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17 Top Indiana Dunes National Park Packing List Items for 2024 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

what to pack for indiana dunes np
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Beaches probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of Indiana. But that is one of the main attractions you’ll find at Indiana Dunes National Park, located at the southern end of Lake Michigan. While you may hear that the park itself isn’t that big, don’t let that deter you from planning a trip there. There are plenty of activities inside and near the park to keep the whole family entertained, from swimming to biking and hiking to fishing.

In this article, you’ll find what essentials to bring for your trip, what to leave at home, some commonly asked questions about the park, and much more!

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What to Pack for Indiana Dunes National Park – 17 Essentials

  • 1. Umbrella

    It should come as no surprise that it can be very windy along the lakeshore. Plus, because of the lake-effect weather, it can be rather rainy with its fair share of pop-up storms too. Come prepared with a wind-proof umbrella for those morning or evening strolls along the beach.


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  • 2. Waterproof Phone Case

    Whenever you plan on spending any time near water, it’s a good idea to bring along a waterproof case for your phone. This is especially true on vacation, so you can still have easy access to your phone to capture those once-in-a-lifetime memories. And not lose them due to a damaged phone!

    Universa Waterproof

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  • 3. Packing Cubes

    Packing feels like a chore to many travelers. What’s even more frustrating is not being able to find your belongings easily once you get to your destination when all you want to do is get out and explore! That’s why we love these packing cubes so much. They follow the old adage of “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

    Packing Cubes

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  • 4. Waterproof Hiking Sandals

    If you plan on hitting some trails and walking along the beach in one outing, it’s a good idea to wear some waterproof footwear. Aside from drying quickly so you don’t get any blisters on your feet, you can easily clean out the sand that is bound to wind up in them too.

    Waterproof Hiking Sandals

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  • 5. Travel Towel

    Portable travel towels come in handy for so many activities, from backpacking to the gym. If you plan on camping in the park, you can use them to wipe the dew from your tent in the morning or muddy paws. Be sure to pack it for the beach too to help remove sand from your skin and swimwear.

    travel towel

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  • 6. Water Shoes

    Don’t leave home without water shoes or socks. Not only do they protect your feet from rocks or possible glass on the beach, but they can also keep your tootsies from getting scorched by the sand on those extra hot days! We especially like these because they’re not as bulky as some and don’t take up much space in your bag.

    Water Shoes

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  • 7. Neck Wallet

    This is a good item to bring no matter what kind of trip you’re going on or how far away from home it is. It keeps all of your valuables close at hand and in one convenient location. They’re extra nice for days at the beach and other activities where you don’t want to worry about bringing your entire wallet or purse.

    Neck Wallet

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  • 8. Cooler

    No day at the beach would be complete without a cooler full of drinks and snacks. (Plus it will help save you some money.) We love this one because it’s big enough to hold all of your essentials but pack down small when it’s not in use. Plus, it has both carrying handles and a shoulder strap, so you can tote it whichever way is more comfortable for you.


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  • 9. Cooling Towel

    Love sunbathing, but don’t care to spend too much time in the water? Be sure to take one of these guys to the beach with you. Either dip it in your ice-cold cooler water or the lake and use it to stay cool. It’s also a good idea to use on hot hiking days.

    Cooling Towel

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  • 10. Daypack

    No matter what activities you plan on doing at the park, you’ll want to bring a small daypack with you. Store your snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, bug spray, and extra clothes for easy access. Load it up the night before and you’re ready for action in the morning!


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  • 11. Travel Insurance

    Did you know that you can get traveler’s insurance for any trip you take that is at least 100 miles or more away from home? You never know when something might come up, whether it’s a family emergency or the weather turns nasty (lake-effect snow is a very real thing in the winter!). Save yourself some hassle and money with affordable but comprehensive insurance. We use to compare policies from top companies and find the best plan for our family.

