The Complete Guide to Camping in Indiana Dunes

If you are thinking of going camping in Indiana Dunes, I have collected all the best places to camp in this article below. Where are the best car camping spots, the best campgrounds, and the best spots for free dispersed camping? Also, I’ll explain some of the essential rules around pets, campfires, & wildlife.

Scorching-hot sun during the summer, salty beachfront with green tufts of grass growing out of desert-like dunes. Mysterious tree graveyards dispersed over the tranquil beachfront. Indiana Dunes is a place that’s certainly not a one-trick pony when it comes to biodiversity.

Overview of Camping Indiana Dunes

Sand in Indiana Dunes

At Indiana Dunes, Henry Chandler Charles developed his theory of ecological succession, a process where a mixture of species changes within a habitat over time. The dunes to the south of Lake Michigan were so biodiverse. They displayed so much evidence of primordial plant and animal life that they became the perfect exploration ground for the botanical and ecological pioneer.

Well-known for its tall dunes made by millennia of saltation and foul air and water flow, this patch of Indiana is a true haven for ecology enthusiasts, scientists, tourists, and campers alike.

Red foxes, small but incredibly fast six-striped lizards darting across the sand at speed, and more than 370 species of birds are native to this area and represent a curiosity that complements the already unique biodiversity around these parts.

As far as the terrain is concerned, the name itself can be pretty misleading – it’s not only about the dunes themselves. There’s much more to it. Indiana Dunes National Park is home to vast territories spanning wetlands, dunes, rivers, forests, and prairie.

For a camper, you couldn’t ask for more, as you get to experience this national park in its full glory and see all the beauty and uniqueness mother nature can offer in a single national park.

Whether you like charming woodland pullouts, curious sandy beaches with tufts of grass sticking out of them willy-nilly, or winding rivers that lead to some of the most beautiful campsites in the US, Indiana Dunes National Park will certainly not disappoint.

Indiana Dunes State Park Campgrounds

Indiana Dunes State Park camping near the beach

The situation is quite interesting regarding the positions of campgrounds within this park.

Rather than representing one large cohesive unit of territory, Indiana Dunes State Park is unique in how considerable parts of its environment are not connected. Different patches of Indiana Dunes terrain disperse along the scenic Lake Michigan, which gives this area a unique and diverse ecosystem.

Indiana Dunes State Park consists of 2,182 acres of landscape that is part beautiful shoreline and, in part, a web of tightly-interconnected hiking trails, fishing pullouts, and bird-watching vantage points.

Indiana Dunes truly is a piece of lakeside territory worth exploring if you’re an avid camper and want an adventure that combines sand, forests, and mountains – all of it next to a massive lake. 

Camping Near Indiana Dunes State Park

Campground in Indiana State Park

Indiana Dunes is a national park with only one campground – the Dunewood Campground. That said, this doesn’t mean you cannot camp in areas outside of this campground.

Thanks to the beautiful terrain suitable for camping, the region outside Indiana Dunes national park represents a fantastic opportunity for an outdoor adventure.

In particular, RV-ing is a camping mode that you can enjoy here. Thanks to the easy-to-navigate terrain, visiting the area around the national park in a vehicle can be a great way to experience the best this region offers. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the best campgrounds surrounding the national park. Almost all of these are RV-friendly, so if you plan to get here onboard your four-wheeler, you’ll probably have a fantastic time.   

Lakeshore Camp

Lakeshore family camp near Indiana Dunes State Park
  • Number of sites: 115
  • Charge: $37 or $64 a night – depending on the time of year
  • RV-friendly: Yes (with a limit of 40 feet)
  • Reservations: Recommended

Boasting a high frequency of satisfied visitors, beautiful nature, and several full campgrounds amounting to 115 individual sites, Lakeshore Camp represents the very best that Indiana Dunes has to offer.

One of the many upsides to visiting and staying at this campground is the proximity to the Indiana Dunes National Park itself, which is to the north of this campground. (By the way, you can get here quickly by simply hopping off I-94 – a great option if you’re coming here from the Chicago direction.)

