Located almost in the shadow of the factory smokestacks of Gary, Indiana and Chicago, there is a natural wonderland where water and sand come together to form a wonderful natural playground where visitors can hike miles of trails, relax on the beach, fly kites, camp, swim, and picnic.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan and has much to offer. Whether you enjoy looking for rare species of birds, exploring sunny prairies, winding rivers, and peaceful forests, or hiking 45 miles of trails over rugged dunes and through mysterious wetlands, the National Lakeshore’s 15,000 acres will delight you.
The best place to start your visit to the Lakeshore is at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, where you can watch a video, view lobby displays about Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park, and check out the Artist-in-Residence exhibits. The Visitor Center also has a small gift shop where you can shop for books about nature and the local area, as well as souvenirs. The Visitor Center is located at 1215 N. State Route 49 in Porter, Indiana. The Visitor Center is open daily; summer hours 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. and winter hours 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The Visitor Center is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Though it is located within an urban setting, the Lakeshore is a treasure of natural resources. The park has over 15,000 acres of dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests. Lake Michigan is part of the largest complex of freshwater lakes in the world. The National Lakeshore’s beaches are the park’s most popular recreational resource.
Inland from the beaches, sand dunes rise to almost 200 feet in a series of ridges and valleys. The dunes vary from over 125 feet high to short grass topped dunes. Wetlands fill many depressions between the dunes ridges. At 126 feet high and moving inward at an average rate of four feet per year, Mount Baldy is the largest moving dune within Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
The biological diversity in the National Lakeshore is amazing with, over 1,100 flowering plant species and ferns, from bog plants to native prairie grasses, to towering white pines.
The wildlife that call the Lakeshore home or stop there on their annual migrations is just as diverse. The park is famous among bird watchers; over 350 species have been observed there. Located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the National Lakeshore is an important feeding and resting area for migrating land and water birds. One area within the National Lakeshore has been set aside especially for its value as a great blue heron rookery.
The shoreline can be accessed from parking lots strung out along its fifteen mile length. All beach parking is free of charge, with the exception of a user fee at West Beach from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, when a $6 per vehicle fee is accessed. The largest parking lot at the Lakeshore is West Beach, which seldom fills. Every beach access parking lot has restrooms. Showers are available at West Beach. Gas grills are permitted at all picnic shelters. Handicapped accessible parking lots include West Beach, Lakeview, and Dunbar. (Photos courtesy National Park Service.)
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Thought For The Day – When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty. – George Bernard Shaw