    Travel Insurance

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  • 12. Camera

    Of course, you’ll want to bring a camera along for those awesome sunsets, kids playing at the beach, and neat displays at the interpretive center. If you’re in the market, this one is easy to use while still offering tons of different options and settings. And it’s a well-known brand for its quality and affordability.


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  • 13. Beach Chair

    Not everyone is a fan of laying on beach towels. For those times when you’d like to sit up and not get sand all over you, beach chairs come to the rescue. These are awesome because they’re very portable and not super bulky. They won’t bog you down and take up a ton of room, whether you’re carrying them yourself or pulling them in a wagon.

    Beach Chair

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  • 14. Beach Towel

    Since the beach is one of the main draws of Indiana Dunes, you’ll want to bring some beach towels. Whether you’re soaking up some rays or drying off for the day after a swim in the lake, you’ll love these large, affordable towels. If you plan on changing back at your hotel or campsite, be sure to save some extra ones to put on your car seats!

    Beach Towel

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  • 15. Sun Hat

    A sun hat is always a good idea when hitting the beach, whether for a swim or a stroll. (Don’t forget: you’re still getting exposure from the sun even on cloudy days!) We like these in particular because they provide SPF value (50+), are ventilated, and come in a variety of colors to choose from.

    Sun Hat

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  • 16. Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger

    Anker makes awesome power banks. Whether you’re charging your tablet or phone, this little device will get the job done, and quickly. This one, in particular, is great for traveling because of its compact size. Plus, it comes in handy if you forget to bring your wall charger.

    Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger

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  • 17. Hanging Toiletry Bag

    Raise your hand if you hate digging through your toiletry bag. Us too. That’s why we highly recommend getting a hanging toiletry bag for your vacation. There are compartments for all of your soaps, medications, toothpaste, and more, making your morning and evening routine streamlined so you can spend more time having fun!

    Hanging Toiletry Bag

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What to Wear to Indiana Dunes National Park

Like most nature-centered places, casual clothes are the way to go. You’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, so you’ll want to make sure to wear clothing you can move easily in and be comfortable in. Also, speaking of the outdoors, be sure to wear clothes that wick moisture away, especially on hikes. These will help keep you cool and not feel quite as sweaty. Comfortable footwear is a must too, no matter the activity.

Another main activity at Indiana Dunes is the beach. You definitely won’t want to forget your swimwear! For the ladies, it’s also nice to have a cover-up or sarong on hand while you’re not in the water or you decide to hit up the pavilion. An extra pair of clothes is a good idea too so you’re not having to drive anywhere with a wet, sandy bathing suit on!

What Should WOMEN Wear to Indiana Dunes National Park? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to for your convenience).

We’ve talked a lot about summer attire so far. The park and lakeshore are great places to visit year-round, though! In the spring and fall, you’ll want to make sure to bring your rain jacket. Pop-up storms are common in the warmer months. A fleece jacket should serve you well on non-drizzly days. If you’re prone to getting cold, some base layers are a good idea too.

What Should MEN Wear to Indiana Dunes National Park? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to for your convenience).

Although one of the main draws of Indiana Dunes is the beach during summer, it’s a beautiful place to take a hike in the winter months. This is especially true after a snowfall or when it’s so cold the lake starts freezing and heaving great chunks of ice on shore! You will, of course, want to bundle up for any adventures outdoors here during this time. A good winter coat that’s water and wind-resistant is a must. Some warm gloves, socks, and a hat will help to hold your body heat in too.

Dressing for the Seasons

SPRING – March, April, May

It can still be pretty chilly and rainy in the springtime at the dunes. Even in May, it can still be too cold to enjoy even dipping your feet in the lake. You’ll need to bring an array of clothes for your visit as Indiana temperatures are known to fluctuate wildly. A fleece jacket, rain gear, long pants and shirts, base layers, shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes are all must-haves. Average highs range between 47 and 69°F in the spring.