If you are driving here, it’s nothing more than an easy 15-minute drive on excellent roads that will treat your tires gently. This place is perfect for accommodating RVs and vehicles with a trailer no more than 40 feet in length.

There are many corresponding useful amenities, too, both for RVs themselves and non-RV guests.

You can enjoy free Wi-Fi, excellent laundry facilities, a well-decked-out game room, and a picnic area where you can enjoy a day out with your friends and family when the weather is pleasant – which is often the case. So, if you’re looking for a campground where you can have an experience akin to glamping, this campground is the place for you. 

Woodland Village Campground

Woodland Village Campground near Indiana Dunes State Park
  • Number of sites: A lot
  • Charge: $40 a night
  • RV-friendly: Yes
  • Reservations: Recommended

Plenty of room with many beautiful sites, the Woodland Village Campground is a camping space only about 15 minutes south of the national park itself.

Although this campground is smaller than the other campsites in this area, you get plenty of valuable amenities.

Some of the stuff you can get here includes free Wi-Fi coverage of the entire premises and on-the-air TV.

If you get here with an RV, the services and facilities you get are extensive.

Starting from many points with full hookups, you can also access a stable electrical grid here and a developed sewage system. This place’s local customer service representatives are well known for their friendliness and sincere attitude toward new visitors.

Regarding the natural environment here, you get a rustic woodland charm, with crisp and clean air and plenty of greenery in every direction.

Whether you need supplies for camping or a spare part for your RV, you will likely find them in one of the well-stocked grocery stores nearby.

Sand Creek Campground

Sand Creek Campground tent near Indiana Dunes State Park
  • Number of sites: A lot
  • Charge: $30 – $90 a night
  • RV-friendly: Yes
  • Reservations: Recommended

Suppose you’re looking for a peaceful, family-oriented campground that grants you a full-blown glamping experience thanks to the multitude of terrific amenities. In that case, it doesn’t get much better than Sand Creek.

Some of the stuff you can make good use of here would include a swimming pool, Wi-Fi access covering the entire campground, laundry facilities, and hot showers, so you can relax after a long day of enjoying the surrounding scenery.

The campsites themselves are tucked in neatly in a surrounding that’s quite tranquil and full of shade, clean air, and a soothing woodland charm, combined with a wavy dunes landscape.

All the restrooms here are clean, and the indoor premises are typically air-conditioned. This campground also has refrigerators to keep your beverages and food excellent.

Besides these amenities, you will also find sports facilities for recreation, fire pits, a picnic shelter, and easy-access public restrooms. Another factor adding to the family-friendliness of this place would be the affordable prices.

Anyone looking for a budget-friendly campground close to Indiana Dunes should check out this location.

Michigan City Campground

Michigan City RV and Tent Camp near Indiana State Park
  • Number of sites: A lot
  • Charge: $40 – $55
  • RV-friendly: Yes
  • Reservations: Recommended

Only 10 minutes away from Indiana Dunes National Park, Michigan City Campground represents an excellent option for various camping styles – from cabin camping to RV full-timing.

You can get full hookups and a range of other useful amenities at this campground. These include well-maintained pools, playgrounds, ponds, cabins, and a general store where you can stock up on all your supplies.

Regarding the appearance of this campground, you get plenty of greenery, a tranquil environment where you can relax, and cool-looking cabins.

If you’re not into cabin camping and more into owning a home on wheels to call your own, you’ll love to hear that this place is RV heaven.

Suppose you want to experience this campground naturally, with only a thin sheet between you and the ground below and the sun above you as you zip open your tent entrance. You can do so relatively quickly here since there are a few tent sites available.

You can choose between shaded and non-shaded varieties. Besides these amenities, you can count on picnic tables and fire rings for a complete wild outdoor experience in the middle of Michigan City, Indiana.

If you like camping in sandy areas, be sure to check out our guide to camping near Death Valley national park and our guide to dispersed camping near Moab.

