Trail 8: Three Dune Challenge
Submitted by: Laura Niemiec
Location: 1600 N 25 East, Chesterton, IN 46304
Hours: 7am-11pm daily
Pet Friendly: Must be on a leash
Parking: There are numerous paved lots around the park but for this trail the closest lots are the Nature Center or Wilson Shelter lots
Cost: $7 for in-state vehicles, $12 for out-of-state; free admission from November until April; Annual State Park Entrance Passes can be purchased for $50 for Indiana residents and $70 for non-residents
Restrooms: Yes, in parking areas
Trail Length: 1.5 miles, rugged
Are you up for a challenge? This trail lives up to its name. The official start of the 3 Dune Challenge trail is at the Nature Center but I picked it up near the Wilson Shelter lot. Trail 8 begins here, running 1.5 miles all of the way to the beach, with 3 giant sand dunes and some incredible vistas en route. Come with me down the boardwalk over The Great Marsh, maybe do a little stretching to get ready for the climbs, and off we’ll go into the woods.
We start an easy climb as we get ready to tackle the first dune, Mt. Jackson. It seems like this will be no sweat at all until you turn the last corner and look up. Here comes the challenge! Can you make it to the top of this 176-foot sand dune without taking a break? When you do, you’ll be above the treetops taking in glimpses of Michigan City landmarks, Lake Michigan, and even fellow hikers over at the Beach House Blowout on Trail 9. Take a break and enjoy the view.
A fun fact about Mt. Jackson is that prior to 1925, when it was named after Indiana Governor Edward Jackson, it was named Mt. Green. Herein is my tie to the dunes. Mt. Green was named for my 5th great-grandfather, Alanson Green, who operated a tavern and hotel in City West in the mid-1800’s. City West is a long forgotten village that sat near the present day Dune Creek in the park and had been a planned rival of Chicago and Michigan City. Today the only reminder left of City West is the namesake picnic shelter. History lesson over, onward to Mt. Holden we go!
Mt. Holden is a bit taller than Mt. Jackson, coming in at 184 feet. It is a very steep climb and I may have taken a break or two (or three) as I ascended. At the top, the view of Lake Michigan is so inviting you’ll want to run down and straight into the water (okay, maybe only in the summertime) but you can’t stop now, you have one more dune to tackle.
Your final mission, if you choose to accept it, is Mt. Tom. Here’s the catch… you won’t be climbing a towering sand dune itself to get to the top this time. Instead, you’ll be climbing stairs! approximately 101 of them. Conquer this small feat and you not only get bragging rights for completing the challenge but you’re rewarded with a sweeping vista that includes a stunning dunescape, the lake and, if it’s a clear day, a picturesque view of Chicago on the horizon. From here you can take Trail 4 back to your starting point or you can finish Trail 8 as it leads you down to the shoreline.
Before you head home, stop by the Visitors Center just down the road off of State Road 49 and pick up a free 3 Dune Challenge bumper sticker to let everyone know you conquered the 3DC.