SUMMER – June, July, August

The weather here in northern Indiana is absolutely perfect for beach days during the summer. It’s just hot enough during the day to enjoy the cold water of Lake Michigan. But, it’s mild in the evening without being too chilly, ideal weather for evening walks along the beach or in the woods to avoid the heat of the day. For the beach, you’ll want some comfortable swimwear and sandals. For other outdoor activities, pack some lightweight, breathable clothing. The average high for all of the summer months is 79°F.

FALL – September, October, November

Being in a mild climate zone, fall is similar to spring at Indiana Dunes National Park. For the most part, you won’t have to worry about quite as much rain, but it’s still a good idea to bring a rain jacket. Evenings can start getting cold, so be sure to check the weather before your trip and bring the base layers and fleece jacket, if needed. Average highs for this time of year range between 50 and 75°F.

WINTER – December, January, February

It can be downright frigid here during the winter, so layers are the name of the game: long-sleeve shirts and pants, thermal underwear, insulated socks, a wind-proof winter coat, and a warm hat and gloves are necessities. Again, winter hikes at the dunes are spectacular. Just be sure to bundle up! Average winter highs are between 33 and 38°F.

Dressing Appropriately for the Activity – (Click to expand)
Swimming: If you’re visiting during the summer, you’ll want to bring extra swimsuits. (Putting on a cold, damp bathing suit is the worst!) Flipflops will be easy to get on and off (or just take some water shoes, if you prefer). If you’re prone to sunburns, don’t forget the sunscreen and sun hat! An extra pair of clean clothes is nice too at the end of the day at the beach.

Hiking: To avoid overheating, make sure to wear wicking, lightweight activewear clothing on hikes. Avoid dark colors too as these absorb more heat/sun. Depending on what else you have planned for the day, wear a pair of broken-in waterproof hiking sandals or your regular hiking shoes. Don’t forget to stash your water in your daypack and a cooling towel too, while you’re at it.

Boating and fishing: Although there are no places to rent a boat within the park, there are places nearby. Whether you plan to go kayaking or sailing, you’ll want to dress about the same as you would for hiking. Light colors and fabrics will help keep you cool and reflect the sun, which can really bake you on the water. Make sure your clothes are quick-drying too. Wearing wet clothes all day doesn’t feel great. Some snug sandals or water shoes are a good idea too so you don’t lose them if you accidentally tip over. And again, a sun hat and sunscreen are musts too for spending time on the water.

Camping: Indiana Dunes National Park has a very popular campground that stays booked up in the summer. If you’re lucky and get to take advantage of one of these spots, be sure to take comfy clothes for relaxing around the fire. (Especially ones you don’t mind getting a little dirty.) Tennis shoes or sandals are fine. We prefer the latter because they’re a lot easier to get on and off if you’re going in and out of a tent!

Interpretive center: casual clothes, tennis shoes
Indiana Dunes has a cool interpretive center with displays of the history, wildlife, and more of the park. It’s a great stop to make any time of year, but especially so as a place to cool off on a hot summer day. Things are laid-back here, so casual clothes and tennis shoes are fine. No need to dress up.

What NOT to Bring to Indiana Dunes National Park

We’re all guilty of it sometimes: overpacking. If you’re hoping to avoid that on your trip to the dunes, here are some things you should either leave in your hotel room or leave at home, period!

  • 1.DON'T Bring Unnecessary Valuables

    Unfortunately, break-ins do happen, whether you’re at home or traveling. Leave the valuables, like expensive watches and iPads, at home, if you can so you’re not worried about them sitting in your hotel room or car while you’re out and about.

  • 2.DON'T Bring Too Many Clothes

    If you’re coming to Indiana Dunes during the warm months, you’re likely to be wearing swimwear more than real clothes. Just bring what you need.

  • 3.DON'T Bring Alcohol

    Like most, if not all parks, alcohol is not allowed inside the park, especially in beach areas. That’s not to say you can’t still enjoy a drink with dinner at a restaurant, though.

