America Has a New National Park — Take a Look Inside
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was officially renamed Indiana Dunes National Park in mid-February, and it is now the 61st U.S. national park.
The park encompasses 15 miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline and 15,000 acres of beaches, woods, prairies, and marshes. The varying landscapes within the park and its soaring dunes provide visitors with activities that include sledding in the winter, maple syrup making in the spring, and bird and wildlife spotting throughout the year.
On the Great Marsh Trail System, for example, visitors can enjoy hikes alongside coots, mallards, ducks, tree swallows, green herons, and more.
Take a look below to see what else you'll find within America's newest national park.
How did Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore become a national park?
The new designation comes after President Donald Trump signed a bill on Friday, Feb. 15, changing Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's official name to Indiana Dunes National Park.
Indiana Dunes State Park — which encompasses over three miles of beach along Lake Michigan’s southern shore and has 2,182 acres of hiking trails and large sand dunes formed over thousands of years — will still be managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Things to do at Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park is home to outdoor activities visitors can enjoy throughout the year, whether they’re looking to take part in beach swims in the summer or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Hiking is an activity that’s popular in the park no matter which season visitors happen to stop by, with some 50 miles of trails that traverse over the park’s rugged dunes, wetlands, prairies, and forests.
The best beaches within Indiana Dunes National Park
In search of an Indiana Dunes beach? Choose from 15 miles of beach terrain along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, where you'll find multiple beaches to explore.
At the Central Avenue Beach, visitors can watch Bank Swallows traveling to and from their nests in the spring and summer. A hike on the West Beach Trail System leads to magnificent views over the lake. West Beach is also the only beach in the national park with lifeguards.
Those visiting in the winter can enjoy views of the fascinating shelf ice that abounds on Lake Michigan.
Where to see the tallest sand dunes
Indiana Dunes State Park is, of course, home to large sand dunes that have formed over thousands of years, with some of the highest dunes towering close to 200 feet over Lake Michigan.
This includes the tallest sand dune in Indiana, Mt. Tom, which towers 192 feet above the lake.
At Indiana Dunes National Park, head to West Beach for clear views of some of the area’s large dunes, or hike up the Dune Succession Trail stairs leading to the top of a dune to get spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
The best dune activities
One of these sand dunes — the Devil’s Slide — is extra fun in the winter, when it transforms into a natural tubing and sledding hill for visitors. Devil’s Slide is located within Indiana Dunes State Park.
Meanwhile, the Glenwood Dunes Trail System at Indiana Dunes National Park features interconnected loops that pass through rolling wooded dunes.
The best hikes for every season
Each season offers hikers different views to look forward to. Colorful wildflowers dot the Little Calumet River throughout April and May, while summer offers top-notch sunset views over the lake.
From late September through October, the Calumet and Porter Brickyard Bike Trails becoming adorned with fall foliage, with peak colors typically occurring around mid-October.
In the winter, hikers can traverse the same paths as the park’s wildlife, spotting animal tracks that are often visible in the snow.
Make your own maple syrup
The national park is home to 1,130 vascular plants and encompasses 30 percent of Indiana’s rare and endangered plant species.
Early March is “Maple Sugar Time” at the park, where visitors can see and smell the sugarbush and witness the process of producing syrup at the historic Chellberg Farm before purchasing their own bottle at the Indiana Dunes National Park visitor center.
The park hosts sugaring activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends of March 2-3 and March 9-10 in 2019, with a pancake breakfast available to top with your freshly made maple syrup.
Activities for everyone
Located about an hour from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park is home to many other activities that include fishing, biking, horseback riding, boating, and bird watching.
The park is a popular location for those looking to scout rare bird species, and locations within the Tolleston Dunes Trail System are a popular stop for advanced skiers.
How was Indiana Dunes National Park formed?
Indiana Dunes National Park is also home to a variety of terrain, part of which is the result of Lake Michigan’s formation some 11,000 years ago.
The lake was formed through the slow melting of the Wisconsin glacier, which according to NPS representatives, created various fluctuations and a lowering of the lake level. This eventually gave rise to seven different successive shorelines, creating beaches, sand dunes, and wetlands within the dunes in the process.
Look around and you’ll find grass-covered dune ridges, dunes covered with shrub vegetation, dunes dotted with pine forests, dunes lined with oak forests, and prairies.
Camping at Indiana Dunes National Park
Visitors often camp and fish at the dunes when it comes time to relax after activity-filled days. Travelers can take advantage of Indiana Dunes camping overnight from April 1 through Nov. 1 at the Dunewood Campground, which encompasses 66 campsites — 54 drive-in and 12 walk-in.
The campsites include restrooms and showers for a fee of $25 per night. They are offered on a first-come basis. Visitors can stay up to 14 days within a 30-day period, and pets are allowed as long as they are attended to, caged, or on a leash.
National parks and state parks in Indiana
Indiana is home to several other national park sites, including the National Historic Park of George Rogers Clark and the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.
Indiana also has plenty of state parks, including the Fort Harrison State Park (with one of the biggest sledding hills in the area) and Turkey Run State Park, home to sandstone ravines, ancient forests, and views of Sugar Creek.
Several of the parks also host hotels on their grounds to offer visitors a stay with scenic views.