Discover the 7 Best Hikes at Indiana Dunes National Park

Are you looking for the best way to experience the natural beauty of Indiana Dunes National Park?

Look no further than its extensive network of hiking trails that offer a diverse mix of experiences!

With over 50 miles of trails ranging in difficulty level and terrain, there's a trail for every type of hiker. I've included the seven best hikes at Indiana Dunes National Park to help you plan your visit to the park.

The park provides recreational activities like cross-country skiing, a Rail Trail, and the extensive Calumet Bike Trail for cycling enthusiasts. The Paul H. Douglas Center, or the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, is great for expert advice.

If you run out of trails at the Indiana Dunes National Park, the Indiana Dunes State Park is right next door and offers an array of hiking trails. There is also a dune climb challenge, which starts at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center.

1. Cowles Bog Trail

Length: 4.7 miles 

Difficulty level: Moderate to Rugged Hike

Notable features: Diverse ecosystems, wildlife view opportunities, Lake Michigan views, and access, great for fall colors

Trailhead parking: 1450 N. Mineral Springs Rd., Dune Acres

The trailhead starts on North Mineral Springs Road on the right side, about 0.3 miles north of Highway 12.

Cowles Bog Trail loops through various habitats and is one of the best hikes at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Cowles Bog Trail is a must-do for any Indiana Dunes National Park hiker. This looped trail system takes you through various habitats, including wetlands, forests, and sand dunes. 

The trail varies from packed dirt to loose sand, and there are about 200 feet of total elevation gain – especially if you go to the furthest loop, which makes sense since that is how you can access Lake Michigan.

Wear sturdy shoes, apply sunblock, and bring bug spray, as you may need all three along the trail.

The hike will probably take you about 2.5 to 3 hours. This considers some time spent at the beach.

Tip: The main parking lot often gets filled up, but the Greenbelt Trailhead parking lot also connects to the Cowles Bog Trail (the path from this parking lot has very little shade until you reach the looped portion of the trail).  

The Greenbelt Trailhead also provides access to the Calumet Bike Trail, a 9-mile-long trail with a gravel surface that typically has standing water on it. Across the railroad track, you can also find the Porter Brickyard Bike Trail, which is a 7-mile-long paved path.

Tip: If you find both of the above parking lots full, there is also parking further from the Cowles Bog area on N. Mineral Springs Rd.

2. Bailly-Chellberg Trail

Length: Outer loop: 3.4 miles, Inner loop: 1.1 miles roundtrip

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate hike

Notable features: Historic buildings, forest views.

Trailhead: Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm – 618 N. Mineral Springs Rd., Porter

The Bailly-Chellberg Trail provides great fall colors and historic structures along the way, making it one of the top hikes at Indiana Dunes National Park.

If you are a history buff, you will especially enjoy the Bailly Homestead Trail, which loops around the old homestead, providing you with an idea of what life was like in the 1800s.

The trail winds through a forested area and offers views of the surrounding landscape. 

In addition to historic buildings, you can also see farm animals and visit the Maple Sugaring house, which is operational during the springtime.

The trail can be wet and muddy – especially in the spring. The path is dirt with wood chips at some locations. There are also several sets of stairs along the trail. Due to muddy trail conditions, we've had to turn back a few times.

Note: The Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm restrooms are open year-round.

3. Little Calumet River Trail

Length: 3.4 miles 

Difficulty level: Moderate Hike

Notable features: Wildlife viewing, river access, prairie views

Trailhead: Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm – 618 N. Mineral Springs Rd., Porter OR North of U.S. Highway 20 on Mineral Springs Rd. 

The Little Calumet River Trail trail can be looped with the Bailly-Chellberg Trail and provides forest and prairie views.

Little Calumet River Trail connects to the Bailley-Chellberg Trail. This trail offers hikers a chance to explore the park's riverine ecosystem and spot a variety of wildlife along the way. You will cross a bridge and walk along a boardwalk along your adventure. 

The trail will take you through forests, across the Mnoke prairie, and crosses the Little Calumet River. This trail is an excellent choice for viewing fall colors.

Tip: The trail is often muddy, so wear shoes appropriate for muddy conditions.

4. Great Marsh Trail

Length: 4 miles 

Difficulty level: Easy Hike

Notable features: Scenic overlook, wetlands, birdwatching opportunities

Trailhead: north of U.S. Highway 12 on Broadway Avenue, Beverly Shores

The Great Marsh Trail has vast views of the marsh and is a great place to spot birds.

The Great Marsh Trail is an easy, flat hiking trail that takes you through the park's Great Marsh, the largest wetland complex in the Lake Michigan watershed. 

This trail is perfect for families and hikers of all ages and abilities who want to enjoy the park's natural beauty. 

The trail features a scenic overlook that provides stunning views of the marsh and the surrounding landscape. The Great Marsh is home to a variety of bird species, including sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and bald eagles, making it a popular spot for birdwatching enthusiasts.

Along the trail, you'll also have the opportunity to spot other wildlife, such as turtles, frogs, and various waterfowl. The wetlands are home to diverse plant life, including cattails, sedges, and wildflowers.

As with all hiking trails in the park, be sure to wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water and snacks, and stay on the marked path to protect the park's delicate ecosystem.

Tip: This trail has very little shade, so plan accordingly!

5. Dune Ridge Trail

Length: 0.7 miles round trip looped trail

Difficulty level: Moderate Hike 

Notable features: Forest, dunes, scenic Great Marsh Overlook, great spring wildflowers, and fall colors

Trailhead: The trailhead for the Dune Ridge Trail is located on the right (east) side of East State Park Road, about 1 mile north of Highway 20 at the Kemil Comfort Station. (Shared parking with Kemil Beach Access)

The Dune Ridge Trail is located near the Century of Progress Homes and Kemil Beach, making it a popular hiking location.

