Each beach along the Indiana coast line has a unique flavor. West Beach, with a picnic ground, bathhouse, vending machine, and beach assistants makes this a great place for families and many do visit. Busiet by mid-day, you'll find late afternoons and early evenings best if you want fewer people. You'll hear Spanish as well as English on this and other beaches.
The Dune Succession trail is a loop that runs from the parking lot through the dunes on the east to the beach and then back along the bathhouse road to the parking area. While short (0.9 miles - 1.5 km), it climbs to the top of the dunes along the route.
The trail is unique in that it takes you through the changing dune environment. Beginning in the parking lot, there is rolling sand hills covered with sparse grass. It can be very hot in the summer as the sun reflects off the exposed sand and there are not trees for shade. Withing a 1/10 of a mile (0.2 km) you come to the foot of the dunes and begin the long climb. To protect the dunes from erosion by human feet, you have a staircase climbing to the top. It's a long climb, but I'd never make it without the stairs. As you climb, you enter the wood covered peaks. Here the sand is held in place by the roots of the trees. Here, you'll find a cool breeze and welcome shade on a hot day. You'll also have glimpse of the surrounding dunes and the lake.
The trail is only on top a short distance before it opens out to the north and you look down across a dunescape that reflects all the stages of dune growth. There is the lake, the open beach, the foredunes, shallow pannes and hidden coves of plant life. You'll see open seas of sand and knots of plants. The trail is all down from here, winding through the dunes, around the pannes and out onto the beach. Along the way, there are signs to explain what you're seeing.
Kids enjoy the stairs and running ahead to see whats around the next corner. Adults will enjoy the wind in the trees.
Indiana has 25 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline. Much of it was turned over to industry for economic development. But, nearly half has been set aside as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Indiana Dunes State Park, and Marquette Park.
A good place to start is the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center on S.R. 49 at U.S. 12, just north of I-94.
This paved, 2.1 mile one-way trail runs between West Beach and Grand Street in Miller. Primarily for bikers, it's still a good hike, passing through areas of the National Park System you can't reach by car.
A former rail line, this is one of the best "rails-to-trails" bike paths I have ever ridden. The entire trail runs almost nine miles, from the Lake-Porter County border into Chesterton. The five-mile Portage section is the most interesting; the city having gone far above and beyond duty by placing fascinating interpretive signs explaining a wide range of features of the natural and built environment. It traverses a wide range of landscapes too, from wetlands to prairie, busy roads (complete with safe crossings!), suburbs and farms.
This flat, easy and scenic 1.6 mile trail starts at the north end of Long Lake and passes through more areas recovering from sand-mining. Great views of the intradunal lake and the pretty forest that surrounds it.
On this 0.9 mile trail you find good examples of the diversity of the Indiana Dunes, as arctic plants grow right next to cacti. The terrain is quite varied too, covering exposed dunes on the beach, forest-covered back dunes and intradunal ponds.
Self-guiding brochures explain dune and plant succession, the natural process by which a landscape is altered by the influx of different and new plant and animal communities. They should be available near the trailhead.
This 1.4 mile loop trail traverses and includes a couple of dune climbs. An observation deck offers nice views of the lakeshore and (on clear days) the Chicago skyline. The trails also passes through a flat area, before the establishment of the National Lakeshore in 1966 the area was used in sand mining operations. As you can see from the picture, the area is returning to a natural state. It also skirts the north shore of Long Lake, a large intradunal pond. The West Beach Trail loop has connection points to the other three trails in West Beach.
This popular beach offers some of the best interperative hiking in the entire national lakeshore system in addition to plenty of room for beach bumming.
There is also a beach house, containing bathrooms, pay phones and a seasonal snack bar. The beach is open until 9 PM from May 1 to September 30, the rest of the year it closes at sunset. Although the beach is technically free, from Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a $4 charge to park.