Indiana Dunes began as a National Seashore in 1966, but on February 15, 2019, it became a National Park. This makes a total of 61 National Parks located in 29 states and two territories. I was happy it had become a National Park shortly before we would be visiting Indiana, so we could check off another one on our list. This was the ninth National Park of our full time RV traveling. Located along Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes is between the industrial cities of Gary and Michigan City, Indiana. It seemed to be the most urban of the national parks we have visited as there was more nearby traffic and the Park is broken up into sections around population and industrial areas.
Mark asked a staff person at one of the visitor centers what is different now that it is a National Park. She replied: “Nothing, except the sign.” This new designation will raise the distinction of the Park and promote it more to the public. Once we checked into the Visitor Center and got our book stamped (with an old stamp that did not reflect the new status) we checked out what the Park offered. Most people seem to come here for the beaches along Lake Michigan. Within the National Park is the Indiana Dunes State Park where the highest dunes can be found and the most favored beaches. There is no fee to enter the National Park, but if one wanted to visit the State Park, a fee is charged which makes for an interesting situation. Since we were there to see the National Park and also figured the State Park would be more crowded, we decided to just visit the National Park sections. A few places I was interested in seeing required taking a ranger guided walk, for example to see the Pinhook Bog with unusual plants. Unfortunately, this walk wasn’t offered the day we visited. I was also intrigued to see the “heron rookery” with a trail listed on their park map. When I asked one of the volunteer rangers, I found it rather amusing when she reported that there really weren’t any herons nesting out there, it was just a name.
We drove the main park road to see a few of the beaches. This was Mark’s first view of Lake Michigan although I had seen the Lake for the first time about four years ago when my sister and I visited the State of Michigan. Did you know that Lake Michigan is the largest lake entirely in the United States? As we stood on the beach we had a distant view of the Chicago skyline which I tried to capture with my long lens. Mark sent a text to family that this was as close as he ever cared to be to Chicago! I would love to spend some time and explore that City. I have only flown in there twice and once during a work related trip spent the night near the airport when our connecting flight was grounded. Sigh, apparently my Driver is not excited to explore Chicago and has been known to say that he doesn’t like the big cities.
The Park has a unique exhibit of five homes from the 1933 World’s Fair called, “A Century of Progress.” For over 70 years they have stood in this Park along Lake Michigan. They were built to demonstrate “modern” architectural design, experimental materials and new technologies. The houses were brought to the dunes by truck and barge after the Fair’s closing in late 1934 and early 1935. They are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are leased to private individuals or families who are rehabilitating them at no cost to the government. The bright pink house in photo above is called the “Florida Tropical House.” It has become a well known landmark for mariners.
I decided to take a little hike on the Dune Ridge Trail to get an idea of the different habitats that can be seen on some of the dunes. This walk turned out to be a bit of a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to see the amount of trees, shrubs and plant life. In some places I felt as if I was walking in a jungle like environment due to the dense foliage.
Since I thought I would be walking around sandy dune and sparse plant life, I had worn shorter pants and no socks. As I walked, the loop trail became more narrow and the plants more dense. I was fearing poison ivy or ticks as I tried not to brush against anything. In general, tick bites have been my worst fear while outdoor exploring and this place looked like a ripe location. Other than finding a tick on our bed covering one time, we have avoided any tick encounters of the close kind.
The Park reports Indiana Dunes as one of the “most botanically diverse” of all the National Parks with over 1,100 native plant species. I could certainly see the variety on this trail which I am glad I explored, even though I ended up getting lost for awhile.
One of the more interesting species to be seen here is prickly pear cactus, one of the last plants I would expect to find in Northern Indiana near a Great Lake. The last time we saw prickly pear was in the Arizona desert. I saw small clumps of prickly pear along the trail near Long Lake in another part of the Park.
At West Beach we found some nice dunes with my favorite view the reflection of the dunes in this pond.
Overall, we found Indiana Dunes to be our least favorite National Park of our full time RV travels. Actually, it is the least favorite of the National Parks I have ever seen over the years. I did not think the Park was as attractive or interesting as others. As a Lakeshore, it is not near as impressive as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, both in Michigan with stunning scenery. Perhaps if we had spent more time, explored a few more trails or areas, visited the State Park inside the National Park, our impression would have been different. But, there didn’t seem to be as much to see here and the setting did not seem “National Park worthy.” I do understand though the importance of protecting this natural area in a place with encroaching urban population. In spite of these observations, it was still nice to add this Park to our list.
Has anyone visited this new National Park and have some insight to share on your experiences here? Would enjoy reading about them!
Until next time with more on exploring Indiana!