As the name implies, the Indiana Dunes State Park is best known for its big sandy hills that line the Lake Michigan lakeshore. And yes, you have more than three miles of very nice beach among the 2,182 acres of the park, with a long-distance view of the Chicago skyline on a clear day. But the dunes next to the beach offer some of the most challenging hiking around and a very unique experience for trail runners looking for a different kind of destination run.
The state park features seven different trails—rated from easy to rugged—which tour the dunes and the adjacent nature preserve. That means that while you can certainly attempt to tackle the towering dunes, you also can explore trails that are more suitable for running. Find a trail map on the second page of the pamphlet here.
What Makes It Great
You’d be hard pressed to find an area with more diverse terrain. You have sandy beaches and dunes, hard-packed trails and even boardwalks over marshes in the trail system. The 5.5-mile trail No. 10 is the largest at the dunes, and it offers a big loop that goes out via the nature preserve and back along the dunes and the beach. Trail No. 9 is a 3.75-mile loop inside the preserve, with plenty of climbing.
The No. 2 trail is a relatively flat 3 miles with an extended boardwalk section over one of the interior marshes that makes for a great warm-up or cool down. Trail No. 8 will take you up to Mt. Tom, the highest sand dune in Indiana, which rises 192 feet above Lake Michigan.
Part of the park’s mission is to protect and preserve that natural lakeside landscape, which is sadly gone through most of the industrial belt between Chicago and Michigan City, Ind. So all visitors are encouraged to stay on designated paths to limit erosion and safeguard native plants and animals.
You'll remember the sandy climbs. Take off those shoes and take on the Devil’s Slide and other trails that take you straight up the dunes. It’s a good place for hill intervals that will really get your heart-rate up. Then you can go for a dip and cool off in Lake Michigan.
Who is Going to Love It
Let’s start with hikers looking for a good workout with climbing. The park is also perfect for nature lovers interested in exploring the unique ecosystem of dunes and marshes around Lake Michigan. And trail runners who want to take on some sand—as well as traditional trails—will enjoy the mix of surfaces.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The park is open every day from 7 am to 11 pm. Indiana drivers pay $5 for parking, out-of-state vehicles pay $10. Enter the park via Route 49, north of the Dunes Highway, also called Route 12. Camping is available in the park at some very nice campgrounds. Reservations are a good idea, as they tend to fill up quickly. http://indianastateparks.reserveamerica.com