Chicago, IL

Day trip Chicago: Head to Indiana this summer and relax at the beach

Jennifer Geer

Less than an hour's drive from Chicago, you can escape the city and chill out on a sandy beach.

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Pathway to Kemil Beach on a beautiful late summer morning. Indiana Dunes National Park, IndianaImage by crazy.daisy/Depositphotos.com

(CHICAGO) Chicago has many gorgeous, sandy beaches to choose from. The lakefront extends for 26 miles within Chicago city limits, and it's full of public parks, trails, and swimming beaches.

However, if you'd like to get away from the city to someplace less crowded, less busy, and a little more laid back, consider checking out one of Indiana's sandy beaches.

The Indiana Dunes beaches are one of my family's favorite summer activities. They are less than an hour's drive away from Chicago (depending on traffic), making them the perfect distance for a day trip.

We regularly visit the two beaches with lifeguards: West Beach and Indiana Dunes State Park.

Which beach should I visit?

Indiana Dunes is made up of two parks: the Indiana Dunes National Park and the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Only one beach (the Indiana Dunes State Park Beach) is inside the Indiana Dunes State Park. The other eight are within the National Park.

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Indiana Dunes State Park BeachPhoto by author

West Beach, Indiana Dunes National Park

The closest beach to Chicago is West Beach. West Beach is an easy-going, family beach with plenty of shoreline and swimming areas. The sand is soft and white, and the gentle waves are great for a relaxing swim.

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West BeachPhoto by author

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West BeachPhoto by author

West Beach amenities include:

  • A bathhouse with a small concession stand. (You may want to bring a cooler for lunch, as the concession stand is pretty limited.)
  • Lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • Pet-friendly.
  • Large parking lot with a short walk to the beach. (Be prepared to haul your beach stuff as it's about a .3-mile walk to the beach, which can feel like a long walk when the hot sun is beating down on you and you're carrying heavy items.)
  • Several hiking trails.
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West BeachPhoto by author

Indiana Dunes State Park

This beach has a large and newly renovated Pavilion with a general store, a new restaurant, a rooftop lounge, and an outdoor ice cream shop.

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The Dari Dip at Indiana Dunes State ParkPhoto by author

The entrance is at the north end of State Road 49, and it requires an Indiana Dunes State Park pass to enter. It boasts a gorgeous beach and several hiking trails, including the 3 Dunes Challenge. The parking lot is close to the beach, right behind the Pavilion, and there is a second lot to the west.

With its lifeguards, amenities, and large shoreline area, the State Park beach may be the busiest of the Dunes beaches. However, it's still a laid-back atmosphere compared to some of the busy Chicago beaches.

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Indiana Dunes State ParkPhoto by author

If you walk a short way from the main area, you can find a relatively empty spot to set down your chairs and beach towels. Yet you're still a short distance to the Pavilion, where you can dine in a sit-down restaurant, except for Tuesdays when it's closed.

The other Indiana beaches

The following beaches are all within the Indiana Dunes National Park. They have fewer amenities and no lifeguards, but swimming is allowed at your own risk.

  • Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk
  • Porter Beach
  • Kemil Beach and Dunbar Beach
  • Lake View Beach and Picnic Area
  • Central Avenue Beach
  • Mount Baldy Beach

You can go here for detailed information on each beach. Scroll down for the YouTube video of an Indiana park ranger's insider tips.

Entrance fees for the beaches

Depending on which beach you visit, you will need to buy an entrance pass for either the State Park or the National Park.

The Indiana Dunes National Park price for non-residents is $25 for a seven-day vehicle pass or $45 for an annual pass. You can buy the pass online at recreation.gov.

The Indiana Dunes State Park price for non-residents is $12 and can be purchased at the fee booth.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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