The sandy Lake Michigan shoreline varies from dunes over 125 feet high to short marram grass topped dunes. Fifteen miles of national lakeshore shoreline may be accessed from parking lots that are open from 7:00 a.m. to 30 minutes past sunset. Bicyclists and hikers can enter at 6:00a.m. The 40 space waterside Lake View parking lot is the only one pulling night hours and it remains open until 11:00 p.m.
All beach parking is free of charge with the exception of a user fee at West Beach from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend in which a fee of $ 6.00 per vehicle or $30.00 per bus is accessed. The largest parking lot is West Beach and it rarely fills.
Decisions to enter Lake Michigan waters are at your discretion. Lifeguards are only offered at West Beach and the state park from 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends. Waves, rip currents, and water quality are always changing in this fifth largest lake in the world. Rip currents can be created when waves extend to the horizon. If caught in one, do not swim against the current, but to the side and parallel to shore until free. Even a swimmer of Olympic skill cannot successfully swim against a rip current's force.
Every beach access parking lot has restrooms. Showers are available at West Beach. Gas grills are permitted at all picnic shelters.
Some things are not permitted including:
- Fires on the beach and charcoal fires anywhere else but in the grills at West Beach
- Alcohol at all beaches to the west of Kemil Road Access Point.
- Glass containers at all beach access points
- Pets on all beaches Memorial Day - Labor Day, however, leashed pets are allowed year round on Mt. Baldy and Central Avenue Access Point
- Feeding wild animals is unhealthy for you and the animals and encourages bacterial growth
All parking lots are located adjacent to the beach with a few exceptions. The Mt. Baldy parking lot connects via a one-half mile mildly strenuous beach trail and the Cowles Bog parking lot to the beach requires a five mile round trip hike. The one mile Dune Ridge trail off the Kemil Road Access Point showcases a variety of dunes habitats, but does not directly connect with the beach. Visitors must use the walkway alongside Kemil Road for one quarter mile to arrive lakeside. Parking at the end of Central Avenue is only a block away from the beach where the tall dunes saddle up closely to the lake. The new Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk parking is also only block from the water's edge with picnic tables overlooking the beach and Chicago skyline. Accessible parking lots include West Beach, Lakeview, and Dunbar.
Please stay on the marked trails to preserve the dunes and remember to bring your sunscreen and insect repellent. Enjoy your visit to your dunes!