Arguably the most impressive sight in Indiana Dunes National Park, the moderately tall sand dunes at West Beach can be explored on this short, 0.9-mile loop. The Dune Succession Trail—one of three loops in the West Beach area—traverses coniferous and deciduous forests, cottonwood stands, and high dunes, in addition to the sandy lakeshore and long wooden staircases. This stair-master hike offers a nice workout and far-reaching views across Lake Michigan to the skyscrapers of Chicago and beyond.
West Beach is a short drive from Gary, Indiana and located in a fee area inside Indiana Dunes National Park with three connecting trail loops. The Dune Succession Trail, beginning and ending at the large parking lot at West Beach, is the shortest but most scenic of the trio. From the parking area, walk north, following the wide, paved road toward the West Beach bath house, which can be absolutely jammed on a busy weekend. Walk through the bath house and descend from the wooden deck to the beach itself, a pleasant lakeside destination with distant views of Chicago.
Walk along the beach, heading east, for about 1/10 mile, then look for a sign off to the right marked “Interpretive Trail Starts Here.” This is your cue to exit the beach and start the more rugged section of the hike. Climb the sandy slope, entering the transition zone where the wispy sands collide with a low marsh.
After cresting an initial lip, the trail drops to a small flat dotted with cottonwoods, followed by another climb into a forest of pines and oaks. By now you have already covered more than half the hike’s distance, but the second half is considerably tougher. After traversing a boardwalk section below Diana’s Dune, the onward route requires ascending 132 stairs, rising to heights with excellent views back to Lake Michigan and Chicago.
The ascent ends at about 6/10 mile, after which the Dune Succession Trail continues downhill, suddenly plunging back into a thick deciduous forest. Look for sassafras, black oak, hickory, and other tree varieties. The descent does not last long, however, with the route settling into another stair climb—this time up around 120 more steps. Emerging above the canopy of trees, there is a viewing platform on the right. The highest point on the hike, hikers are now near the summit of Diana’s Dune.
What goes up must come down, and so hikers from here must proceed down at least 160 stairs, returning to the open sun, in sight of the parking lot. At the base of the stairs, turn right, following the short sandy path back to the start. Congratulate yourself for having conquered Diana’s Dune, one of the more challenging climbs in the park.
Allot 30 minutes to an hour for this round-trip hike, depending on pace. If you have to pick only one or two hikes in Indiana Dunes, this one should likely be on the list.