Don't let the name fool you. There's much more to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore than sand and water.
The 15,000-acre park, tucked along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, includes a unique 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.
More than 40 miles of trails offer opportunities for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. And sections of the 15 miles of lakeshore are open for swimming, fishing and sightseeing.
"There is a lot more to the park than most people expect," public information officer Bruce Rowe says. "We encourage people to get beyond the beach and see all the other spectacular sights."
Rowe says the park, established in 1966, ranks seventh among all U.S. national parks in plant diversity.
For most visitors, Rowe says, the primary attractions are the dunes — the tallest reaches nearly 200 feet in the air — and miles of lakeshore.
"The park is one of the places I like to take out-of-town visitors, and they are always impressed," says David Sanders, 50, of West Lafayette, Ind. "There are just so many different environments in a relatively confined space."
The dunes, which roughly align in four sets of ridges stepped back from the lakeshore, are dramatic reminders of the retreat of a glacier that covered the area more than 10,000 years ago, Rowe says.
The dune complex closest to the lakeshore remains alive, he says, with winds blowing off the lake pushing the ridge inland by a few feet each year. Visitors can follow a marked trail to the top of the most popular and tallest moving dune, Mount Baldy, which rises 126 feet above the lake surface.
About the park
Size: 15,000 acres
Visitors: 1,840,513 in 2011
History: The park, tucked into an urban area not far from Chicago, includes 15 miles of the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan, dunes that rise 200 feet, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, forests and a river.
When visiting: Visitor Center is at 1215 N. State Road 49, Porter, Ind. 46304. Visitor information: 800-283-8687.
Of note: The park ranks seventh in plant diversity among all national parks, with feeding and resting habitat for migrating birds, including a rookery for great blue herons.