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The Nature Play Zone at Indiana Dunes

A ranger stands next to a sign titled "Nature Play Zone"

Ranger Kim Swift welcomes visitors to the nature play area at Indiana Dunes.

Visitors to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will find an opportunity for children to experience some of the park's wonders at a new Nature Play Zone. The Play Zone, located adjacent to the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education, is believed to be the first hands-on unstructured play area in the entire National Park system.

The "playground" doesn't have traditional fixtures such as slides and swings, instead, it is a place where children can dig into the sand, probe around logs and enjoy other hands-on nature experiences. The Play Zone allows children to experience the park in a way that isn't allowed in most other parts of the park due to the fragile nature of its habitats.

The new nature play area is just one feature of the 15,000-acre park tucked along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, which includes a collection of natural habitats and man-made attractions.

Visitors can observe more than 1,000 plant and animal species in the dunes, marshes and swamps, pocket prairie, sphagnum bogs and several types of woodlands, including a Black Oak savannah that's home to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

The park also features more than 40 miles of trails providing opportunities for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Portions of the 15 miles of lakeshore are open for swimming, fishing and sightseeing.

To learn more about the free kids programs and activities offered at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore throughout the year, visit the park's kids page.