Indiana Dunes State Park is a stunning and uniquely beautiful park that is sure to be one of the most memorable trips in your RV log. Located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, this 1,530-acre park includes three miles of beautiful and spacious lakeshore. Prairies, black oak forest, and wooded wetlands converge in this special corner of Indiana. An ecological wonder, the dunes of the lakeshore are great for both relaxation and education. Sunbathing on the quiet beach or trekking over massive dunes, you may find it hard to believe that you're less than an hour's drive from downtown Chicago. But, if you keep an eye out, you may see Chicago's distinctive skyline across Lake Michigan on a clear day!
This historic park was established in 1925, but the large sand dunes behind the shoreline have taken thousands of years to form and tower nearly 200 feet above the lake. Scientists and enthusiasts marvel at the complex natural habitat formed in this unique landscape. Lake Michigan also has a rich maritime history on display, including a preserved shipwreck located just offshore.
The iconic Beach Pavilion was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and it greets visitors to this sunny and popular beach spot. Whether you’re swimming, hiking, birding, or just soaking up the sun, the gorgeous lake views are sure to be a highlight of your RV trip. Miles of trails conveniently loop around the park, providing an easy way for hikers of all levels to explore the forests, hills, and marshlands. If you're looking for a challenge, don’t miss Mount Tom. Standing at 192 feet above lake-level, it's the highest dune in the park and offers a magnificent panorama of the lake.
If all that weren't enough, Indiana Dunes State Park also offers easy access to the larger and equally gorgeous Indiana Dunes National Park, which sits right beside it along the coast. The park - upgraded from a National Monument to a fully-fledged National Park in 2019 - boasts its own extensive trail system, interpretive programs, and more.
Indiana Dunes State Park is located at the north end of State Road 49 in Porter County. It is a short 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago via I-90. Whether you prefer taking your rig a direct highway drive or down scenic secondary roads, you’ll have no problems navigating to this easily accessible park. All major routes into the park are paved, and there's no need to worry about any steep hills either (this is the Midwest after all!).
Plenty of parking is available for your RV in the lots at the Dunes State Park. There is a fee for entrance and parking. There are large parking areas near the Pavilion and Beach House, the Bird Observation Platform, and Gatehouse near the picnic tables. Parking may be more challenging on weekends during the peak season due to the popularity of the beach.
The South Shore Railroad, which has a northern terminus right in heart of Chicago, offers regular service to Dune Park Station, which is less than a mile's walk from the state park. If you're just traveling with an RV, you've got an easy way to visit downtown without the hassle of any traffic.
The Indiana Dunes' pet-friendly campground is situated in a lovely spot, surrounded by stately oaks and rolling fields. This campground is located in the middle of the park and enjoys direct access to the dunes via a short hike over Mount Tom. Here, you’ll have easy access to fishing, hiking, and scenic views of Lake Michigan, but you won't be so close to the beach as to worry about blowing sand or strong winds.
The park sports 140 campsites with 50-amp electric hookups available. Spots are spacious, and the park accepts RVs and trailers up to 55 feet in length. Although there are no sewage or water hookups available, there are several water supply stations and a dump station on-site. Modern restrooms, showerhouses, comfort stations, a seasonal camp store, and two playgrounds are all within easy walking distance. All sites come with grills and fire rings, so you can cook up some delicious grub right at the campground.
Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and all sites are reservable. A reservation is highly recommended if you're planning on coming through during the busy summer season. The park and its campground are open year-round, however, and many visitors enjoy the quieter fall or spring seasons. Even winter offers plenty of activities. Non-occupied spots are available on a first-come first-served basis.
Indiana Dunes State Park campground accepts walk-up campers if there are unreserved campsites available.
There are a number of private RV campgrounds nearby featuring modern amenities such as wireless internet, laundry facilities, full hookup sites, and cabins. Whether you want to enjoy a rustic experience or a luxurious one at an RV resort, you are sure to find a private campground or RV park to meet your needs.
