Indiana Sand Dunes is the newest national park, designated as so in February. It used to be a national lakeshore. As a reminder, there are 419 “units” in the National Park Service and these units have about a dozen different names (monuments, historic sites, seashores, etc), with only 61 having the “national park” designation.
We love all the units of the NPS, but have been keeping track of and trying to get to all the “National Park” sites over our lifetime together (up to 52/61 so far!). When they add any, we immediately scheme when we can get there! And this May/June, we planned our road trip back west to include some of these goal-oriented destinations.
Truth be told, Indiana Sand Dunes National Park was a little disappointing. It is in the middle of cities, including infamous Gary, IN (the steel plant views were less than desirable for us), and not far from Chicago (on a clear day, you can see the skyline). We camped in the park, but the city noise does not go away.
The main attraction is the 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Lots of city folk come here to swim; I can’t even imagine how crowded it gets during the summer months. There’s another section with a preserved Cowles Bog and I really liked that piece of preservation amidst the city.
With that being said, dunes are really cool because they are formed by wind and ever-changing. Sand accumulates and is trapped by beach grass and the hill becomes really large. For Indiana Sand Dunes, the biggest dune is Mount Baldy, rising 123 feet. It moves an average of 4 feet per year, so they keep most of it—including the summit—closed to allow regeneration and avoid visitor misuse.
Before we ventured to Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, we actually visited Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Maybe it was because this was more off-the-beaten path with less people and more nature, but we thought it was 1000 times prettier. The park encompasses a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan and the coastline drive to get there was worth it alone. This was our second time exploring Michigan and we camped 2 nights this time (one night in a stealth spot & the other in the D.H. Day NPS Campground). It continues to move up on our list of favorite states!!
The park unit has a cute story behind the namesake. It tells a tale of a mother bear and her 2 cubs who were driven into Lake Michigan because of a forest fire. The exhausted cubs drowned, and now are recognized as the 2 small islands within the park, while the mother bear became the great big bluff as she slept waiting for them to return to her. The area also has quite a bit of history with failed attempts to create a farming boom and a summer resort area. All pretty cool!
Lemme tell you, though, dune hiking is freaking hard. My calves were burning like crazy, especially after the “Dune Climb.” Most people just go to the “summit” of the dune, but we moseyed all the way to Lake Michigan. Even though it is only 3.5 miles roundtrip, it is deceiving as you hike up and over the sandy dunescape.
We’ve spent a great deal of time on beaches and sandy hikes this spring, and here’s what I realize. The sand is like the Holy Spirit. It is everywhere and you don’t really know it until you know it!