indiana dunes with kids

Tips for Visiting Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids

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Are you planning a trip to Indiana Dunes National Park with kids and wondering what there is to do?Indiana Dunes National Park is one of the newer National Park, becoming the 61st US National Park in 2019. While not one of the more popular park, we think it’s worth a visit if you’re already visiting the area, however I would not make a special trip for it. We were already here and driving from Indianapolis to Milwaukee, so a stop made sense since it was so close to our route. Read on for the best things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park with kids.

Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids

How to get to Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park is located in Northern Indiana. Indianapolis is 2.5 hours from Indiana Dunes National Park, Chicago is about an hour. Other major cities within driving distance are Milwaukee (2 hours, 10 minutes), Grand Rapids (around 2 hours) and Detroit (around 3 hours).

The closest major airport is in Chicago. We flew into IND since we were visiting Indianapolis first, and home from ORD, which was closer to the park.

Best time to visit Indiana Dunes National Park

The best time to visit Indiana Dunes National Park is in the spring and fall, to avoid the massive summer crowds, especially on the beaches. If you do come in the summer, be prepared for crowds unless you come during the week, early in the day. It’s also hot in the summer however we visited in mid May, and it was in the 90s and super hot and humid so you can’t guarantee spring like weather either! The water temp was 45 though and so cold!

what to do in Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids
45 degree water!

Where to stay when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park

Because Indiana Dunes National Park spans 3 counties and 15 cities, there are multiple lodging options very close to the park.

Camping near Indiana Dunes National Park

There is one official campground within Indiana Dunes National Park, Dunewood Campground. Be sure to check their website for their opening season as they are not open year round.

Best family-friendly hotels near Indiana Dunes National Park

As I mentioned, hotel options are endless since Indiana Dunes National Park spans many cities and counties. A good option is the Fairfield Inn & Suites Merrillville, which was 25 minutes from the park. Because we were continuing on to Wisconsin after this part of our trip, we stayed in the Chicago area to be closer to our destination.

Things to bring when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park with kids

  • Sunscreen: Much of the park is in the sand, near a beach so bring sunscreen especially in the summer months.
  • Sun Hat: Same as above, you’ll need a hat to keep the sun out of your face!
  • Water/Sand Shoes: Normally, we would bring hiking shoes on National Park trips. However here, you will be in the sand a lot and you want something that can handle it. These are shoes we use at home and on the beach and they worked great for Indiana Dunes as well.
  • National Parks Journal: This is how Milana commemorates each trip. We stamp the inside, buy a sticker and she fills out the details.
  • Collapsible Sand Toys: At some point, you’re going to want to rest. Hiking up and down sand dunes isn’t as easy as it looks! Bring some travel friendly sand toys and let your kids play while the adults relax.

Books and games about Indiana Dunes National Park

Things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park with kids

There are lots of things to do in Indiana Dunes National Park with kids! You can relax on the beach or if your family is more adventurous, explore some hikes and trails. Also note that dogs are allowed in a good portion of the park and even the beaches, so bring your furry friend along so they can earn their Bark Ranger badge!

Best kid-friendly hiking trail in Indiana Dunes National Park

Looking for kid friendly hiking trails in Indiana Dunes National Park? There are more than 50 miles of trails in Indiana Dunes National Park, and there’s something for everyone. Here are some the best trails for families with kids in Indiana Dunes National Park.

  • Dune Ridge Trail: A short, 0.7 mile trail that offers great views of the wetlands and forests. While this isn’t a long hike, it takes you through many diverse habitats in a short amount of time.
  • West Beach Trail: This 1.1 mile loop trail is one of the most popular trails in the park. Know that this trail includes a climb of 250 steps so it’s not an accessible trail.
  • 3 Dune Challenge: The 3 dune challenge consists of the 3 tallest sand dunes in Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s a total of 1.5 miles of tough terrain, that’s nearly 600 vertical feet. We had this on our list however it was so hot during our visit, I didn’t think it was safe to do this in the super hot afternoon sun, when it was over 90 degrees so we skipped it. If you come earlier in the day or on a cooler day, definitely try this!
  • Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Trail: If you like bird watching, this is a great place to do it! The trail itself is only 0.9 miles long and mostly paved, with one set of stairs.
Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids
Dune Ridge Trail
Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids
West Beach
Indiana Dunes National Park with Kids
West Beach boardwalk trail
what to do in indiana dunes national park with kids
West Beach boardwalk trail

Junior Ranger program in Indiana Dunes National Park

Just like all the other National Parks, Indiana Dunes has a Junior Ranger program. Be sure to pick up your Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor Center! Once completed, your child will earn their Junior Ranger badge for Indiana Dunes National Park.

Indiana Dunes National Park junior ranger program
Indiana Dunes Junior Ranger activity book

Geocaching

Have you heard of geocaching? Download the geocaching app on your phone and use the GPS coordinates to find hidden items throughout the park. Think of it as a nature treasure hunt. Indiana Dunes National Park has lots of geocache location and your kids will love searching for treasures. Pro tip: Bring a small item you can leave in the geocache container since you are supposed to take one and replace it with another. Things like a coin, small animal figurine, little trinket, etc. My child understood the assignment and packed more trinkets than we could possibly use!

what to do in indiana dunes national park with kids
Trinkets for geocaching.

Things to do near Indiana Dunes National Park

If you’re looking for something to do near Indiana Dunes National Park but not inside the park, head to the Albanese Candy Factory, just 30 minutes outside the park. While they don’t do factory tours, the candy is made at this facility and you can buy it at very discounted prices. We loved seeing all the different things they make and picked up a few items for the road.

visiting Indiana with kids
Indiana candy factory
albanese candy factory
Albanese candy factory

Where to eat with kids near Indiana Dunes National Park

There are a lot of restaurants near Indiana Dunes National Park so you won’t have a hard time finding somewhere to eat. We visited The Port Drive In on our trip and loved it! It’s 5 minutes from the Visitor Center and just like the name suggests, it’s a drive in with indoor seating as well, serving typical American food. They have over 50 flavors of shakes (they are known for their shakes) so be sure to try one! We had the banana and it was awesome, filled with lots of fresh fruit.

restaurants near indiana dunes national park
The Port restaurant
restaurants near indiana dunes national park
My child chose the grilled chicken sandwich, I had the Polish sausage. We had to try the chili cheese fries since they are known for their chili!

Have you been to Indiana Dunes National Park with kids? If so, tell us what your favorite part was in the comments! Want to save this to read at a later time? Pin one of the images below.

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