Still stunning: Indiana Dunes remain scenic in fall, winter


Audrey Matei

With dozens of stunning trails, the Indiana Dunes State Park is not to be overlooked, even in the fall.

Audrey Matei, Arts Editor

The vibrant sun rays spill onto the blue waters of Lake Michigan like watercolor paints. From the top of the sand dunes, the canopies of lush trees stretch as far as the eye can see. With cicadas singing and waves crashing, the Indiana Dunes are drenched with summer fun. 

Over the next few weeks, the duneland will transform into something almost extraterrestrial. The once-scalding sand will be covered in a crunching frost, the towering trees will transform into a tapestry of brilliant orange hues and the warm waters of the lake will be infuriated with the winds of late fall and early winter. 

With the end of summer, many are hesitant to embrace the outdoors, but Indiana Dunes National Park offers enriching trails, beaches and wildlife all year round. 

The national park is made of two separate stretches of shoreline, and the eastern stretch contains the Indiana Dunes State Park. Each section of the park offers different activities for visitors, including beaches, hikes and visitor centers. 

The parks are located on the northeastern shore of Indiana and are around a 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago. The South Shore train line regularly runs directly to parts of the dunes from downtown Chicago, stopping in Hyde Park. The trip is around an hour by train and costs $9.

The park is most popular in the summer. The West Beach Loop offers a mild hike up around the dunes, and hikers loop to the popular West Beach, where visitors can swim and relax. There are also biking and horseback trails throughout the park, and fishing is also available. 

The parks are popular with families and allow pets. This leads to crowding in the summer, but fall is an ideal time to visit.

Fall foliage and cooler temperatures make visiting perfect. The trails that pass through the woods of the eastern section of the park, such as the Bailey Chellberg Trail are scenic during the season. Additionally, the Calumet Dunes Trail is an accessible short boardwalk trail that runs right through the woods and puts saturated fall colors on full display.

Few people consider the Midwestern winter an ideal time for hiking, but Indiana Dunes offers trails for even that when trails are fairly empty. The Cowles Bog Trail looping around the lakeshore offers a beautiful and long hike through a forest, bog and dunes. Make sure to wear lots of layers, for the winds near the lake can decrease temperatures. Plan accordingly for earlier sunsets and your pet’s stamina on this trail. 

If winter hiking isn’t your thing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also options during the winter. 

There’s still lots to do as the leaves transform from green to orange at Indiana Dunes National Park. Whether it’s swimming, hiking, biking or skiing, try something new in the upcoming months by visiting the dunelands.