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Park of the Week: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

An easy day trip from Chicago by train, the 15-mile Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is ideal for swimming, horseback riding, and racing up and down the sweeping dunes.

Not far from the massive Chicago metropolitan area, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is easy to find. The splendid sweeps of sand and the freshwater "sea" are so accessible that the Chicago & South Shore Train has stops within the park, whose shoreline covers the distance between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana. Nearby airports include Chicago's O'Hare and Midway as well as the regional airports at Gary and South Bend.

Although attempts were made as early as 1899 to get protection for the area, it wasn't until 1966 that legislation authorized the creation of this Lakeshore. The struggle to get national protection wasn't easy, as the area had long been industrialized, and the sand itself was carried away in boxcars by the Ball Brothers (known for glass jars) and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. By 1926, however, Indiana created the Dunes State park, precursor to what we see today. Under President Kennedy, a deal was reached to build an industrial seaport and to allocate a large portion of land to the park. Now the Lakeshore consists of more than 15,000 acres.

Highlights of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Most important, of course, are the majestic dunes, sweeping along the shores of Lake Michigan for 15 miles. This area is perfect for hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, swimming, fishing (watch for the annual summer steelhead run), boating, and picnicking. Check out Mt. Baldy, a mountain of sand 125 feet high, which moves inward at an average rate of four feet per year. It's the largest moving dune in the Lakeshore.

The Calumet Bike Trail here is said to be especially pretty in late summer and early fall

As for manmade wonders, there are the Century of Progress Houses (five homes built for the World's Fair of 1933 in Chicago to display such newfangled innovations as air-conditioning and dishwashers). One is called "The House of Tomorrow," the others bear the names of builders, materials (cypress) or purpose (Florida Tropical House). Private owners are currently rebuilding them under lease, so no trespassing, please.

If you're here the third weekend of September, you can attend the annual Duneland Harvest Festival at Chellberg Farm within the park.

What to See at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Flora and Fauna

There are more than 1,100 flowering plant species and ferns here, ranging from bog plants to native prairie grasses and from tall white pines to rare algal species.

A wide variety of wildlife can also be seen, with hundreds of species making their homes here. More than 350 species of birds have been observed here, too. One area here has been set aside as a Great Blue Heron rookery.

Admission & Hours at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, the Visitor Center is the place to get started. There's also a Park Headquarters (open on weekdays only) and the West Beach Bath House (open from 9am until dusk from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day).

There's no charge to enter the Lakeshore, but there is a User's Fee for the West Beach area, starting at $1. Camping fees start at $15 per day.

Ranger Activities at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

There are frequent ranger-guided activities. You can get a list of them at the Visitor Center.

Visitors at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

In 2009, the Lakeshore had 1,944,568 visitors.

More Information

The official website of the Lakeshore is The Friends of the Indiana Dunes website is

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