  • 4.DON'T Bring Melty or Open Food

    As for open food and drinks, you don’t want to attract pests like yellow jackets. Nothing ruins a fun beach day like getting stung!

  • 5.DON'T Bring Bluetooth Speakers

    Nobody wants to listen to your music, whether at the beach, campground, or elsewhere.

  • 6.DON'T Bring Your Wallet

    This is another tip for beach-goers. Obviously, you need your wallet on vacation. But, don’t take more money than you think you’ll need. This is especially important if you’ll be spending time away from your “beach camp” unattended at all.

What NOT to Wear in Indiana Dunes National Park – (Click to expand)

There are a few items you won’t want to or won’t need to pack for your trip to the Indiana Dunes. For starters, leave the tux and evening gown at home. The park is laid-back, and so are the nearby towns. You’ll also want to avoid bringing hot clothes during the peak summer season. (i.e., dark colors and heavy fabrics) Finally, don’t bring your brand new pair of shoes. Sandals and tennis shoes alike, you’ll want comfortable ones that you can wear all day.

FAQs about Indiana Dunes National Park

  • 1. Is Indiana Dunes worth the trip?

    Is Indiana Dunes worth the trip?

    Yes. There is lots of plant and wildlife diversity. It’s especially great for birding and is home to some rare species. The dunes are one-of-a-kind for Indiana. It also has some great hikes. (If you’re really into hiking, make sure to visit the adjacent state park for the 3 Dunes Challenge too.) The dunes are very picturesque, and the beach is great during summer. Visiting Indiana Dunes is like visiting the ocean since the lake is so large you can’t see across it!

  • 2. What is Indiana Dunes National Park famous for?

    The main attraction is its sand dunes, of course. (The three tallest dunes are actually located within the state park next door, so don’t miss out on those during your visit.) Indiana Dunes National Park is also known for its varied biomes and historical sites, including wetlands, oak savannahs, beaches, prairies, and more.

  • 3. What is there to do at Indiana Dunes?

    What is there to do at Indiana Dunes?

    Within the park itself, there is swimming in-season, year-round hiking, an interpretive center, biking, camping, birding, fishing, historical sites, and guided tours. Don’t forget winter sports too: snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There is an abundance of nature trails for you to enjoy. You might want to even bring a pair of binoculars for wildlife watching. No matter the season, there are plenty of fun activities to do at Indiana Dunes National Park.

  • 4. How many days should I spend at Indiana Dunes National Park?

    Technically, you can see everything there is to see in the park in one day. Again, for a national park, it is on the small side. However, most people recommend spending at least 3 days there so you have time to enjoy all of the activities without rushing through them all.

  • 5. What is there to do near Indiana Dunes?

    What is there to do near Indiana Dunes?

    There are fishing and boating opportunities nearby. The Portage Lakefront fishing pier is a popular spot for casting a line. You can find several marinas in Portage as well. The Little Calumet River is a top kayaking spot in the area. Don’t forget the hiking opportunities within the state park too. There are lots of antique shops in the nearby towns as well if that’s your thing.

  • 6. Can you see the Chicago skyline from Indiana Dunes?

    Yes! Unless it is very hazy, you should be able to make out the Chicago skyline to the northwest. It makes for really spectacular sunset pictures.

  • 7. When is the best time to visit Indiana Dunes?

    When is the best time to visit Indiana Dunes?

    Really, it depends on what you’re going for. If you want to avoid the crowds, fall and spring are your best bets. Spring is great for wildflower viewing, and fall for the wonderful changing colors of the trees. Winter offers laid-back snowsports and one-of-a-kind hiking opportunities. The park is open year-round and offers a unique experience during each season.

  • 8. Can you ride ATVs at Indiana Dunes?

    No. They’re strictly prohibited. The dunes are protected land from preserving them. ATVs would negatively impact the landscape.