When I was looking for hiking at the Indiana Dunes State Park and came across the 3 Dune Challenge, I immediately read that it was 1.5 miles and thought, that’s really a “challenge”? I could not have been more wrong. 

The 3 Dune Challenge trail starts its course at the Indiana Dunes Nature Center, which provides an area for using the restroom and finding out any dunes-related information you need from the friendly people at the front desk. It’s also here where you’ll find the trailhead sign, outlining the map of the challenge if you want to take a picture. 

3 Dune Challenge Trailhead Indiana Dunes State Park


From there, the trail begins. The challenge started by heightening my skepticism of the trail further. About the first third of a mile of the trail is sandy, flat, and easy to walk. However the relaxing nature of the start allows for you to see any wildlife and appreciate everything the Indiana Dunes has to offer. Five minutes into the trail I found a Scarlet Tanager and was able to take this picture.   

Indiana Dunes State Park Scarlet Tanager

It is from this point on however, that the intensity of the trail really starts to take off. The first dune, Mount Jackson, was to me the hardest of the three. However even with the tough hike, the dunes show their beauty with plants and wildlife such as the purple lupine, which I took a picture of below. The elevation of Mount Holden might be higher, but the upward slope on Mount Jackson was more than enough to make me need a break at the top.

Lupine at Indiana Dunes State Park

It was a good thing I needed to break too, because at the top of Mount Jackson is one of the best views you can get in the entirety of the region. The elevation of the dune allows for the hiker to see for miles south, and really appreciate just how green northwest Indiana is. Here’s a sneak peek of that view.

Mount Jackson View Indiana Dunes State Park

After the stop at the top of the first dune, your legs get another break as a descent downhill begins right after. It doesn’t last long however as the climb to Mount Holden begins. This one, to me, wasn’t as hard because it wasn’t as steep of a climb. It was still a challenge, but the more gradual approach definitely helped my legs out. 

Mount Holden Trail Indiana Dunes State Park

At the top of Mount Holden there is a small trail where just taking a few steps down will let you get an amazing view of Lake Michigan, and even see Chicago off in the distance on a clear day. It’s a completely different view from the first dune summit and just as beautiful. If you wanted to tap out here and go relax by the beach, no one would blame you!

Mount Holden View Indiana Dunes State Park

Following Mount Holden is another relaxing descent before reaching the stairs to climb Mount Tom. That’s a lot of stairs, and you may be thinking it sounds horrible, but compared to hiking up the sandy dunes, it was a piece of cake. Also, it was a hot day when I went, but most of the trails were almost entirely in the shade, and the breeze from the lake even made it a little chilly. Another plus is that it rained the day before, most trails would be completely muddy, but the sand of the dunes was unaffected.

Mount Tom Stairs Indiana Dunes State Park

Following the quick trek up the stairs is another breathtaking view, this time of the west side of the region. You get a view of the surrounding forests, the beach, and the lake in the background. Mount Tom is the easiest of the three dunes, so if you’re feeling tired after the first two, don’t worry. 

Mount Tom View Indiana Dunes State Park

The walk down the stairs on the other side of the dune is quick and easy, and after that, it's a short hike back down to the parking lot. Take a selfie with one of the 3 Dune Challenge trail markers and head over to the Indiana Dunes State Park Visitor’s Center to pick up a sticker or bumper sticker of your choice, declaring you’ve completed the 3 Dune Challenge!

3 Dunes Challenge Completed Sticker

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