Camping in Indiana Dunes National Park

Coastline along the Indiana Dunes National Park

While Indiana Dunes National Park spans a vast territory, there aren’t that many drive-in campgrounds you can explore here – at least when the Indiana Dunes National Park jurisdiction is in question.

Outside the park boundaries, however, you will find plenty of space for high-quality camping. Still, in the park proper – the options are pretty much limited to Dunewood Campground, which makes up for its lack of competition with its uniqueness and beauty.

Dunewood Campground

Dunewood Campground in Indiana Dunes National Park
  • Number of sites: 67 (13 are tent-only)
  • Charge: $25 a night
  • RV-friendly: Yes
  • Reservations: Recommended during peak season (First-come-first-served during the off-season)

The Dunewood campground comprises 67 sites (13 tent-only) – a perfect option for RVs, but it does not feature hookups. Also, amenities here are only of the most basic kind, so don’t expect any special glamping-worthy gear at these spots, either.

During the off-season, all the sites operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you get here early enough, you can find fantastic spots before everyone else does.

Once the official season starts, reserving a spot for your vehicle and tent is a must if you mean to have a patch of campable ground to arrive on.

The amenities you get at these campsites are pretty basic, and some other essential facilities are missing. For example, you get modern restrooms, cold and hot showers, seasonal dump stations, and potable water sources, which are also active seasonally.

Some facilities absent here would be laundromats, food storage containers, camping stores, or firewood for sale.

The campground is gorgeous, so if you can get some of the supplies in advance, you can still have a fantastic stay at one of these campsites.

Indiana Dunes Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping site near the Indiana Sand Dunes
Photo by unwiht via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wild camping enthusiasts won’t have an exactly stellar time staying within the borders of this national park, as there aren’t any dispersed camping spots here.

Since there is no BLM, Forest Service, or other public lands close to this area, there is no land available for dispersed camping. The closest thing to dispersed camping around this area is parking your RV or car at the nearby Walmart parking lot. You can stay at the parking lot overnight but not pitch a tent or stay for protracted periods.

This Walmart parking lot stay may not be the glamorous or staying-in-touch-with-nature solution, but it can be helpful if you’re en route to a location and you need a place to sleep for the night.

Hovewer, there are plenty of opportunities for dispersed camping in Michigan, which is right next door.

Reservations & Permits

Go birdwatching in Indiana Dunes National Park

Since there is only one campground within the Indiana Dunes National Park, getting a reservation for it is essential.

The peak camping season in these parts starts from May to September, and the visitor traffic is quite heavy within this period.

For that reason, securing a reservation in advance is necessary to ensure you don’t get to Indiana Dunes, only to discover that there is no room left. You can make a reservation through the official Dunewood Campground Recreation.gov website.

Due to the heavy visitor frequency at the only campground within Indiana Dunes National Park, reservations are available for up to six months in advance, with the free spots announced as early as mid-November.

As for Indiana Dunes State Park, even though there are more campgrounds to choose from, reservations are still strongly recommended. You can make one for your trip on the Indiana State Parks link website.  

Pets

Take your Dog camping with you in Indiana Dunes State Park

If you plan to bring along your four-legged companion on a camping trip to Indiana Dunes, you’ll be glad to hear that this national park is one of the pet-friendliest in the world. Typically, a rule of thumb is – as long as you clean after your pet, don’t enter public buildings together, and keep it on a leash at all times, you’re good to go.

There are clear descriptions of the rules surrounding pets in this national park put forward by the Indiana Dunes National Park Service. Here are the most critical points in more detail: 

  • Pet owners are responsible for disposing of pet waste,
  • Pets must not be left in cars alone during the summer due to high temperatures,
  • Owners must keep pets on a leash no more than 6 feet long,
  • Pets are not allowed on the following locations – Pinhook Bog Trail, Glenwood Dunes Trail system (the equestrian portion of it)
  • Service animals are an exception to this rule and are allowed to everyone within the park.

