Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago

By: Liz Behler

October 27, 2014

When most people think of the Midwest, they don’t think of towering sand dunes and diverse ecosystems. But just 53 miles southeast of Chicago, that’s exactly what you’ll find. It really couldn’t be easier to explore the Indiana Dunes from Chicago…
Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | Running down the dunes
Running down the Indiana Dunes © Flickr/DrewskiMac

The Indiana Dunes are made up of two park systems””the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the surrounding Dunes State Park. The National Lakeshore stretches 15 miles along the southernmost edge of Lake Michigan and is known for its light, sugar sand beaches. The State Park also has its own beaches, as well as a varied landscape that includes bogs, marshes, swamps, prairies, rivers, savannahs and forest canopies.

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | Beaches
Dunes leading to the beaches © Indiana Dunes Tourism

While plenty of visitors come here to lounge lakeside at one of the area’s many beaches (West Beach is a favourite for swimming and sunbathing, and Kemil Beach is known for its white sands and spectacular sunsets) you should plan to bring comfortable shoes if you want to explore some of the 20-plus hiking trails in the area.

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | West Beach trail
West Beach Trail © Indiana Dunes Tourism

More than 70 miles of trails wind through the Indiana Dunes, and hikes range from easy strolls on paved walkways to heart pumping climbs on rugged paths. If you’re short on time (or energy), try the Calumet Dunes Trail, a 0.8-mile paved trail that travels through gently rolling dunes, swampland and towering red and white oak trees. On the other end of the spectrum, the state park’s Trail #8 is a 1.5-mile trek over the tops of the Indiana Dunes three highest dunes””Mt. Jackson (176 ft), Mt. Holden (184 ft) and Mt. Tom (192 ft). While the trail is difficult, the views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline from the nearby observation platform are worth the effort. For a more moderate hike, try Trail #9, a 3.75-mile trail with stunning views of the dunes and lake.

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | Hiking trail running through the dunes
One of the many hiking trails that runs through the Indiana Dunes© Indiana Dunes Tourism

Other outdoor pursuits include horseback riding the Glenwood Dunes Trail, biking the Calumet Bike Trail, and bird watching some of the 350 varieties of birds that live in the parks.

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | Florida House
The Florida House is one of five homes built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair © Flickr/JJ

If you’re interested in checking out some man-made wonders, the Century of Progress Homes also sit inside the National Lakeshore Park. The five homes were built for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to showcase modern architecture and new inventions, such as air conditioning and dishwashers. While private owners have since leased the homes, the grounds do open for one day each October for ranger-led tours that give an inside look at the structures. If you’re not able to attend on the specific day, you can still visit the area for an outside view (but please, no trespassing).

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago | Chicago across the water
Chicago skyline as seen from the dunes © Flickr/vxla

Getting There

Exploring the Indiana Dunes from Chicago is a fun and easy day trip. Renting a car will give you more flexibility and the chance to literally cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. Once near the dunes, Highway 12 will carry you the length of the lakefront, with multiple access points leading to the beaches. If a car is out of the question, the Indiana Dunes can still be reached via a 90-minute train ride on the Chicago South Shore Line, which has multiple stops within the parks.

Header image © Gail Fisher/Flickr

Virgin Atlantic operates a seasonal direct service to Chicago from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Did you travel to the Indiana Dunes from Chicago? Where was your favourite spot? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Liz Behler


Liz Behler

Liz Behler is a Chicago-based writer and editor who covers food, drink and travel. Her work has been published by a number of outlets, including Fodor’s, Wine Enthusiast and National Geographic. She previously worked as Features Editor for AOL Travel before leaving her post to travel non-stop for a year. Follow her @LizBehler

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