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Trail 8 - 3 Dunes Challenge

  4.6 ( 21 ) Favorite


2.2 mile 3.6 kilometer loop


Ascent: 238' 72 m
Descent: -237' -72 m
High: 724' 221 m
Low: 604' 184 m


Avg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 10% (6°)


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Trail shared by Rafi Wilkinson

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

Rafi Wilkinson

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.

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ADA Accessible, Flora & Fauna

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Sep 30, 2019
Tim Bellovary
1.8mi — 1h 07m
Sep 18, 2019
Maggie Smith
Saw a poisonous snake with a frog in its mouth. Then saw thousands of Monarch butterflies out by the lake it was breathtaking!
Sep 7, 2019
Alex Sejdinaj
A fun trail with great views. Also a great workout.
Sep 1, 2019
Christine E.
9h 30m
Aug 27, 2019
Tim Bellovary
Aug 16, 2019
Cory Lundeen
Aug 11, 2019
Frank Gee
Aug 8, 2019
Marie M

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 21 votes


  4.6 from 21 votes
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in Indiana


215 Views Last Month
6,401 Since Jan 28, 2016



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


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