On top of "Mt. Baldy." (Credit: Sean Munson)
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Credit: Sean Munson)
The Indiana Dunes are about an hour and a half outside of Chicago and can be reached via the South Shore Line. The parks have great hiking trails and several miles of quiet beaches. The trails go over dunes almost 200 feet high, through marshlands and along the beach. The area is preserved by both a state park and a national park. The Indiana Dunes State Park contains 1,530 acres of car-free nature preserve. The Indian Dunes National Lakeshore is 15,000 acres, but doesn’t have as much uninterrupted nature, and near the train stop the park surrounds the town of Beverly Shores.
Two South Shore Line stations stop close to the dunes. Dune Park station is near the state park, and Bervely Shores is near the national park. It’s about $13 round-trip. Board the train at the Randolph Street Metra station underground next to Millennium Park. Trains run every hour or so, but make sure to check the schedule so you don’t get stranded in Indiana.
Getting off the train at Dune Park station, you’ll turn right immediately off the train (don’t walk past the station), walk to the end of the platform and cross the tracks. You should see a sign for Indiana Dunes State Park that points into the woods. Follow the trail a short ways, and you’ll get dumped out onto a four-lane road. You’ll have to walk in the grassy side of the road to the entrance of the park, about a half mile. You’re supposed to pay an entrance fee to the park, but there’s no gate for people coming by foot, so you can probably just walk in unless they call you from the gate in the middle of the road. There’s a park office on the right after the entrance with maps and information.
Unfortunately, the opening area of the park is mostly car-oriented. There is a walking trail immediately after the gate that leads up into some dunes and dumps off at a parking lot on the beach — at least you don’t have to walk on the side of the road. From there you can walk past the beach house and find the trail entrances, or walk the length of the beach.
The other option from the gate is to turn right on the road after the park office and follow the road to the Nature Center, where most of the trails start.
If you walk far enough east down the beach, you’ll exit the state park into the national park area into the town of Beverly Shores, where you pick up the South Shore Line back home.
The Beverly Shores station is much more quaint and ped-friendly. You’ll walk north from the station and notice a sidewalk on a narrow road named Broadway — a ranger told me this is the only sidewalk in the town. The walk down the sidewalk is actually quite nice — you’ll walk through some marshes and past some small houses, and after about 20 minutes you’ll reach a gazebo on the beach. The dunes are not immediately visible from here. Since the town of Beverly Shores is in the middle of the park, there will be houses visible from the beach for a stretch. You can walk left down the beach toward the state park to see the dunes, but you’re not supposed to enter the state park from the beach. If you walk right, you can continue along the beach to the end of the park where there’s a small hiking trail to the top of Mt. Baldy, the highest dune in the national park.
Indian Dunes National Lakeshore
National Park maps
Indiana Dunes State Park
* If you’re hiking, you might consider bringing an extra shirt to change into before you get back on the train to head home. An hour and a half on the train in a sweaty shirt is not fun.
* Bring a bottle of water and a snack, since there are no corner stores in the middle of nowhere.