View of Dunes on Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park Indiana

Where is Indiana Dunes National Park

Set upon the southern shore of lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park resides in the state of Indiana. The park’s visitor center is located in Porter, Indiana. The park protects several natural areas and a variety of endangered, threatened, or rare species. Indiana Dunes National Park also contains several historic landmarks, an extensive trail system, a campground, and access to the Burns Waterway. The national park lies south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois, west of Detroit, Michigan, and north of Indianapolis, Indiana. Of these cities Chicago and Indianapolis are the closest to the national park. Chicago is about an hour drive away from the park and Indianapolis is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from the park.

How Large is Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes US National Park contains several diverse environments including sand dunes, the prairie, river, wetland, and forest ecosystems. These ecosystems are all spread across the national park’s total area of more than 15,000 acres. However, the park only has acquired about 95 percent of the land within its authorized boundaries. The other five percent of this land is tied to individuals’ holdings and Indiana Dunes State Park. The state park falls within the boundaries of the national park but is owned and managed by the state of Indiana. The state also manages the Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve located within the national park. The park’s borders stretch to cover about 25 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

View Overlooking Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Park Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park Weather

Indiana Dunes National Park possesses a humid continental climate. Locations associated with this type of climate normally experience hot summers and cold winters. The average summer temperatures of the park fluctuate between 65- and 95-degrees Fahrenheit, whereas winter temperatures in the park average between 15- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit. Lake Michigan, the primary feature of Indiana Dunes National Park, also attributes to several weather conditions experienced by the park. In the winter, winds blowing off of the lake may contribute to shelf ice which can be extremely dangerous to traverse. Rip currents may also appear in Lake Michigan in the summer as winds blow across the lake's surface. These weather conditions are extremely dangerous and should be treated with caution. Winter snowfall in the park averages around 40 inches and can also contribute to dangerous conditions.

When did Indiana Dunes Become a National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park is the newest national park in the National Park System, and the only national park located in the state of Indiana. The park was upgraded from a national lakeshore to a national park in February of 2019. The park first received its designation as a national lakeshore in November of 1966. Indiana Sand Dunes State Park contained within the national park was first created in 1926. The National Park Service continues to purchase land contained within the park’s borders when it becomes available.

Things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park offers visitors a diverse set of outdoor recreation activities and opportunities. Our National Park Visitors Guide discusses the most popular and intriguing adventures below:

Enjoy a Beach Day

Visitors arriving at Indiana Dunes National Park will find more than fifteen miles of sandy beach set along the shores of Lake Michigan. These beaches offer visitors the opportunity to relax, swim, take a sunset walk, and spend time with their family. Within Indiana Dunes National Park there are several parking lots that enable visitors to easily access the beach and its facilities. West Beach in the park is also outfitted with showers and lifeguards during peak season. Visitors recreating in the water of Lake Michigan should beware of rip currents.

Cast a Fishing Line

Anglers visiting Indiana Dunes National Park will want to take advantage of the various fishing opportunities provided by the park. Visitors looking to fish in the park will need to first obtain a valid Indiana freshwater fishing license, and a Great Lakes Trout Stamp to harvest and target trout within Lake Michigan. All other Indiana fishing regulations also apply within the national park.

Paddle a Kayak or Canoe

In recent years, kayaking and canoeing on Lake Michigan has become extremely popular due to the creation of the Lake Michigan Water Trail. All visitors planning to kayak or canoe on Lake Michigan should check the weather forecast before heading on to the lake. Sudden storms and high winds can appear on Lake Michigan without much warning. During changing conditions the lake can become quite dangerous.

Hike a Trail in the Park

The various trails systems of Indiana Dunes National Park cover over 50 miles of hiking trails. These fourteen different trails traverse the various ecosystems of the national park, and grant visitors the opportunity to become familiar with the ecology, geography, geology, and cultural history of Indiana Dunes National Park. Trail maps can be obtained from the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center and viewed online through the park’s website.