Regarding beaches, pets are allowed but must be kept on a leash at all times – even in water. The only part of the beachfront where pets cannot go is the West Beach swimming area from Friday, Memorial Day weekend, to Monday of Labor Day Weekend.

If you’re arriving here with a horse, some parts of the Glenwood Dunes Trail system are available for riders.

You can visit this webpage for more information regarding pets in this national park.

Campfires

Under the Indiana Dunes National Park rules, starting campfires on campgrounds is OK if you ensure you contain them within fire grates.

During the summer, temperatures here can get relatively high, so leaving campfires unattended may lead to a wildfire. For this reason, it is essential to put out any fires you started before leaving a camping location.

As far as firewood is concerned, cutting down local trees and vegetation is strongly forbidden. The same goes for gathering firewood that’s lying on the ground.

This entire national park and the surrounding area have a unique and delicate biosphere, so taking any puzzle out of it can negatively affect the local wildlife and vegetation.

The best way to get firewood for campfires is to bring some of your own onboard your RV or other vehicles. Alternatively, you can visit one of the nearby towns’ local outdoor shops and get some firewood that way.

Wildlife

Wildlife in Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes has a rich fauna representing one of the most biodiverse and unique ecosystems in the world.

Home to hundreds of thousands of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, including eastern red bat, woodchuck, easter cottontail, and southern flying squirrel, this national park has a respectable wildlife population that should not be tampered with or otherwise upset.

While simply keeping away from wild animals will suffice when preserving the local fauna, there are a few special considerations surrounding three species.

Coyotes and raccoons are known for their great scavenging prowess. To avoid having these curious and hungry animals steal your food, always keep it in food containers.

Getting Supplies

Walking trail in Michigan City near Indiana Dunes

Even though most campgrounds in and around Indiana Dunes are RV-friendly, you don’t have to haul many supplies from home. Thanks to its unusual, almost sophisticated setting, this national park is near some decent shopping stops where you can get everything you need and the kitchen sink.

Also, these places offer additional amenities and facilities such as post offices, petrol stations, grocery stores, outdoor stores (where you can get firewood for camping, for example), and many other valuable stops.

Here are the top three destinations close to the park where you can re-supply before heading to your camping location of choice:

Michigan City, IN – Just a few short miles from the Indiana Dunes National Park, getting all the supplies you need for your camping trip is a piece of cake if you visit this town as your primary re-supplying destination.

Here you can find not only all the amenities you need to purchase but also shops, petrol stations, liquor stores, and many other facilities you can think of along the way. To get to this place from the national park, all you need to do is follow the lakeshore a few miles up, and you’re there.

Portage, IN – In case your camping chair broke, or the ropes on your tent snapped, or you lost your camping mini fridge, your best chance of replacing the piece of broken or missing camping equipment would be to visit the town of Portage, Indiana.

Portage is situated south of the national park, along the I-94 highway. You can find a giant Bass Pro Shop in this town if you’re a fishing enthusiast looking to upgrade or restock your tackle.

Dunes Highway – Cutting straight through the national park and running past Dunewood Campground, the Dunes Highway is another place to re-stock. A grocery store, a petrol station, a camping store, and a cheeky diner called Goblin & Grocer, where you can book a table and have a meal in stylish indoor conditions.

This place may not be that much of a metropolis, but you can find all the basic supplies for your camping trip and even relax in one of the popular local restaurants.

Conclusion

Maybe you’re in it to see the fast and elusive six-striped lizards darting across the dunes, witness the dead trees sticking out of lakefront shores, or park your campervan in one of the unique places on Earth. The Indiana Dunes National Park is a place you don’t want to miss out on.

Overall, whether you’re in it for the ecological marvels and rich history, natural beauty and endless photo-ops, or just some good old camping – Indiana Dunes National Park and its surrounding area can be the perfect place to spend your free time. You get to camp in fantastic conditions, learn about this place’s biological and ecological uniqueness, and visit some great hiking and fishing spots for good measure. 

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