South Shore's Hike-To Beaches
For those looking to escape the crowds or for a challenge
There’s nothing better than visiting a beach that feels undiscovered. You can enjoy the sound of the waves, feel the warm breeze against your face and enjoy a whole beach to (almost) yourself! These beaches are the Indiana Dunes’ “hike-to” beaches. We don’t recommend bringing more than a backpack filled with a light blanket or towel and plenty of water for rehydrating. That means, leave your cooler in the car.
Please note: New National Park entrance fee began on March 31, 2022. Learn more here.
Miller Woods Beach
Just west of Lake Street Beach sits approximately one mile of beach. There are two ways to get to this nearly hidden Miller Woods Beach: #1 park at Lake Street Beach and trek through the sand to the west, or #2 hike through Miller Woods. Should you choose to hike the Miller Woods Trail, you’d start at the Paul H. Douglas Environmental Education Center. From the building, you’ll find the trailhead where you’ll cross the Grand Calumet River and a number of beaver dams. As you make your way across the river, you’ll be transported into completely new landscapes including interdunal ponds, rare oak savannas and towering dunes. The majority of this trail is sand, therefore a bit more challenging than a paved trail. You’ll be happy you brought your water bottle! The trail is 3.4 miles and will take you approximately two hours; not including the time you spend enjoying Lake Michigan.
Need to know details about Miller Woods Beach
Trails and parking lot are open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The Paul H. Douglas Center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. *seasonally and has shorter hours during fall and winter. And, yes! You can bring your leashed dog with you!
Cowles Bog Beach
The Cowles Bog Trail is named after Henry Chandler Cowles, a botanist, conservationist and professor at the University of Chicago. Cowles conducted extensive research on botany and ecological succession at what is now known as Cowles Bog at the Indiana Dunes National Park. His studies focused on relationships between animals, plants and their environment. Because of the Indiana Dunes’ diverse landscapes, plant life and wildlife, Cowles Bog was an ideal location to study ecology and the relationship between plants and their environment. Cowles also studied succession at the Dunes as well. Noting that the landscapes and plant life of dunes change over time, becoming more complex as new species arrive.
As you hike the trail, you’ll come across ponds, marshes, swamps, black oak savannas and beaches. This trail offers a number of distinct landscapes and is beautiful any time of year.
To learn more about Cowles and the importance of the Indiana Dunes to ecology click here.
Need to know details about Cowles Bog Beach
Don’t forget water and extra layers of clothing. The weather can easily change as you hike the trail. The trail is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and there is no fee to park. The nearly 5-mile trail is moderate to rugged with some steep inclines. Porta potties are available, but no running water.
Crescent Dune Beach
A more recent addition to the Indiana Dunes National Park is Crescent Dune Beach, just east of Mt. Baldy. To access this quiet stretch of beach you park at the Mt. Baldy parking lot and follow the trail toward the beach and head east. The local power company’s cooling tower looms ahead, but as you near it, climb the dune and sit down on the sand and you will see nothing but sand and Lake Michigan. This “secret beach” is a true reward after hiking the Mt. Baldy trail. Keep your eyes open for a black line running through the dune…it is just past an old shoreline and indicates a buried forest that was covered by sand hundreds of years ago!
Need to know details about Mt. Baldy Trail and Crescent Dune Beach
This hike has very steep inclines and coolers and other bulky items should be left in your car. The dune and shoreline are in a constant state of change – please obey all trail markers and warning signs during your visit!
For more beaches along the South Shore of Lake Michigan, click here.
There are miles of beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan's South Shore, including the Indiana Dunes.
Learn about the Indiana Dunes State and National Parks. Find things to do, camping and hotels.
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