If you were to conduct a scientific survey of Americans and ask them to name things they associate with Indiana, it seems unlikely that beaches (opposite, top) would be a common response. Yet, there are beaches in Indiana, and nice ones at that. The southern shore of Lake Michigan was once a largely unbroken stretch of beach, bounded by magnificent sand dunes. Industrial development swept many of those dunes away, but some remain. Indiana Dunes State Park is special in offering what is probably the longest stretch of undeveloped beach left in the state – nearly three miles of it.
Though more than five miles long, Trail 10 is your best choice if you want to explore the park’s Lake Michigan shoreline. The trail follows the beach for most of its extent in the park before heading inland and returning, sandwiched between the back side of the dunes and wetlands to the south. Most of Trail 10 lies within the Dunes Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark.
Trail 2 begins along the inland side of trail 10 and, pending repairs after several years of closure, heads south across a long boardwalk that traverses a large, partially wooded wetland. It then veers west and returns toward the developed areas of the park through recent woods. During the spring, this trail is excellent for wildflowers. Trail 9 is a challenging option, consisting of a nearly four-mile lollipop that scrambles over dunes and past blowouts, in the process offering great views of Lake Michigan. I find it especially appealing at the end of the day, as the sun sets over the lake with the Chicago skyline in the distant background.
Trail 4 begins near the campground shelter and makes its way to the lake shore, passing close to Mt. Tom, tallest of the dunes in the park, topping out at 192 feet above Lake Michigan. Mount Holden (184 feet) and Mount Jackson (176 feet) are nearby. Trail 4 also connects with trail 8, which meanders from the Wilson Shelter southeast of the Nature Center to the shore via several high dunes. The beach area is extremely crowded in summer, but comparative solitude is an option for those willing to walk, especially in the cooler months. Whatever the time of year, this park belongs on any short list of Indiana’s best natural destinations.