West Beach Trails

Stairs going down the lakeside of a dune along the Dune Succession Trail.
Stairs along the Dune Succession Trail at West Beach.

NPS Photo / J. Manuszak

Quick Facts
Portage, IN

Accessible Rooms, Baby Changing Station, Beach/Water Access, Benches/Seating, Bicycle - Rack, Cellular Signal, Electric Car Charging Station, Electrical Outlet/Cell Phone Charging, Entrance Passes for Sale, Fire Extinguisher, First Aid Kit Available, Food/Drink - Ice Cream, Food/Drink - Snacks, Gifts/Souvenirs/Books, Grill, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information, Information - Maps Available, Information - Park Newspaper Available, Information - Ranger/Staff Member Present, Information Kiosk/Bulletin Board, Parking - Auto, Parking - Boat Trailer, Parking - Bus/RV, Picnic Shelter/Pavilion, Picnic Table, Recycling, Restroom, Restroom - Accessible, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Showers, Toilet - Flush, Trailhead, Trash Dumpster, Trash/Litter Receptacles, Water - Bottle-Filling Station, Water - Drinking/Potable, Wheelchair Accessible, Wheelchairs Available

West Beach offers a great combination of hiking and relaxing at the beach. The trails are varied and encompass many habitats. There are great views from the top of the Dune Succession Trail stairs, a beautiful pinery of jack pines, birding opportunities along Long Lake and secluded sections of forest. After hiking, relax and swim at the beach.

For a virtual hike along Loop-1, check out our Dune Succession Trail StoryMap.

3-Loop Trail

3.4 miles, 223 feet of elevation gain, 2% average grade, 20% maximum grade
Hike time: 2.5 hours

This loop hike combines sections of the three trails at West Beach. The hike starts with the Dune Succession Trail (Loop 1), which highlights the four stages of dune development. From the parking lot, head north to the bathing house to pick up the trail. This part of the trail is only ~0.6 miles long, but includes a strenuous climb up 270 stairs for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and Chicago. Along the way you will pass through a beautiful pinery of jack pine trees. These are some of most southern jack pines in the world and are a result of Lake Michigan and the work of glaciers transporting seeds. Support the restoration effort in the fragile dunes and ponds by remaining on designated trails.

The hike then picks up the West Beach Trail (Loop 2) for an easy hike through an area that was sand mined in the 1920s. The footing is mainly loose sand. This area is being restored as an oak savanna and is a great place to see prickly pear cactus. Birders will enjoy looking for water birds on Long Lake from the viewing platform.

The final section of the hike is the Long Lake Loop Trail (Loop 3). This section is moderate in difficulty. The trail follows along Long Lake and then heads into the dunes. There is a great view of Long Lake after the initial climb. After crossing the entrance road, the trail winds through the undulating dunes and then has a steep descent into the picnic area and back to the parking lot.

The trail surface varies from loose sand to packed dirt and sections of stairs and boardwalks. The hike will take longer than you think due the loose footing of walking in the sand. The trail starts in relative shade but ends in the full sun. Please bring plenty of water, sun protection and dress in layers. The weather on the beach can be dramatically colder or hotter than in the woods.

Dunes Succession Trail

0.9 mile, 81 feet of elevation gain, 3% average grade, 15% maximum grade
Hike time: 45 minutes

The Dune Succession Trail (Loop 1) highlights the four stages of dune development within its one-mile length. From the parking lot, follow the road north, toward the lake and look for the trail to pick up to the west of the bathhouse. This scenic, but strenuous, trail includes a climb up 270 stairs for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and Chicago. Support the restoration effort in the fragile dunes and ponds by remaining on designated trails.

History & Background
The flat areas at West Beach are the result of sand mining that took place in the 1920's. Imagine what West Beach would look like with uninterrupted dunes.

Trail Features: Birding, Lake Michigan, Swimming, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife
Must See Gems: View from the top of the Dunes Succession Trail stairs

Getting There

Trailhead Parking Lots 376 North County Line Road, Gary, IN 46403

Trailhead GPS Coordinates
41.622934, -87.207747 (Decimal Degrees)

Need to Know

Hours & Information
  • Hours – Open daily from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm Central Time.
  • Hike Length – 3-loop: 3.4 miles. Dune Succession – (Loop 1): 0.9 miles. West Beach (Loop 2): 1.2 miles. Long Lake (Loop 3): 2.2 miles.
  • Hike Time – 45 minutes to 2.5 hours.
  • Difficulty – Easy to moderate with some steep grades on the Dunes Succession (270+ stairs) and Long Lake loops.
  • Trail Surface – Packed dirt with some sections of loose sand. Be aware, trail conditions can change quickly due to high lake levels and storms.
  • Facilities – Year-round restrooms and potable water.
  • Pets – Permitted on a leash (6' or shorter). Pets are prohibited in the lifeguard swimming area in the summer.
  • Prohibited – Littering and hunting.
  • Prohibited – Bicycles and motorized vehicles.
  • Prohibited – Removing plants, rocks, shells, and fossils.
  • Prohibited – Glass and fires on the beach.
  • The main parking lot is paved and has spots for 600 cars and 20 buses.
  • Seasonal showers, lockers and a beach with lifeguards are available from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend through the Monday of Labor Day weekend. For more information, visit the West Beach webpage.
  • There are eight covered picnic shelters near the West Beach parking lot that are wheelchair accessible. The shelters are reservable at starting six months in advance of the desired use date. The reservation is good for day use from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm. The shelter reservation does not waive the West Beach car entrance fee collected during the summer months.
  • Cooking fires at the picnic shelters are permitted in the provided grills or an approved carry-in grill. An approved grill is a non-combustible container with an enclosed bottom and enclosed sides with a minimum depth of 2 inches. Charcoal must be cooled and safely disposed of in a non-combustible container or removed from the area.
  • Please stay on the trail and respect closed area signs. Going off trail damages fragile habitat.
  • Ticks are present year-round. Take precautionary measures to prevent bites.
  • Poison ivy can be present on the edges of the trail.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions.
  • In case of an emergency or to report a crime, call 1-800-PARK-TIP.
  • Trails are not wheelchair accessible. The walkway to the bathhouse and beach is wheelchair accessible as are two of the picnic shelters.

Trail Map

View a detailed map of the West Beach Trail.

All hiking trail maps of the Indiana Dunes National Park are available online on our website or in paper at the trailhead kiosk or the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center.

Nearby Hikes
Paul H. Douglas (Miller Woods)
Tolleston Dunes
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

Indiana Dunes National Park

Last updated: April 29, 2024