Hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park

Hiking in Indiana Dunes National Park

Oh that view.  When you’re inside a forest and feel like you’ve entered a different world…  Do you know what I’m talking about?  This picture captured it for me –  the place I escape to in almost all guided meditations.  I grew up hiking in Indiana, in those dense, cool forests.  I’ve hiked all over the world, and Indiana is still my favorite place to get away for a day hike.  And when you hike at Indiana Dunes, you get to see views too!

Simple idea: hike the sand dunes!

Indiana Dunes Beach on Lake Michigan

So a day at Indiana Dunes includes beach, hills, and hiking.  You can even camp here, which is something I would love to try next time.  The beaches are a little crowded; they’re not huge, and the park is just about 50 miles from Chicago.  So it does bring in a decent crowd.  But the hiking trails were pretty sparse the day that we went, and I could not recommend them more.  Plus, where else can you run up and down a sand dune as much as your heart desires?

Kids running down the Indiana Dunes National Park sand dune


Hiking trails we followed with kids at Indiana Dunes National Park

When we hiked Indiana Dunes, we did trails 8 and 7, backwards.  I’m not sure if there is a forward, or a backward… but it seemed that we chose the opposite direction of the other people we saw on the trail.  And I thought that was the best way to do it, especially with kids.  You knock out the hardest part (climbing the sand dune) at the beginning.


We parked in the lot by the beach, next to the Pavilion and Beach House. And then we walked across the bridge and down onto the beach to start our trek.

The trail:

We wore our tennis shoes, and I will admit that the first part of the hike was a little annoying, because the sand is so deep.  Your shoes do fill with sand. But the mantra is… “It’s all part of the fun of hiking the dunes!”  ;-)

You walk along the water for about 10 minutes until you see the large wooden post as a trail marker with the number 8 carved into it. It’s uphill about 100 feet, so look up for it. It’s well past the end of the marked swimming area.

View from the top of a sand dune at Indiana Dunes National Park

This initial climb is a bit intense. It’s hot for most of the climb, without shade. But you do find shade later at the top of the dune.  So keep working toward that.

You’re also climbing uphill in deep sand, so your heart rate certainly gets going! And so does the complaining from the kids!  But, once you reach the top, it’s smooth sailing and all worth it. Just be prepared to cheer your kids on, and stop for a few rests and water.

I snapped this photo of Bauer and I, and I assumed he would be smiling.  Well…

Hiking with kids in Indiana Dunes State Park

Here’s the good news.  You’re at the top of the hill!

Once you get to the top of the hill, you get to wander through the shaded forest that I love so much about Indiana hikes. It was cool and comfortable in here, with the beautiful singing of the insects and birds around. We went on July 13th, so it was a hot day! But the coverage from the trees is enough to cool things off.

Hiking through the forest at Indiana Dunes National Park

Follow the trail until you get to Mt. Tom. Here you’ll see a beautiful view of the lake and steps that head back down the hill. We chose to go the other direction further back into the woods, down the steps along trail 8.

Stairs on hiking trail at Indiana Dunes State Park

If you follow trail 8 until the intersection of 7 and 8, you can turn right onto 7 and head out of the forest that way. The trail comes out next to the Nature Center, near the campground. From there we made our way back to the beach through the campground, and down the beach trail, which was a wooded boardwalk.

Indiana Dunes National Park boardwalk

We changed into swimsuits at the car and ended our day at sunset on the beach.  You could faintly see Chicago on the opposite side of the lake, but I wasn’t able to capture it with the camera.  I did however get carried away taking photos of the kids in the sunset.

Cool off in Lake Michigan after hiking with kids in Indiana Dunes National Park

Don't forget:

  • cash
  • water bottles
  • bug repellent
  • hats
  • sunblock
  • camera/phone
  • sneakers and flip flops
  • snacks

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