunes on Lake Michigan. This lake is unique among the five Great Lakes in its orientation on the map and geography. The combination creates many dunes on the Eastern and Southeastern shores. I’ve read several articles that indicate Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore makes for better viewing and more hiking and other activities.
Another mid-western beach experience
For many, the only beach experiences are the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. However, they may be pleasantly surprised with the mid-western beach experiences. Of course, the season is shorter! And the water is colder! The eastern shore of Lake Michigan provides some great beach experiences. (Here’s a link to another post about my Lake Michigan experience near Saugatuck, MI.)
Birding and “creature-watching” .. Another Why Visit Indiana Dunes
Remembering that all National Parks’ primary purpose is preservation, with tourism being second, this park is a birders paradise. You will also find other animals along the hiking trails. For example, over 350 species of birds find a home in the park.
Hiking through a nature preserve
Again, National Parks are effectively nature preserves. Although the primary “call” to the park is the beach, hiking trails also beckon. With the state park adjacent to the National Park, over 70 miles of hiking trail exist here. The park contains 37 miles of interconnected biking trails as well.
By the way, while at the National Park, you might want to visit the state park as well. A 1.5-mile trail highlights that park. The trail takes you to the three highest peaks on the shoreline. Mount Tom rises to 192 feet above the level of the lake. (I realize it’s not a “mountain” by any stretch of the imagination!) Again, this one rises from the State Park.
The tallest dune within the National Park lies immediately on the lake’s edge on the eastern end of the park. While the height varies due to erosion, it’s currently at 173 feet as of September 2021. Due to its location, this dune moves approximately 4 feet inland every year! It’s beginning to encroach on the parking lot next to it. By the way, climbing the dunes immediately along the lake is prohibited due to the constantly shifting sand.
Get a break from the summer heat.
If you don’t live in the midwest, you likely don’t realize how hot it gets at times. The Great Lakes act like natural air conditioners. The temperatures will often be lower along the lake. Also, swimming depends on how “hardy” you are as the water reaches the mid-70s in July and August.
(Lake Superior provides more than the other lakes due to its northernmost location and depth that holds the lake at a much lower temperature. But that’s a story for another post!) If you live close to here, another answer to Why Visit Indiana Dunes!
“It’s along my path!”
I realize I mentioned it above, but the park lies near I-80, I-90, and I-94. Especially in summer, all three interstates provide east/west paths to vacationers and travelers. I-90 and I-94 both veer north again as they come around the southern end of Lake Michigan. I-90 remains the longest stretch of Interstate as the eastern terminal is Logan Airport in Boston, and the western terminal is adjacent to the Port of Seattle. I-94 connects Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis/St. Paul and many other smaller cities. Some of the smaller cities are Madison, WI, Fargo-Moorhead, ND/MN, Bismarck, ND, and Billings, MT, where it joins I-90.
It’s one of the most biodiverse parks in the country.
Despite its size of 15,349 acres making it the second smallest National Park, Indiana Dunes is also one of the most biodiverse parks. The park provides a home to over 350 species of birds, over 150 other vertebrate animals, nearly 300 invertebrates, and approximately 1400 plant species. Of course, the NPS provides literature and lectures on all of the biodiversity found here.
In spite of the diversity and the location, I still rate this a below-average park due to its size and more dunes further north in Michigan.
And it’s close to Chicago! (Why Visit Indiana Dunes)
Probably a final reason for many visitors is the proximity of Chicago. From Chicago’s eastern border to the park’s western border is only about 40 miles. Since the park itself only runs for 20 miles along Lake Michigan, it’s within reach of much of Chicagoland, nearly 9 million people! And the northernmost and northwesternmost parts of the Chicago area still are only up to 75 miles away. Even Detroit is less than 250 miles away and Indianapolis about 150 miles. Those cities and surrounding areas likely put over 30 million people within 250 or so miles of the park. And that’s a good answer to “Why Visit Indiana Dunes”!
Again, Why Visit Indiana Dunes?
Shown first, above, is a beach view about why people visit this park. When I visited on a Sunday afternoon in September, the crowd left early! Next, the second and third pictures show the largest sand dune in the national park. And, did you know this dune moves inland by about four feet every year! It’s now near a parking lot. And “encroachment” will happen soon! So, there you go, some answers to Why Visit Indiana Dunes?
Classic Rock Recollection
“Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor
Indiana wants me
Lord, I can’t go back there
Written by: R. Dean Taylor