Hiking Project Logo

The hardest hike in NW Indiana, but totally worth it. Incredible views.

Your Rating: Rating Rating Rating Rating Rating      Clear Rating
Your Difficulty:
Your Favorites: Add To-Do · Your List
Zoom in to see details
Map Key





Out and Back

724' 221 m


604' 184 m


238' 72 m


237' 72 m



Avg Grade (2°)


Max Grade (6°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · Swimming · Views

Family Friendly A great family challenge! Kids love scrambling up and down the dunes.

Pets permitted on a leash (6' or shorter). Swimming is permitted only at the Pavilion when lifeguards are present (Memorial Day through Labor Day).

There is an entrance fee to the State Park every day from mid-April through mid-November. Fees are collected on weekends only in the winter. $7 per car for Indiana residents, $12 per car for out of state visitors. $2 walk-in and bike fee.


Trail 8 climbs over the three tallest dunes in the park. There are great views at each peak.

Need to Know

Bring plenty of water. Those that complete the 3 Dunes Challenge can stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center on State Route 49 (just south of the State Park) to get a free sticker and purchase t-shirts and sweatshirts. See the park's website for more information.


Park at the Wilson Shelter or at the Nature Center. From the Wilson Shelter, the trail heads north and crosses the Great Marsh via a boardwalk. This is one of the best birding locations in the park. Shortly after the marsh, the trail hooks up with Trail 9 and Trail 10. The Nature Center is a couple yards to the west for those needing restrooms or water. After the junction, Trail 8 starts climbing up and down the dunes.

First up is Mt. Jackson (176 feet). Don't let the small elevation change above the lake fool you. The dune climbs are on open, loose sand. Some people will use their hands for support at times. After climbing down the back of Mt. Jackson, the trail immediately starts up Mt. Holden (184 feet). At the top, veer to the left and avoid the unmarked trail down to the lake. After scrambling down the back of Mt. Holden, cross the junction with Trail 7 to the base of the Mt. Tom stairs (Note that Trail 4 shares the stairs with Trail 8).

Climb the stairs to the boardwalk at the top. Mt. Tom is the tallest of the Indiana Dunes. Enjoy the long views above the tree canopy. To reach the halfway point, turn right (north) leaving the boardwalk and scramble down to Lake Michigan. Make sure you touch the water.

For the those with enough stamina, double back over all three dunes. For those looking for an easier route, combine Trails 4,7, and 8 to reduce the number of dune climbs on the way back.

History & Background

The Indiana Dunes State Park was established in 1925 and contains 2,182 acres of land. The park is home to the tallest sand dunes in the area that approach 200 feet in height. The park contains a diverse range of beach, forest, and wetland habitats. As a result, this is an incredible spot for birding. There are three miles of pristine beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Visit the State Park's website for information on programs, camping, and other activities.


Shared By:

Rafi Wilkinson

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 41 votes


  4.7 from 41 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Recommended Route Rankings


in Indiana


9 Views Last Month
11,779 Since Jan 28, 2016
Intermediate/Difficult Intermediate/Difficult



My team finishing up the trail on the stairs.
Sep 14, 2022 near Chesterton, IN
The view of Lake Michigan from the peak of the first dune.
Sep 14, 2022 near Chesterton, IN
Coming up on the first dune.
Sep 14, 2022 near Chesterton, IN
Climbing up Mt. Jackson on the 3 Dunes Challenge.
Jan 29, 2016 near Chesterton, IN
mt tom stairs
Sep 20, 2019 near Chesterton, IN
Made it to the top of Mt. Holden. Only Mt. Tom to go.
Jan 29, 2016 near Chesterton, IN



Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Oct 7, 2023
Lisa Cole
Aug 21, 2023
Amanda Goodwin
Jul 24, 2023
Dakota Pierce
Jul 18, 2023
Emanuelle Leclerc
Mar 30, 2023
Rick Meyer
1.1mi — 0h 56m
Oct 26, 2022
Monica Oviatt
Sep 17, 2022
Sarah Weatherly
Aug 24, 2022
Mandi Eggert

Join the Community

Create your FREE account today!
Already have an account? Login to close this notice.

Get Started