A cool breeze blows … Caribbean blue waters roll gently up the shore … and the beach stretches for miles. It might sound like the description of a tropical island, but it’s located right here in the United States. In fact, it’s one of the country’s newest national parks. Let’s take a look around pet friendly Indiana Dunes National Park!
Located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes has a lot to offer. The highlight, of course, is the 15-mile stretch of beach along the lakeshore. But that’s only the beginning! Formed by retreating glaciers, the dynamic landscape also features dunes, ponds, marshes, creeks, prairie, and forests. In fact, the variety of habitats makes this one of the most botanically diverse of all the national parks.
Efforts to protect the magnificent dunes began in 1916, just a month after the National Park Service was formed. Unfortunately, World War I derailed that attempt.
In 1926, Indiana Dunes State Park was created, but the push for a national park continued. Conservationists were pitted against representatives of the region’s booming steel mills and power plants.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy proposed a compromise that made way for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Port of Indiana. Congress provided it’s approval in 1966, and in 2019, 103 years after the initial preservation movement began, Indiana Dunes became a national park.
The compromises required to preserve the dunes are still evident today. You can see it on the map below with a patchwork of national lakeshore (dark green), state and municipal parks (light green), and privately owned land (tan) between Gary and Michigan City. It’s also evident as you scan the skyline, with power plants standing at both ends of the beach.
There’s no question that this national park feels more industrial than any other we’ve visited. But it’s also a great reminder that we’re lucky it’s here to enjoy at all.
There are a lot of pet friendly activities to enjoy at Indiana Dunes National Park. Leashed pets can explore all trails, except Pinhook Bog Trail and the equestrian portion of the Glenwood Dunes Trail system. They’re also welcome at the the picnic areas, the campground, and on the all beaches except in the lifeguarded swimming area at West Beach between the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and the Monday of Labor Day Weekend.
Don’t forget to ask how your pet can become a BARK Ranger during your visit to pet friendly Indiana Dunes!
At neighboring Indiana Dunes State Park, leashed pets are welcome on all trails, in the picnic areas, campground, and on the beach east of the life-guarded area. Pets are not allowed on the swimming beach.
Beware of Hot Sand
The weather during our stay was idyllic – highs in the mid-70’s and sunny, but the sand was still hot! If you can’t leave your bare foot on the ground, it’s too warm for your dogs pads. Consider getting your pup a set of dog boots and pack them for your trip!
READ MORE ⇒ Which Boots Are Best For Your Dog?
The National Park is divided into 15 disconnected pieces, giving you plenty of places to explore! We began near the eastern edge at Mount Baldy, the largest “living” sand dune in the park.
Mount Baldy stands 126 feet tall, and moves about four feet each year. Because shifting sand is unstable, the massive dune is generally not open to the public, though ranger-led hikes may be available.
You can hike to the beach, and this trail is a great example of how dense forests now cover older dunes. Starting with a few stairs, it’s about a half-mile to the shore, and there’s a steep climb down the dune in deep sand at the end. After carrying Ty’s stroller over the steps in the beginning, it rolled along fine until we had to leave it beside the trail to finish the last section.
The beach isn’t very wide, but it is quiet if you’re looking for a secluded spot. The biggest drawback to spending the day here would be the half-mile hike back to the restrooms in the parking area.
A bit further west, the beach at Central Avenue is more accessible. There’s a paved road from the parking lot that is open only to pedestrians, making the quarter-mile walk to the beach a cinch. And the restrooms here are located on top of the dune – much closer to the beach than at Mt. Baldy. There is another pretty steep climb down the dune, and the beach isn’t any wider, but there’s more than enough space to stretch out.
The beach at Lake View is just a few short steps from the parking area, and the facilities here include a picnic area, shelter, and restrooms. Being so convenient makes it popular, and the lot fills up early during the summer – even on weekdays.
READ MORE ⇒ The Ultimate Pet Friendly American Road Trip
Parking at the Kemil Beach lot gives you access to the 3/4-mile Dunes Ridge Trail, as well as the beach. Start out with a hike through the forest that covers this tall dune, and enjoy views of the extensive wetlands beyond. Then walk the quarter-mile sidewalk to the wide beach.
With more than 2,000 acres and 16.5 miles of trails, you and your pet will have plenty to explore at Indiana Dunes State Park! From the very popular 3-Dune Challenge, to the spectacular birding opportunities on Trails 2 and 10, there’s something for everyone. If you book a spot in the campground, like we did, you’re close to the action and can try them all.
While the trails are great, the big draw here is the beach – and for good reason! Huge, beautiful dunes overlook a wide expanse of sand, and there’s plenty of wave action to make playing in the water fun. There are showers, changing rooms, restrooms, and even some food trucks serving concessions.
Dogs are not allowed on the swimming beach, but if you walk east past the lifeguard stations, you’ll see a sign that indicates where the pet friendly section of the beach begins. It’s a narrower, by far, but there’s still plenty of space to spread your blanket and enjoy the view.
Indiana Dunes is a wonderful pet friendly destination, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Be sure to leave a comment below telling us about your trip.
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