More than 15 miles of beautiful beaches and breathtaking sand dunes stretch across northwest Indiana along Lake Michigan. Stretching from Gary, Indiana to Michigan City, Indiana is one of the best kept secrets in the Hoosier state: the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. The sun and sand is just a three hour drive from downtown Indianapolis, perfect for a day trip or an extended vacation.
Outdoor activities at the park include hiking, swimming, horseback riding, camping, skiing, fishing and bird-watching. There really is something for everyone at the historical, educational and downright fun Indiana Dunes. The hot and lazy summer months is the most popular time to visit the Indiana Dunes, but camping and other activities are available in the Spring and Fall too. Winters are cold in northwest Indiana, but the beach views are beautiful in the snowy winter months. Some visitors even enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Bird-watching is a major activity at the Indiana Dunes, because there are more than 350 species of birds that live in the versatile atmosphere. Sand dunes, bogs, marshes, swamps, fens, rivers, forests, oak savannas and prairies make up the natural habitat of the Indiana Dunes. Thousands of different plant and animal species, including several endangered ones, call the Indiana Dunes their home. In fact, the dunes are known to have some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the entire Midwest. Scientists, students, vacationers and artists can all share a love for this unique Indiana attraction.
The formation of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park dates back as early as 1899, when efforts raised to preserve these unique lands. Chicago businesses were expanding rapidly eastward, and development along Lake Michigan soared. Steel Mills and power plants were quickly taking up the coastlines, and a group of activists spoke out. Their "Save the Dunes Council" eventually convinced politicians to take action on the state and national level. Indiana Dunes State Park formed in 1925, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore came about in 1966.
The Indiana Dunes State Park offers tons of fun for the whole family, with a campground, picnic areas, shelters, hiking trails and a free public beach that stays open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 1974, this state park was recognized as a National Natural Landmark. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is managed by the National Park Service. The National Lakeshore surrounds the State Park, but several spaces throughout the 15,000 acre lakeshore are privately owned. That's why maps are necessary when exploring this park.
Hiking to the top of the largest "living" dune is a favorite route for many visitors. Standing at 123 feet tall, Mount Baldy actually moves south at a pace of four or five feet per year. When the giant sand dune moves, it dissolves all trees and other vegetation in its path. Trails lead through the woods to the top of Mount Baldy, where hikers can view the Chicago skyline on a clear day. It's quite a feat to make it to the top of Mount Baldy, the steep sandy paths offer an athletic challenge.