This post is part of a series on The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, our 10-month, 15,000-mile tour of the top pet friendly attraction in each of the lower 48 states.
A cool breeze blows … Caribbean blue waters roll up on the shore … and the beach stretches for miles …
It may sound like the description of a tropical island, but it’s what we found during our visit to Indiana Dunes. And the 15-mile stretch of sand is just the beginning! This dynamic landscape, formed by retreating glaciers, includes the lake and beach, but also dunes, ponds, marshes, creeks, prairie, and forests. The variety of habitats makes this one of the most botanically diverse of all the national parks.
Efforts to protect the dunes began in 1916, just a month after the National Park Service was formed, but World War I derailed that attempt. In 1926 Indiana Dunes State Park was created, but the push for a national park continued. Conservationists wrestled with representatives of the region’s booming steel mills and power plants, and in 1963 President John F. Kennedy proposed a compromise. Finally, in 1966, Congress created Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and, as part of the deal, made way for the Port of Indiana.
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 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 it at all.
The National Lakeshore 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 is moving about four feet every year. Because shifting sand is unstable, the massive dune is generally not open to the public, though ranger-led hikes may be available.
Hiking to the beach is an option, and the trail is a great example of how dense forests now cover older dunes. Starting off with a few stair steps, it’s about a half-mile to the shore, and the climb down the dune at the end is in steep, deep sand. 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 nice and quiet if you’re looking for a secluded spot. The biggest drawback of spending the day here would be the half-mile hike back to the restrooms in the parking area.
Central Avenue Access Point
A bit to the 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 with Ty’s stroller 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.
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 down to the wide beach.
At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, leashed pets are welcome on the beaches east of Indiana Dunes State Park (those described above), in the picnic areas, campground, and on all trails, except Glenwood Dune, Great Marsh and Pinhook Bog. At 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 at the State Park.
Pet Rules at Indiana Dunes
- Pets must be leashed
- Leashes must not exceed six feet in length
- Pet waste must be picked up and disposed of properly
- At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, pets are welcome on the beaches east of Indiana Dunes State Park, in the picnic areas, campground, and on most trails (Pets are not allowed on the following trails: Glenwood Dune, Great Marsh and Pinhook Bog)
- At Indiana Dunes State Park, 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.)
With more than 2,000 acres and 16.5 miles of trails, you and your dog 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 it’s plenty long enough to find a nice spot to spread your blanket and enjoy the view.
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. Rather than bulky boots designed to protect paws from cuts while hiking, we use “dog shoes” to keep Buster’s tootsies comfortable. They work great in the summer for hot surfaces, and also keep the snow and salt off in the winter. Buster’s also a bit of a tenderfoot and likes them when we’re walking on gravel or spending a lot of time on sidewalks. Be sure to pick some up for your trip!
Visiting these attractions with Ty and Buster is a dream come true. We’ll be blogging about each one as we go along, so fasten your seatbelt and stay tuned!
The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors: Winnebago, 2 Hounds Design, Alcott, goDog®, PetGuide.com, Red Roof Inns, Sleepypod, The Bark, PetHub, RVPetSafety.com, and The Honest Kitchen. Please be sure to visit their websites and social media pages and thank them for their participation!