Looking for dog-friendly sand dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan? look no further than the United States newest national park: Indiana Dunes. Indiana Dunes gained national park status on February 15th, 2019, becoming the 61st United States national park.
Not the most remote national park, Indiana Dunes (previously a national lakeshore) is located just outside of Gary, Indiana and less than an hour from Chicago. It stretches for 15 miles along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and contains about 15,000 acres of rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers, and peaceful forests.
There are over 50 miles of hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park and many of these miles are dog-friendly. Several even offer your dog a chance to dip his paws in the waters of Lake Michigan. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to bring your dog on an adventure to Indiana Dunes.
Dog-Friendly Activities at Indiana Dunes National Park
We are excited to announce that Indiana Dunes is an overall dog-friendly national park. Dogs are allowed on most trails with a few exceptions and guidelines/rules.
First off, let’s get the basic rules out of the way. For any of you who have read our other posts about visiting national parks with dogs, these rules will look pretty familiar.
- Pets must be restrained on a leash no longer than 6 feet (even when swimming)
- Pet waste must be picked up and disposed of properly
- Pets should not be left unattended in a vehicle (especially in the summer).
Okay, now that we have the basics out of the way, here are the few pet-restricted areas to be aware of (information provided by the official nps.gov site):
- West Beach. Pets are not permitted in the lifeguard swim area, which is maintained from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend through the Monday of Labor Day weekend.
- Glenwood Dunes Trail System. Pets (other than horses) are not permitted on the specific portion of the Glenwood Dunes trail system that is designated for equestrian use. Pets are permitted in the parking lot and other sections of the trail system.
- Nature Play Areas. These areas are located on the east side of the Paul Douglas Center main parking lot and inside the Mather and Douglas loops at the Dunewood Campground.
- Pinhook Bog Trail. Pets are not permitted on the Pinhook Bog Trail. (Although they are allowed in the parking lot and on the Pinhook Upland Trail.)
These restricted areas are a relatively small region of the park, so there are still plenty of dog-friendly places to explore within Indiana Dunes National Park’s boundaries.
Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails
During our stay at Indiana Dunes National Park, we made sure to hike a few of the trails. Our favorite was the Cowles Bog Trail.
Cowles Bog Trail
The Cowles Bog Trail is approximately 4.7 miles in length. The trail has a mere 202 feet of elevation gain and a 2% average grade. Be aware that most of the elevation gain does happen all at once as you climb over the sand dunes.
A fun history fact: This trail is named after Henry Cowles, who was a botanist from the University of Chicago. One of his articles, published in 1899 brought international attention to the intricate ecosystems existing on the dunes.
We parked in the north parking lot and started this lollipop-shaped trail where the trail starts across the road from the parking lot.
The first part of the trail heads along the edge of a wetland before entering a black oak savanna. We visited in October and the fall colors were still present.
Our favorite part of the hike was arriving at the top of a dune to gain sweeping views of Lake Michigan. We enjoyed the hike down into the sand and along the shoreline of the lake.
We hiked the 0.2 miles of beach that connects the lollipop of the trail. The beach was quiet with only one other set of hikers enjoying this part of the trail. After the dogs had their fill of rolling around in the sand, we hiked back up and over the dune and into the black oak savanna to hike back to our car.
Mount Baldy Beach Trail
Another interesting, but much shorter trail of note, is the Mount Baldy Beach Trail.
Mount Baldy is one of the largest moving dunes along the southern Lake Michigan shoreline. It rises to 126 feet above the water level of Lake Michigan. It averages about 3 feet of movement each year but can move up to 10 feet away from the lake in one year.
Unfortunately, due to this movement, the trail to the summit of Mount Baldy is currently closed to due concern about visitor safety and to protect the vegetation. (There are free ranger-led hikes to the summit of Mount Baldy, but we chose to take the Beach Trail for unrestricted access).
The Beach Trail is less than a mile in length, but once you reach the beach you can walk much further along the shoreline. It was a windy and stormy day when we hiked out to this beach. The winds stirred up the sand, so we didn’t stay long. But we bet this would be a lovely beach walk on a sunny summer day.
Have you heard about Indiana Dunes National Park’s Bark Ranger Program? This unique program is only offered at a handful of national parks: Acadia, Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes, Olympic, Petrified Forest, and Redwood. It is also offered at a few national historic sites, national monuments, and other sites operated by the National Park Service.
Read more about the BARK Ranger program by clicking on any of the links below:
At Indiana Dunes National Park, you and your pup can pick up an activity sheet at the Visitor Center or the Paul H. Douglas Center. The park also has specific BARK Ranger hikes.
After taking the pledge, dogs receive a collectible dog tag.
The pledge includes learning how to safely and responsibly enjoy the park by following these rules:
- Bag your own waste: Always bring bags and dispose of waste at garbage cans. Never leave waste on or along the trails.
- Always wear a leash that is no more than 6 feet long: This prevents your dog and the wildlife from startling each other.
- Respect wildlife: Indiana Dunes is home to a diverse array of wildlife. Admire from a distance and do not disturb them.
- Know where you can go: Reference the areas closed to pets that are listed above or on Indiana Dunes website.
Find more information about the program at Indiana Dunes specifically, head over to https://www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/bark-rangers.htm
Drive Past the Century of Progress Homes
If your pup isn’t much of a hiker, another fun, although random, feature of Indiana Dunes National Park is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress homes that were brought to the dunes by barge in 1935.
The 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago highlighted futuristic changes on the horizon. After the fair, developer Robert Bartlett bought a dozen buildings (including the five at Indiana Dunes) and brought them to a resort community he was building on the Indiana shores of Lake Michigan.
Interior tours are only offered once a year (and are not dog-friendly), but you can drive by these unique homes at any time. Find out more about the five homes on the NPS.gov site.
Camping at Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park has one campground, called the Dunewood Campground. The campground is open from April 1st to November 1st and offers 67 campsites.
There are sites for both tent and RV camping within the campground, although none of the sites have electric or water hook-ups. There is a dump station at the campground. Restrooms and showers are located in the center of each loop.
About half of the sites are reservable ahead of time, while the others are first-come, first-served.
We visited in October and the campground was pretty empty. With a nice wooded campsite, it almost felt like we had the campground to ourselves. The bathrooms were clean and the showers were warm. It was everything we needed during our stay.
Find out more about camping at Dunewood Campground on the official website.
Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Areas
Again, this national park is overall very dog-friendly. So we didn’t explore much in the surrounding areas. We did, however, visit two national parks and one Illinois state park within a 10-hour drive:
- Shenandoah National Park : 9hrs 50 minutes away
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park: 4 hrs 45 minutes away
- Rock Cut State Park: 2 hrs 10 minutes away
Overall Thoughts on Visiting Indiana Dune National Park with Dogs
Overall, we found Indiana Dunes National Park to be very dog-friendly. The restriction on trails and beaches all make sense. Letting horses have their own trails and people have a swimming beach without dogs, doesn’t seem unreasonable.
We were happy to enjoy several miles of dog-friendly trails and even more miles of dog-friendly beaches. Next time we visit, we will do so in the summer so we can enjoy the beach a bit more.
The campground was well-maintained and everyone we met was friendly. Our only complaint is that they haven’t updated the official park sign to reflect the new national park status yet.
Overall, if you are looking for a less remote national park with easy hiking trails, historical buildings, and lake-front beaches, look no further than Indiana Dunes National Park.