100 years in the making, Indiana gets its first national park

Indiana Dunes, on the shore of Lake Michigan, was just designated the 61st national park in the U.S.

Indiana Dunes National Park. | Photo: Shutterstock

It’s not every day (or even every year) that America gets a new national park, despite the fact that there are dozens of protected areas that arguably deserve it. That’s why it’s a big deal that one such preserve, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, was just upgraded to a national park. The new designation makes it the 61st national park in the country, but the first in Indiana—and it’s been a hundred years in the making.

Photo: Flickr/Josh Grenier

Indiana Dunes National Park, conveniently located just outside of Chicago, contains about 15,000 total acres of land. It’s made up of 25 miles of dune-studded Lake Michigan shoreline, along with other protected historic sites and natural areas.

The dunes themselves are a main feature to visit. You might even experience “singing sand” on a visit here. This is a phenomenon where sand, under very certain conditions, makes a whistling, roaring, squeaking noise. Mount Baldy is the largest dune on the shore at 123 feet tall. On a clear day, spy the Chicago skyline from various vantage points around the lakeshore.

Other dune hikes include Succession Trail, Tolleston Dune, and the Calumet Dune Trail.

Photo: Flickr/Steve Johnson

While the dunes are the park’s main feature, you can also find bogs, prairie, woodland, rivers, a heron rookery, and lots of historic sites. The dunes are also a habitat for endangered plants and wildlife.

The National Park Service already offer tons of interpretive programs at several visitor and nature centers to help visitors fully appreciate their visits to the park. There are plenty of campsites, and of course, the dunes naturally provide beach access. The park surrounds several towns like Michigan City and Pines, which are cozy lakeshore communities that help draw in visitors to the dunes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/J. Crocker

These communities will be helped greatly by the tourism that the national park designation will bring in. New national parks are created by Acts of Congress. The bills need to be passed by a majority of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then signed into law by the president.

This isn’t the first time Indiana Dunes came close to being named a national park. Following a movement that began in 1899 to preserve Indiana’s dunes, National Parks Director Stephen Mather started the process of declaring the dunes a national park in 1916. The idea was tabled due to World War I. Locals still pushed to protect the area, and finally, in 1966, a bill that created the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was passed.

It remained a lakeshore until the 2019 legislation (in the form of a line item in an appropriations bill) that finally, at long last, made the lakeshore into a full-fledged national park was passed.

If you’re looking to road trip through the National Park, U.S. Route 12 in Indiana (sometimes called the Dunes Highway) is the perfect way to experience it all.