If you want to enjoy a picnic while surrounded by the tranquility of Indiana's rich prairies, forests, and wetlands, this is the perfect destination. There are several pavilions and picnic areas located in the park. One of the best spots is by the Beach House, where you can enjoy a quiet meal on the serene banks of Lake Michigan.
The Dunes State Park Nature Center is located near the campground and features environmental and cultural history displays, a wildlife observation room, a children's corner, a library, and a program room that offers several movie presentations. The center is a great way to introduce yourself to the natural history of the area, and you can learn about what sorts of flora and fauna to keep an eye out for on the trail.
Cross-country skiing trails are provided for visitors with their own equipment as there are no ski rentals available onsite. Skiing is a great way to cover lots of ground during the quiet, yet beautiful, off-season. The gently rolling terrain along the shore makes for great ski trails, and the dense forests become a winter wonderland when snow rolls through. Sometimes, moisture rolling in off of the lake freezes on the trees, turning the boughs and branches of trees into delicate crystalline sculptures. If you want to take the less-beaten path during the colder months, make sure you pack your cross-country skis in your Airstream!
Even if you visit the park during the colder months or on rainy days, there's still plenty to do. The park's nature center offers activity sheets with games and quizzes about the cultural history and native wildlife of Indiana. If you're traveling through in spring or autumn, rainy days are the best times to spot some of the park's more secretive creatures. Look carefully for tiger or blue-spotted salamanders on the forest floor, and listen for the calls of grey tree frogs near ponds.
Throughout the off-season, Indiana Dunes State Parks has regularly scheduled storytelling events, which are fun for the whole family. Listen to ghost stories and thrilling adventure tales from park rangers, all while learning about the natural and human history of the area.
Whether you’re a beginner fisherman or an avid angler, Indiana Dunes State Park presents plenty of opportunities to cast your line into the water. The particular stretch of lake that the park sits on is famous for smelt fishing, which is usually done in the spring. Yellow Perch, salmon, bass, trout, and pumpkinseed can be found either in Lake Michigan or its tributaries, which are plentiful along the coast.
Make sure you have a valid Indiana state fishing permit before you head out, and, if you're smelt fishing, make sure you apply for the special, smelt-specific permit.
Interpretive Naturalist Programs are held daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and on weekends throughout the year. Program schedules are available online and include many family and children’s activities and crafts. Guided hikes and other educational events offer a chance to learn about the unique geology, ecology and human history of the dunes and their surroundings. And, if a particular event at the state park doesn't match up with your schedule, you can also look for interpretive events at neighboring Indiana Dunes National Park.
Don’t leave your binoculars in the RV since Indiana Dunes State Park has excellent birding opportunities during both the spring and fall migrations. Famous throughout the Midwest as a birding hotspot, the dunes feature a dedicated Bird Observation Platform that gives a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. Birders are invited to record their sightings in the guest log at the visitor center. Over 200 species either call the dunes home or are known to travel through this area. Keep your eye out for hawks riding thermal updrafts of the dunes, look for some of the many waterfowl which flock to the lake, or listen for the delicate calls of warblers when you're walking through the woods.
Take a dip in Lake Michigan in the designated swimming area located at the Beach Pavilion, which also offers fast-food service and a gift shop. The beach is popular on summer days, offering a cool respite from the hot Midwestern sun. Experienced divers can check out the preserved shipwreck of the J.D. Marshall, which is located on the lake bed offshore beyond the swimming area.
Leave the camper behind and enjoy one of the seven hiking trails in the park, which range in difficulty from easy to rugged. Sixteen miles of trails will let you explore the park at your own pace and take you through marshlands, creeks, and forests, and over the tops of the biggest dunes in the state. Don’t miss the “living” dunes off Trail 9. These dunes are so-called because they actually move! They are slowly being blown inland, burying forests as they go.
Trail 10 is home to “tree graveyards”, previously buried forests now exposed by erosion. There is a popular Three Dune Challenge for hikers looking to test their limits. The challenge takes hikers up and down the three tallest dunes in the park. Although there's only about 500 feet of overall gain, the loose sand makes climbing very strenuous. Three Dune Challengers are rewarded for their efforts, though, with spectacular views of the lake.