Growing up in Chicago, a visit to the beach at Indiana Dunes was a convenient and fun summer activity. It wasn’t until recently though that I realized there is so much more to Indiana Dunes than just the beach. While the beach is still a good reason to visit, the many outdoor activities available make Indiana Dunes a great destination to visit year round. Here are 5 fun things to do at Indiana Dunes for fellow outdoor enthusiasts:

1. Hiking

With over 70 miles of trails in Indiana Dunes, hiking is an ideal activity to partake in.  Numerous trails on varying terrain allow visitors a choice of easy or challenging hikes.  The toughest and most well known, Trail 8, is commonly referred to as 3 Dune Challenge.  Why is it a challenge?  Well, the specially-marked 1.5 mile course involves climbing the three highest sand dunes in Indiana Dunes State Park.  Although 1.5 miles does not sound very challenging, it is a 552 vertical foot climb on shifting, sinking sand.  Oh, and some trail parts feature 40-degree slopes.  I recall walking up sand dunes while sandboarding in Namibia and can confirm that it is very exhausting.

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Visitors who complete The 3 Dune Challenge can stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to pick up free stickers and purchase commemorative shirts.  For additional bragging rights, remember the hashtag #3DuneChallenge.  Tag your photo on a public social media account with #3DuneChallenge and it will be featured on the Indiana Dunes Beaches & Beyond website.  As I enjoy a good hike, I have added The 3 Dune Challenge on my to do list but am saving it for fall when the temperature is a bit cooler.

the indiana dunes hiking things to do at indiana dunes activities
Pack your hiking gear when visiting the Indiana Dunes

Another popular trail I plan to hike is Trail 9.  Selected by USA Today as the best hiking trail in Indiana, Trail 9 is a great choice for first time visitors- this trail allows views of the forest, dunes and lake.

2. Bird Watching

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Indiana Dunes is one of the top bird watching spots in the Midwest- 350 plus species of birds live or migrate through the area.  The Dunes is best known for the autumn migration of sandhill cranes when more than 10,000 sandhill cranes can be seen at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.

If you are traveling light or don’t have birding gear, you can still enjoy this activity.  Through the Backpacks for Birders program, birdwatchers can reserve a backpack for free filled with essentials (two sets of binoculars, a birding basics book, a bird identification book and a list of top birds sited at each location).

3. Biking

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Nine loops ensure cyclists will be happy at Indiana Dunes.  Ride your bike from the gravel Calumet Trail to the paved Prairie Duneland Trail.  Or,  mountain bike at the Outback Trail.  The Indiana Dunes Bikeway system really is more than a way to go from point A to point B.  Request an electronic or paper version of the Biking Guide from the Indiana Dunes Beaches & Beyond website to check it out for yourself.

4. Kayaking

If water is more your thing or you simply want to enjoy a view of the dunes from Lake Michigan, you’re in luck.  Kayaking and paddling are available for rental from several marinas at Indiana Dunes.  Choose to paddle against the current of the Kankakee River for a great workout and to catch sight of the unusual Dunn’s Bridge.  If calm is more your speed, the relaxing Valparaiso Chain of Lakes is a nice change of pace.

5. Fishing

indiana dunes things to do fishing at the indiana dunes

Whether from the shore or from a boat, fishing is another fun activity at Indiana Dunes.  Available year round, every season offers a different experience- summer is ideal for deep offshore fishing, fall and spring for salmon run and winter for ice fishing on inland lakes.  Bring your own boat or rent one at the Dunes.  The Indiana Dunes Beaches & Beyond website has a free Fishing Guide worth checking out.

So, for anyone interested in some beach fun or keen on outdoor adventures Indiana Dunes is a great spot.  With year round activities readily available there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast.

If interested to find out more or planning a visit to Indiana Dunes, be sure to check out the helpful Indiana Dunes Beaches & Beyond website. The website has loads of information (including videos) to plan your visit. You can also download or request by mail one (or more) of the many free guides, including a Fishing Guide, Kids Guide, Activities Guide, Biking Guide, Birding Guide and a Calendar of Events.
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5 things to do at Indiana Dunes


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