The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore might be the most beautiful place in the Hoosier State—which, to some, might not sound like much of a ringing endorsement, especially since it’s flanked by steel mills and power plants. But this nearby national park features 25 miles of natural beach, hiking trails through forests, prairies and marshes. And, of course, there are the dunes themselves: massive mountains of fine sand, perfect for a sliding barefoot sprint and leap.
Bring your tent, sleeping bag and camping gear and head to Millennium Station at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue to catch the South Shore Line train (round-trip ticket, $13.60). The South Shore does not allow conventional bikes onboard; however, folding bikes are permitted and would be useful for exploring the greater Dunes area. It’s a relaxing, scenic, 90-minute train ride to the Beverly Shores stop and the national lakeshore’s Dunewood Campground.
The train stop, a historic 1940s structure, is handily located next to a gas station and a general store where you can stock up on supplies and firewood. From there it’s a quarter-mile hike south to the campground ($15 a night) in a serene wooded area. The fact that sites don’t have built-in driveways is a bonus; you won’t have to compete with Winnebagos and generator-powered TV sets.
Pitch your tent and go explore. The campground is near the Dunewood Trace hiking trail that leads to the Dorothy Buell nature center and other trails.
Dunewood Trace trail after heavy rains
It’s also a pleasant one-mile walk down a quiet road to a low-key beach where you can swim, sunbathe and pick pebbles to your heart’s content. The waves can get big enough for body surfing, but watch out for dangerous riptides. A couple miles east of the campground is Mount Baldy, the largest of the dunes. Visitors who tackle the steep, sandy climb out of the parking lot are rewarded with a spectacular view: Northwest of the lake you can just make out the towers of the Chicago skyline.
Every visit to the Dunes is different. One time we went, a folk singer in the campground’s amphitheater performed a set of songs about Great Lakes maritime tragedies. When we cried out for “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, he happily obliged. Then we walked down the road to the Beverly Shores Fireman’s Ball, held inside the firehouse. Friendly conversation, pulled-pork sandwiches and Jell-O shots were plentiful, and afterward the party headed to the lake for a bonfire on the beach. You can’t do that in the big city.
For more information on Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, contact the National Park Service (219-926-7561 ext 225).