Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park stretch 15 miles along the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Not surprisingly, the Indiana Dunes beaches are an excellent place to enjoy some fun in the sun.
There are nine beaches at Indiana Dunes. So you have several options when selecting the perfect spot to park yourself on the sand.
We visited 4 Indiana Dunes beaches: Mount Baldy Beach, Central Avenue Beach, Indiana Dunes State Park, and West Beach.
Mount Baldy Beach
Mount Baldy is located on the east side of the park. I think the word ‘mount’ is misleading since it is actually a 126-foot tall dune. This dune moves 5 to 10 feet per year.
Access to Mount Baldy Beach begins with a .75 mile hike on Mount Baldy Beach Trail, traversing the dune.
A side trail leads to the summit of Mount Baldy. However, at the time of our visit, it was closed.
At the end of the trail is the beach. However, be prepared for a steep sandy descent.
And, when it is time to leave, remember you’ll have to climb back up the dune. This is NOT easy. Think Stairmaster.
At the Mount Baldy Trailhead, there are restroom and picnic facilities. The parking lot is moderate in size, with 89 spaces. There are no lifeguards at Mount Baldy beach.
Central Avenue Beach
Central Avenue Beach is located near the town of Pines, Indiana. Access to the beach includes a short hike down a narrow road followed by a steep descent down the dune.
We arrived at this beach early for a ranger-led beachcomber hike. The beach was empty.
We enjoyed a pleasant walk on the beach, looking for sea glass, rocks, and other treasures.
There are 68 parking spaces at Central Avenue Beach. Restrooms are available seasonally, but there are lifeguards on duty.
Indiana Dunes State Park
Indiana Dunes State Park is situated in the middle of the national park. The state park actually has the best facilities.
We visited the state park beach at sunset, so the crowds had thinned out. We enjoyed beautiful views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
It is easy to access the beach from the large parking lot. However, there is an additional fee to access the state park beach. On our visit, it was $7 per car for in-state visitors and $12 for out-of-state.
West Beach has the largest parking lot of all Indiana Dunes beaches (600 cars). And on a busy holiday weekend afternoon, that translated into the most crowded.
There is a large bathhouse as well as concessions at West Beach open seasonally. In addition, you can access the Dune Succession Trail. This trail leads to sweeping views of Lake Michigan.
We hiked to West Beach via the Long Lake Trail. It was a neat hike through what seems like a traditional forest. But this forest is actually growing on top of a dune!
Once we finally reached the beach, we realized just how crowded it was. We can’t stand a crowded beach, so we didn’t stay.
We visited Indiana Dunes beaches on a busy holiday weekend. The park service closed off both Mount Baldy and Central beaches when the parking lots were full.
Even though Indiana Dunes State Park and West Beach have large parking lots, they also have entrance stations. The line to get into these in the afternoon was huge… which is a ‘no’ for us.
For us, the fewer people the better at the beach. So we had the best experiences early in the morning and late in the day. During the middle of the afternoon, we took advantage of the other activities in the park.
We had a great time on our trip to this area of the Lake Michigan shoreline and Indiana Dunes beaches. After relaxing on the beach, be sure to check out the other activities at the dunes. It’s fascinating to explore this area to see the dunes and the plants and animals that call this park home.