Location: 1600 North 25 East, Chesterton, IN 46304
Hours: Dusk until Dawn daily
Trail Length: Trail 7 – 1.1 miles; Trail 4 - .75 miles
Entrance Cost: $7 for in-state vehicles; $12 for out-of-state vehicles; Annual State Park entrance passes can be purchased for $50 for Indiana residents and $70 for non-residents.
Parking: Yes, at the Nature Center or Wilson Shelter
Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash.
When looking for a calm, leisurely hike that still has all the beauty and charm of the Indiana Dunes, Trail 7 is a great choice. The trailhead is found to the left of the Nature Center and for of the hike the path is sandy and flat – a mile-long there-and-back trail leading in a fairly straight line from the Nature Center to the lakefront.
Beginning with an easy incline into the woods, Trail 7 is wide and easy to navigate. It will gently climb as it crosses Trail 8 a little more than halfway into the hike before it turns to meet up with Trail 4 and end at the shore of Lake Michigan.
With the tall trees and abundant foliage, this is a colorful fall hike but it is also a favorite for winter hiking, and is frequented by snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Once you reach the lakeshore, you have the option of returning to Trail 7 and retracing your hike back to the Nature Center, you can walk along the lakeshore to the Pavilion and the beach trail, or you can turn your hike into a loop returning to the Nature Center by way of Trail 4.
Although Trail 4 is a short .75-mile hike, it presents its largest challenge by meeting with Trail 8 that includes a large set of steps leading up to Mt. Tom, the final and tallest of the dunes in the Three Dune Challenge. Once at the top, congratulations for reaching the top of Mt. Tom are in order. Benches give you a chance to catch your breath and take in the spectacular view. On clear days it is possible to see the Chicago skyline from here.
For every set of stairs going up, there is another set of stairs going down as Trail 4 will lead you to the other side of Mt. Tom, leaving Trail 8 behind for a calmer, quieter hike through the woods and coming out at the Campground Shelter. From here, you can take the paved campground road to a small trail that leads back to the Nature Center Parking lot.
For campers staying at the State Park campground, you can start at the Trail 4 trailhead from the Campground Shelter and complete both trails in the opposite direction. Also, while staying at the campground, taking Trail 4 to the beach at dusk is a great way to watch the sunset from the top of the dune and still have plenty of light left in the day to get back to your campsite before dark settles in.