John and I spent one very quick day visiting the park, and we both agreed that it is a special place that deserves protection. Should it be a national park? We still aren’t quite sure because we didn’t see the entire park, but what we did see was not what we expected...
See more from our afternoon in The West Beach area in my YouTube video!
Indiana Dunes National Park is split into multiple areas with a State Park in the middle. We spent a half a day in the West Beach area hiking and then swimming in Lake Michigan. We chose the West Beach portion of the park so we could hike through dunes and access the water without having to drive from point to point.
We did the “The Three Loop Trail” which connects The Long Lake, West Beach, and Dune Succession Trails in a 3.5-mile loop that leads right to a beach on Lake Michigan. We had very low expectations for the park after reading all the mixed reviews online, but we were blown away by the wildflowers and wildlife we encountered on the trail.
The Long Lake trail starts with a sandy hill that leads to the top of a dune, but these dunes aren’t your typical barren sand dunes. Instead, the dunes are home to wooded forests filled with ferns, mushrooms, coyotes, and snakes. We were amazed. It was nothing like The Great Sand Dunes National Park which we had frequented during our time living in Colorado. Every few feet we walked, we noticed some sort of new flower, seedpod, or plant.
We continued onto The West Beach Trail where we encountered prickly pear cacti, puzzle plants, and tons more wildflowers. This part of the trail was much flatter between the dunes and more exposed to the sun without the heavy forest around it.
Finally, we climbed the stairs up the Dune Succession Trail. From here, we caught glimpses of Lake Michigan peeping through the Jack Pines that were all over the sandy dunes. I had never seen a tree actually growing in sand before, much less a pine tree with pine cones and everything! It was baffling.
We walked the platformed path through the forest, up, and over many little dunes until we finally reached the shores of Lake Michigan. When we arrived on the beach, we were amazed to see dozens – if not a hundred – beachgoers enjoying the sunshine and cold water. It was a bit different than the peace and quiet we had been experiencing on the trail where we only saw four other people.
The crowd didn’t stop us from striping off our hiking boots and hoping in the freezing cold water. We both wanted to enjoy a cold dip after working up a sweat on the trail. Off in the very far distance we believed we could make out the Chicago skyline. That was pretty cool, but what was not cool and didn’t make us feel that the water was very safe were the steel mills and power plants on either side of West Beach. They were eye sores and sad reminders of what “progress” looks like. Those mills and plants use water from the lake whose ecosystem millions of fish, birds, insects, snakes, butterflies, and countless more call home.
Standing in Lake Michigan looking at those industrial plants and the distant outline of The Windy City made me reflect on the true importance of our National Park system. Sure, this park might not be as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, but who are we to judge the natural landscapes and withhold protection from a place because it’s not quite as grand as others?
After walking through the trails of The West Beach area, I realized why this place was so important to protect. If we don’t stop and look around us, many of these places will be destroyed if we don’t stand up for them.
Indiana Dunes National Park is a treasure to many, and we thoroughly enjoyed our short time here. I applaud the National Park System for standing up and stepping in to protect areas like this all across our beautiful nation. If not for them, who would?
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.