Wildlife Viewing in the Park

Indiana Dunes National Park contains a plethora of wildlife and avian species. Mammals that call the park home include white-tailed deer, beavers, squirrels, red foxes, racoons, chipmunks, several species of mice, and a few species of bats. More than 350 species of birds have also been spotted throughout the national park. This number of bird species makes the national park one the most diverse bird locations in the national park system.

Camping in Indiana Dunes National Park

The Dunewood Campground at Indiana Dunes National Park contains sites suited for recreational vehicles and more primitive sites designed for tent campers. All campsites require reservations and can be reserved up to six months in advance. The campground also contains water, modern bathrooms, showers, and an amphitheater. The national park hosts a variety of campground programs in the amphitheater.

View of Boardwalk Steps Down a Dune at Indiana Dunes National Park Indiana

When to Visit Indiana Dunes National Park

Visitors can travel to Indiana Dunes National Park throughout the entire year. However, visitors wishing to take full advantage of all the outdoor recreation opportunities the park offers may wish to visit the park in the summer. During the season visitation in the park is at its peak, for temperatures are the most conducive to outdoor recreation. Visitors arriving at the park in the winter should plan to experience snowfall. Occasionally, during intense winter weather, the park is required to close certain roads or facilities in order to ensure the safety of park visitors and staff.

Must Have Items to Bring to Indiana Dunes National Park

Visitors looking to plan a trip to Indiana Dunes National Park will want to bring a variety of supplies and equipment along with them. These supplies and items will ensure visitor comfort and enjoyment. List of Parks outlines a list which contains items that are essential and some that should be considered. 

Water & Snacks

Almost every outdoor recreation trip requires supplies of water and high energy snacks. Water will enable visitors of Indiana Dunes National Park to remain hydrated as they traverse the many trails of the park or recreate on Lake Michigan. Energy filled snacks will enable visitors to gain an added boost of energy late in the day or near the end of a long hiking trail. 

Sturdy Hiking Boots

All visitors planning to hike the various trails found at Indiana Dunes National Park will want to purchase a pair of sturdy hiking boots to accompany them on their trip. These boots will come in handy as the various ecosystems found within the national park each contain various terrain. Visitors looking for added comfort and protection should purchase a lightweight and waterproof pair of hiking boots.

Sunscreen, Swimsuit, Sunglasses

Sunscreen, swimsuits, and sunglasses will be very useful to visitors planning to recreate in and around Lake Michigan. Visitors planning to wear their sunglasses into the lake or while fishing on the lake should look to purchase a cheap pair that they are not worried about damaging or losing. Sunscreen can also be useful for hikers planning to spend an extended amount of time under the north Indiana sun.

Fishing Equipment

Anglers visiting Indiana Dunes National Park will want to bring all of their freshwater fishing equipment and tackle to the park. Visitors planning to fish in the park should also obtain a valid Indiana fishing license prior to arriving at the park. These fishing licenses can be purchased online through the state’s own license portal or from several local outfitters located outside of the park.

Camping Equipment

The best way to keep track of all of your camping equipment while packing for Indiana Dunes National Park is to create and utilize a camping checklist. This checklist can be extremely helpful to double check what you have packed before leaving or the park.

River Kayaking in Autumn on The Calumet River in Indiana Dunes National Park Indiana

Where to Stay in Indiana Dunes National Park

Visitors looking to stay within the borders of Indiana Dunes National Park will want to obtain a reservation for one of the park’s campsites. These reservations can be obtained through the park’s website and reservation portal. Several hotels, motels, and other lodging establishments are also located just outside of the national park. Visitors looking to stay in a larger city can make the one-hour drive to Chicago.

Food Near Indiana Dunes National Park

The closest food to Indiana Dunes National Park is located just outside the park’s borders in the city of Porter. Additional restaurants and a larger culinary scene await visitors willing to make the one-hour drive north to Chicago, Illinois. Visitors wishing to drive south from the national park can also find a various selection of restaurants in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Airports Near Indiana Dunes National Park

The Chicago Rockford International Airport is the closest international airport to Indiana Dunes National Park. The international airport is located 132 miles and a two-hour drive away from the national park. The next closest international airport to the national park is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The international airport is located about 168 miles away from Indiana Dunes National Park.

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