The Run Down
For this guide, we're headed about an hour away and crossing over to Indiana where we we'll be hiking through sand dunes and some of the most beautiful trails you'll find near Chicago. Right along the Southern tip of Lake Michigan is the Indiana Dunes State Park and surrounding it is the Indiana Dunes National Park. We'll be checking out a bit of both for this guide. Let's get started with the highlights.
1. Getting There
Okay, the most obvious way to get to Indiana Dunes State Park is to take a car, and it will take you around an hour with limited traffic. If you can’t get your hands on a car, then you’re in luck because you can also take a train directly to the dunes.
From downtown Chicago you can take the South Shore Line from Millenium Station, which is located in the pedway near Millenium Park. Here’s a picture of the stops along the South Shore Line to get you oriented.
You’ll want to get off at the Dune Park station — it’s about a 1 hr and 20 minute train ride if you start from Millenium Station. Here’s a look at where you’re going to get off.
From the Dune Park station, you still got another mile to go to get to the park entrance. From here, follow signs at the west end of the station to get on the Dunes Kankakee Trail. Follow that trail North to the park entrance. Once you get to the park entrance, be sure to grab a trail map from the person manning the entrance booth.
Lastly, here’s some other info that’s helpful to know.
– The park is open 7am-11pm daily
– The entrance fee is $7 for in-state vehicles and $12 for out-of-state vehicles.
– Admission is free weekdays between November and mid-April.
2. Mount Jackson
The trail head starts at the Nature Conservatory located inside the park. There are several different numbered trails. To get to Mount Jackson, we’re going on Trail #8. As you can see, this isn’t your typical dirt trail, but rather you’ll be walking up a steep sand hill trail. It’s hard to tell here, but it’s fairly steep. Maximum slope of about 30 degrees — not for the faint of heart.
As you get closer to the top of Mount Jackson, the trees start to clear away and the sky opens up very beautifully.
The top of Mount Jackson is a large open space and offers incredible sites all around. While it’s not super easy to get to the top, the views are well worth it.
3. Beach House Blowout
Head back down Mount Jackson to the beginning of the trail head. Now take trail #9 and head east to this naturally formed terrain called a “blowout.”
Trail #9 starts off through a forest of tall trees and dense vegetation. As you get closer to the blowout, the dirt trail gradually turns to sand and the forest begins to thin out.
Once you reach the peak you’ll see the blowout in all it’s glory. It’s basically a large sand valley that extends out to the lake. At the top of the blowout is a ridge line that you can walk across. On one side of the ridge line you have lots of vegetation and on the other side is all sand.
From the top of the blowout you can walk straight down the sand dune and make your way to a path that will take you directly to the lake.
The views of the blowout get even more stunning as you get further away and get a wider perspective.
Once you get to the lake, you’ll find yourself on a huge stretch of beach that goes for miles. You won’t find a ton of people here, which is nice if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
While hanging out on the beach, look as far as you can across the lake, and you’ll be able to see an outline of the Chicago skyline on the other side. One of the coolest parts of this hike.
4. Walk-in Campsites at Indiana Dunes National Park
If you want turn this day trip into a weekend trip, then set up camp a few miles north at the Dunewood Campground which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Park. These campgrounds are a bit more rugged than some of the others found at the Indiana Dunes State Park, but there’s more privacy and it’s much closer to a “real” camping experience. Here are some helpful tips.
– First come first served
– 66 campsites (54 drive-in sites and 12 walk-in sites; 4 sites are fully accessible)
– Restrooms and individual shower stalls on site
– No electric or water hookups
– Click for more details
There are 12 walk-in sites that go deeper into the woods.Each of the walk-in sites are large in size and have their own fire pits.
There’s a path that you can follow that will take you to each of the different walk-in campsites. Because you are deeper in the forest, make sure you bring lots and lots of bug spray.