Visit Indiana Dunes National Park and enjoy one of these four easy hikes before spending the day on the beach.
Indiana Dunes National Park, a National Lakeshore until 2019, comprises approximately 15,000 acres of dunes, wetlands, and forests spread across nearly 25 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan. These four short hikes highlight the beauty of the dunes as well as their diverse plant and animal life. All of these hikes are free and open between 6:00 and 11:00 pm daily. In contrast to many national parks, well-behaved and leashed dogs are also welcome to join on any of these hikes.
For some close-up views of the dunes, the Calumet Dunes Trail offers a 0.6-mile hike along a paved path with an improved boardwalk. According to the park, "the lake has slowly receded over time, forming three major parallel dune ridges: Glenwood (640' above sea level), Calumet (620' above sea level) and Tolleston (605' above sea level)." This easy hike wanders through these dunes and offers several trailside benches to relax and enjoy the view.
Just a short drive from each other, the Dune Ridge Trail and Great Marsh Trail are two excellent short hikes highlighting the beauty and wildlife of the Great Marsh. The Dune Ridge Trail highlights "pioneer plants such as marram and little bluestem grasses and cottonwood trees" that have "adapted to live in the dunes where moving sand sometimes partially buries or uncovers plant stems and roots." The views along this hike are spectacular, and the trailhead also doubles as parking for nearby Kemil Beach.
If birdwatching in “the largest wetland complex in the Lake Michigan watershed” is more your style, head over to the Great Marsh Trail instead. The park notes how "flocks of coots, mallards, and wood ducks now glide over the wetland's surface," while "kingfishers, tree swallows, and rusty blackbirds rest during migration." This is one of the best trails for birdwatching, and the northern trailhead is wheelchair-accessible to an observation deck with stunning views of the marsh.
Though it is mapped as a longer 2.9-mile hike, Tolleston Dunes makes this list thanks to a fully-accessible overlook 1/4-mile from the main trailhead. The overlook offers a wheelchair-accessible picnic area with two tables that are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The overlook does not access the main hiking loop, however, which instead begins on Dunes Highway.