Your Guide to the Indiana Dunes on the 4th of July

What better way to spend a hot summer day than at the beach? People flock to the Indiana Dunes on the 4th of July to enjoy the sun, sand and sea, but you have to come prepared if you want to get in! Here are my best tips and recommendations after being a local for 22 years.

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Quick Tips

  1. Figure out which beach you want to go to first. Depending on your wants / needs, you will find different beaches most appealing.
  2. Always arrive by 9 a.m. Even if you’re heading to the State Park, which has the most parking, cars will be lined up on the highway at 10 a.m. and people will wait hours to get in. If you want to ensure a spot, rise early and head to the beach before others think to. I always go by 8 just to be safe.
  3. Pack a picnic lunch! You won’t want to leave so come prepared with food and extra sunscreen. But remember to clean up after yourself. The day after the 4th of July the beach is filled with litter. That’s not how we should treat out planet.
  4. If you’re wanting to stay for a few days, the towns of Chesterton, Michigan City, Portage and Gary are the closest to the lake. (I always recommend Chesterton, but I’m biased).
  5. The town of Chesterton hosts fireworks over the lake every year, but it’s rarely on the 4th! Look into the actual date and time ahead of time so you go on the right day.
  6. Here’s a map of the National Lakeshore & the State Park. You can see more information on specific trails, etc. at the National Park’s website.

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Now, let’s get into the specifics of beach life at the Dunes.

If you’re looking for…

A Great Hike

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Pop over to West Beach if you want a great hike. The trails are broken down into 3 connecting loops, so you can really customize the hike to what you’re looking for. The loops connect, creating a 3.4 mile hike, which is what I did. It was the perfect length because it saw all parts of the lakefront but it wasn’t too long in the heat.

The Dunes Succession trail is about a mile and is a boardwalk (with a lot of steps!) weaving through the Dunes. It’s definitely the best part of the hike because it gives you stunning views of Lake Michigan and the sand dunes surrounding it. The West Beach trail and Long Lake trail take you past Long Lake and into some of the forrest surrounding the Dunes. Altogether it’s a great place for the outdoorsman, and you can cool off in Lake Michigan when you’re done! There are bathrooms and showers so you can change into a swim suit, and there’s plenty of parking. Even at noon this beach was pretty empty!

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If you’re looking for…

Where the Locals Go

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Head to Porter Beach. Just west of the State Park, this beach is free! It is the exact same lakefront that people with pay $7-$13 for at the State Park, but there is limited parking. The two parking lots fill up quickly, so make sure to arrive quickly and beat the crowd.

There is a local with a house right on the beach who created a parking lot in his backyard and charges $5 for parking, so if all else fails that’s still cheaper than the State Park. I love this beach, not only because I’ve been going here for years, but because people will bring their dogs. It’s also a great spot to look for Chicago across the lake. On clear days you can see it really well!

If you’re looking for…

Amenities

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The State Park has a brand new shower house and access to bathrooms. If you’re with a family this is a great option! The State Park also has food vendors set up, a pavilion and the most parking. The lots still fill up, but if you’re running late this is your best chance at grabbing a spot.

Travel Tip: You can’t bring floats or rafts into the State Park. So if you want to float you’ll need to check out Porter or Kimel beach!

The State Park also has its own set of hiking trails and campsites! If you are staying a few days, tent camping here is a blast. I did it once (in the rain, albeit) and it’s a wonderful way to get away from the hustle and bustle of life.

This is also a good option if you have an Indiana State Park pass, or if you’re staying multiple days because there are more things to do. It gets crowded, but when there’s lots of people you can join in on a volleyball game or run up and down the huge sand dune!

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If you’re looking for…

Collectables

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Kimel Beach has always been a favorite of mine, although you have to remember your beach shoes! The entire lakefront is filled with rocks. There isn’t sand until just about where I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. I spent the entire day floating along the beachfront and then carrying my inner tube back to my starting point.

Look for sea glass, it’s rare but when you find it, it’s extra special! There are just so many collectible rocks, kids will love this beach. It’s also generally less crowded. While there is limited parking right along the beach, there is a huge parking lot about .25 miles away.

This beach is cool because of its history. The Florida Tropical House is a bright pink beach house from the 1933 World’s Fair! It’s a gorgeous spot, perfect for the best Instagram shot.

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The Indiana Dunes State Park will always have a special place in my heart. It’s filled with memories of my childhood, and it just gets better and better each time I come home. There are a lot of beautiful places in Indiana, but the Dunes will always be #1 for me.

Have you been to the Dunes? What do you love most about it? What tips do you have for anyone visiting for the first time?

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