The Dune Ridge Trail is a moderate-level hiking trail that takes you through forest and dune landscapes. This popular trail requires a bit of scrambling up and down loose sand, but it is not overly challenging.

This trail is a great way to experience the park's diverse ecosystems in one short hike.

The trail takes you into the woods and approaches a bog overlook. The lake is not visible from this trail.

The trail features a scenic overlook of the Great Marsh, which is a great spot for photos. Along the way, expect to see various wildlife, including birds, small mammals, and possibly even snakes.

While hiking the Dune Ridge Trail, be prepared for a mixture of packed dirt and loose sand.

Tip: There are year-round restrooms and water at the trailhead parking lot. The lot fills up quickly during summer weekends, so plan accordingly. 

Tip: Be aware that ticks and poison ivy are present in this area of the National Park.

6. Mount Baldy Beach Trail

Length: 0.75 miles 

Difficulty level: Moderate to Rugged Hike

Notable features: Dunes, beach access, scenic overlook, great for sunsets

Trailhead: 101 Rice Street, Michigan City

The Mount Baldy Beach Trail provides great Lake Michigan views and access.

The Mount Baldy Beach Trail is a moderate to rugged level hiking trail that takes you through the park's iconic dunes and provides access to Lake Michigan. This trail is popular for those who want to experience the park's unique dune landscape and enjoy a day at the beach.

While hiking the Mount Baldy Beach Trail, wear sturdy shoes, bring plenty of water and snacks, and watch for hazards such as steep dune slopes and strong lake currents. Staying on the marked trail is essential to protect the park's delicate ecosystem.

While climbing Mount Baldy may be tempting, views from the top can only be reached via a ranger-lead hike. Check at the visitor center for the schedule.

Tip: Don't bring a large cooler and other non-essential items – the hike back up is steep!

7. West Beach Trail (3-Loop Hike)

Length: 3.4 mile loop 

Difficulty level: Moderate to rugged hike

Notable features: Beach access, great for birdwatching, views of the Chicago skyline

Trailhead: 376 North County Line Road, Gary

West Beach Trail has multiple loop options available - making it a best hike at Indiana Dunes National Park.

West Beach Trail is how hikers combine a scenic walk with a beach day. This trail takes you from the park's West Beach parking area to the beach, where you can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and Chicago skyline views.

Be prepared for walking on sand and many stairs – especially on Loop 1 (also known as Dune Succession Trail, which is 0.9-mile long). Loop 2 (also known as West Beach Trail) and Loop 3 (also known as Long Lake Trail) are mostly flat but have a few climbs.

Tip: Short on time? The Dune Succession Trail loop should be your priority!

Other Hikes to Consider at Indiana Dunes

The Dune Succession Trail, for instance, is a great choice for beginners, suitable for a short day hike.

Suppose you are looking for something more challenging. In that case, the Glenwood Dunes Trail would be a good choice to showcase the different stages of dune development and provide views of the beautiful black oak savannas (similar to the Dune Ridge Trail).

Trails with the Best Views

The Dune Ridge Trail and the Dune Succession Trail, both offer unique perspectives from high points – you can feast your eyes on the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan on the horizon.

On a clear day, you might even catch sight of the Chicago skyline – a view that transforms into a city of illuminated wonder come nightfall. If nothing else you can watch a great sunset from the Dune Succession Trail.

FAQ's: Best Hiking Trail at Indiana Dunes

What are the difficulty levels of the hiking trails?

The hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park vary in difficulty levels. Trails like Dune Succession Trail, Dune Ridge Trail, and Cowles Bog Trail offer different experiences ranging from easy to moderate and challenging.

Always review trail descriptions and recommendations before heading out on the trail.

What is the best time to visit the Indiana Dunes National Park for hiking?

The Indiana Dunes National Park is open year-round, but the best times to hike are Spring and Fall when temperatures are milder. Winter offers a different beauty, and well-prepared hikers can enjoy remarkable sights.

Are hiking permits required for any of the hikes in Indiana Dunes National Park?

The Pinhook Bog Trails requires you to be accompanied by authorized staff. This hike is part of a bog that was created by a melting glacier, and it houses a very unique habitat. You can call 219-395-1885 for details. There are also ranger-led hikes to this area on weekends in the summer season.

Are there any amenities available at the park?

The park has several amenities, including the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, a nature center, restrooms, picnic spots, and the Dunewood Campground for overnight stays.

Check the park's official website for further details about available onsite facilities.

Are there any safety precautions to follow while hiking in the park?

Always stay on marked trails to prevent harmful impacts on the delicate ecosystem. Ensure you are well-prepared with ample water, comfortable shoes, and appropriate clothing.

Also, remember to respect wildlife by observing them from a distance, and always keep the park clean by adhering to Leave No Trace principles.

Can one access popular destinations via the hiking trails?

Absolutely! The hiking trails are a fantastic way to reach popular destinations such as Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, Mount Baldy, Mount Holden, and Kemil Beach. Kemil Beach is a great place to view the Chicago skyline.

Are there any accessible hikes in the Indiana Dunes National Park?

Yes, there are accessible hikes. The Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk provides a paved route for individuals who may not be up for navigating stairs or uneven terrain.

Along this hike, you can enjoy the picturesque blend of lakeshore, dunes ecology, riverfront views, and glimpses of the nearby industrial area.

Final Thoughts: Best Hikes at Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park offers many hiking opportunities for nature lovers of all ages and abilities. With its diverse landscapes and variety of hiking trails, the park is the perfect place to get outside and explore.

Whether you're interested in birdwatching, plant identification, or simply enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors, the park's top seven hiking trails will offer an unforgettable experience.

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