Outdoor Adventure

America’s Newest National Park Is in Chicago’s Backyard

Say hello to Indiana Dunes National Park

Photo by Christine Livingston/Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism

Very few cities in the country boast close proximity to a national park, those vast wonderlands of nature and wildlife, but as of this winter, Chicago can make such a claim. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore recently got elevated to Indiana Dunes National Park, joining an elite roster of 60 other parks across the U.S., and being under an hour away from Chicago, it’s the closest to the city by a long shot.

Photo by Christine Livingston/Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism

About the Dunes
Located in Porter, Indiana, along the southern shores of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park encompasses 15 miles and 15,000 acres of nature. Compared to the other parks in the National Park System, that’s quite small, but in spite of its size, the dunes are more biologically diverse than a vast majority of its colleagues. Plus, with 3.6 million annual visitors, it’s the most visited destination in Indiana and the seventh most visited park in the country, right behind Yellowstone and ahead of other biggies like Acadia, Olympic and Bryce Canyon.

Comprised largely of squeaky quartz sand, the dunes were formed some 10,000 years ago when glaciers receded from the area. These soaring, mountainous dunes provide challenging hikes and sweeping vistas of Lake Michigan, which looks downright oceanic with its horizon-stretching size and almost tropical blue hue. The park also contains marshes, woodland, rivers and prairies, packing quite a diverse punch for such a concentrated area.

Photo by Christine Livingston/Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism

What’s Different?
Now that Indiana Dunes has been promoted to National Park status, those already staggering visitation numbers are likely to increase, as the designation puts it in a new international spotlight for travelers who devote their lives to visiting such places. Need proof? According to Kailey Capuano, the Community Engagement Director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, total social media impressions for the park during all of 2018 was about 2 million. But in the span of one month since becoming a National Park, impressions are already at more than 700,000, boding very well for the future.

For Chicago, the closest major city with the most accessible airports for world travelers, the tourism attention is sure to become a win-win. As with cities like Miami and Tucson, which are a stone’s throw from parks like Everglades and Saguaro, respectively, National Parks provide an economic ripple effect for nearby communities and cities. As these cities provide the most convenient and abundant lodging opportunities, visitors are prone to spend time in such cities as well the parks. In Chicago’s case, it represents a chance to welcome new kinds of visitors who likely wouldn’t prioritize the city as a destination in and of itself.

Photo by Christine Livingston/Courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism

Why You Should Visit
For Chicagoans, the National Park designation is an exciting boon. Proximity to such an elite breed of park is a rarity, and something to be proud of. Depending on where you’re traveling from in the city, the trip can take less than an hour to get from your front door to the sandy dunes of America’s newest National Park. And considering the rigorous processes required for parks to go through to achieve such a title, you can rest assured that Indiana Dunes will wow you with its beauty, serenity and outdoor activities. For a place so close to a big city, it feels worlds away, providing ample opportunity for swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, camping and boating. In the winter, it’s even more serene, and for those who bring their own cross-country skis or snowshoes, you’re likely to have the landscape all to yourself.