Hiking Indiana Dunes

Hiking Indiana Dunes

Our quest to visit all of the US National Parks continues. In all actuality, this is Natalie’s goal, not mine. But I’m certainly here for the ride and that’s how we found ourselves hiking Indiana Dunes in Gary, Indiana.

A young woman, wearing black pants and a black jacket, poses next to the sign for Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana.
Natalie posing next to the sign. This has become our tradition in visiting the US National Parks.

The drive from the Columbus area is about 4 1/2 hours. You can certainly do it in one day, but if you’d like you can make a weekend of your travels. It’s only an additional 45 minutes to Chicago. On the way there, we took a quick stop at Lulu’s Diner in Lima for breakfast, which I highly recommend.

Many of the national parks charge admission and Indiana Dunes is no exception. The entrance fee for the day was $25 for our car. Walk-in or bike-ins are $15 per person. The pass is actually good for up to seven days.

A young woman wearing all black is seen hiking Inidana Dunes. The sky is blue and the dunes are in the distance.
The first section of the trail was wide, flat and paved. At least a portion of the trail would be accessible for most hikers with mobility issues.

If you plan to visit the adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park, they charge an entrance fee of $12 per car for non-Indiana plates. One special note is that both parks do have camping facilities that can be reserved through the websites.

Hiking Indiana Dunes

We decided on the Dune Succession Trail. This trail wound it’s way around and through the dunes, all they way to the shores of Lake Michigan.

A young woman dressed in black squats to examine the sand on the hiking trail at Indiana Dunes.
It’s a bit unusual to be hiking on sand here in the Midwest.

As I walked along the beach, I sighed. Finally a hike with no hills, no steps, no up and down and up again.

Lake Michigan is beautiful, clear and cold. As we sat watching the waves, we picked out the skyline of Chicago in the distance. There were very few people there on the beach, but I imagine in the summer it would be filled with beach goers. There at West Beach there were shower facilities and life-guard stands.

Hiking Indiana Dunes to Lake Michigan. The outline of the city of Chicago is seen across the lake.
From the shores of Lake Michigan you can see the outline of Chicago in the distance. It’s 36 miles away.

As we continued the hike, back toward the parking lot, we headed through a forest and that’s when I saw it. Stairs. There were so many stairs. And there I was on the usual journey, up and down and up again. Natalie, with her young knees, laughed at my plight. I’ve got to stop hiking with her.

Diana of the Dunes

At one of my many stops to rest, I learned about Diana of the Dunes. Diana was born Alice Mabel Gray in Chicago, but was given the nickname Diana of the Dunes by a local reporter, posting a story of her life in Indiana Dunes.

A young woman dressed all in black squats to test the temperature of Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan is beautiful, cold and clear.

Alice was educated at the University of Chicago and at one time worked for the US Naval Observatory in Washington DC, performing mathematical calculations. Then, at some point, frustrated with city life, she decided to move to the shores of Lake Michigan and live there on the dunes.

A long line of wooden steps leading to the top of a giant sand dune.
There were so many steps on the way back (if you have mobility issues, turn around at the beach and go back the way you came). At the top of this dune, the steps went down and then back up again. Natalie found this hilarious.

She lived fairly isolated in a shack and mostly ate berries and fish. She occasionally walked to town for provisions and to visit the Miller branch of the Gary Public Library. After gaining notoriety from the many news articles on her life in the dunes, Alice began to speak and write about the preservation of the Dunes which were being threatened with increased development.

Diversity in Our National Parks

I continue to be surprised with the diversity in our National Parks. My experience in the past has been with a few of the parks out west and the Smokey Mountains. Now, we’ve hiked to glaciers in Alaska and to a beautiful beach in the US Virgin Islands. We’ve hiked over giant sand dunes and through a swamp. We’ve hiked up mountains and down into tremendous gorges. It’s true that no two parks are alike.

If you plan to visit Indiana Dunes, make sure to bring comfortable footwear and plenty of water. I left my hiking stick at home, but it would have come in handy, especially in trying to get some traction going up the dunes trail. And be sure to dump the sand out of your shoes before you get back in the car! As usual, you’ll want to check their website before you travel.

The view from the top of a giant sand dune at Indiana Dunes National Park. You can see Chicago in the distance across Lake Michigan and the beach facilities at West Beach.
From the top of the first set of stairs you can see out across the dunes, all the way to Chicago. You can also see the facilities at West Beach.

Thanks for joining us FindingOhio and beyond. We enjoy bringing you with us on our travels. If you’re looking to start your National Parks journey, consider starting close to home with Ohio’s own Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Cleveland area.

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