Indiana Dunes National Park is the newest park in the national park system and, with its easily accessible location just south of Chicago (there’s even train service available from the city), it makes for a perfect visit when you’re in the area.
Given the park’s setting on Lake Michigan, it goes without saying it comes with some pretty fantastic beaches. There are 15 total miles of sandy beach within the park, open year-round, in case you want to sunbathe in the summer or just admire the icy lake in the winter. If you don’t mind a bit of a hike to get to the beach, go to Mount Baldy Beach, where you get awesome views of the park’s notable dune system (including the largest dune, Mount Baldy), as well as views of the Chicago skyline in the far distance on clear days. Visit in the late afternoon for minuscule crowds. If, though, you want a few of the typical beach amenities, like showers and lifeguards, go to the more popular West Beach.
This park isn’t only about the beaches. There are magnificent spots to hike as well, with landscapes a world away from the sandy shores. There are 14 trail systems and 50 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to more strenuous all-day endeavors. The Cowles Bog Trail System features one of the more difficult hikes, but it also gives you an up-close look at the park’s amazing plant diversity, with views of swamps, marshes and black oak savannas. For something easier, try the Great Marsh Trail System for wetland views and plenty of bird-watching opportunities. If you have smaller children, though, and need a short, easy hike, the Dune Ridge Trail System is the way to go. The hike is less than a mile and only takes a half-hour.
A Little History
For a bit of history, visit the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes. A unique park feature unlike anything you’ll see in any other national park, these homes were part of an early 20th-century housing development, a marketing ploy by two developers who wanted to attract potential buyers to the area. The homes were on display during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, as examples of futuristic accommodations. After the fair, they were moved via barge to this spot in the Indiana Dunes region, where developers gave potential buyers tours of the homes until the development was abandoned. Now, the homes have been wonderfully remodeled (all except for one, which is still under construction) and the exteriors alone attract many visitors interested in their unique history.