Indiana Dunes National Park 3-Dune Challenge

Never have I ever thought of myself as an adventure traveler. Ever. But it seems that this third portion of the year is pushing me beyond my comfort zone and making an adventurer out of me. Between hiking waterfalls, to riding on sand dunes, I’ve done it, and now I can add sand dune CLIMBER to my list, and I didn’t have to go thousands of miles away to do it. Instead, we headed to the Indiana Dunes National Park to participate in their new 3-Dune Challenge!

3 Dune Challenge

Indiana Dunes National Park

We’ve partnered with Indiana Dunes to bring you our view of the 3-Dune challenge

As with everything that he does, Zachary grabbed the bull by the horns and conquered the 3-Dune challenge with no issue. His mom? I had a bit of trouble, but I’m glad to say – I did it! If you aren’t actively able to handle the strenuous nature of the dunes, you can always take one of the other trails – the 3 Dune Challenge takes place on trail 8, and anyone at the visitor’s center can match you with a trail for your physical ability. With 16.5 miles of trail to explore, everyone in your family or group of friends will be able to get out and get moving.

What is the 3-Dune Challenge

The 3-Dune Challenge is a 1.5-mile challenge trail on the Indiana Dunes State Park’s tallest sand dunes. Some of the dunes can have a slope of 43° and will have you taking one step backward with every two steps forward. At least, that’s the line that everyone who has done the challenge has uttered to us. We climbed a total of 552 vertical feet, and I felt every bit of it. It took us a total of one and a half hours to climb because I kept using fallen trees to rest a bit. It was quite a workout! I would have dealt with it better had I planned my trip with a clearer head. Here’s what I would suggest, and some of what I was told by our guides.

  • Try coming when it’s a bit colder. Yes, I know, cold – but the sand hardens a bit, and doesn’t sink beneath your feet making you feel like you’re never going to make it to the top.
  • Make sure to bring a backpack with enough room to place items of clothing you may remove because you WILL get warm climbing the dunes.
  • Bring a water bottle
  • Wear shoes that easily remove sand
  • Take your time

When we arrived at the dunes, it was COLD. And this is coming from someone who LOVES chillier weather but you have to remember that I had just returned from Morocco where we averaged 90+ degrees for almost two weeks. We bundled up and then we started sweating halfway through our challenge. I still wouldn’t change a thing.

Must take photo spots

When you are conquering the dunes, you’ll have several spots where photos should be taken, mostly as proof that you actually made it to the top of each of the dunes. We show examples below because we like to practice what we preach.

Mt. Jackson Sand Dune

Coming in at 176 feet elevation, this happened to be the hardest dune for me, probably because it was the first one, and I hadn’t gotten my bearing yet. It felt like we were going straight up, instead of walking an incline, but we made it, and I was able to take a picture of the kids.

Mt. Holden Sand Dune

At 184 feet, this should have been harder than the first dune, but we took our time and had plenty of plateaus to walk over before reaching the top. There was definitely a zen feel – or so I’m told. This was the easiest dune for us to traverse. We had quite a bit of a trek through lots of trees and we were even treated to hearing the waves crash against the shoreline.

Mt. Tom Sand Dune

The highest of the 3-Dune Challenge comes in at an elevation of 192 feet, and it also offers some pretty spectacular views. Because it was a wonderfully clear day, we were able to see the skyline of our great city of Chicago. As you can see, the steep incline of the dune was possible in two different ways. On the dune alongside the stairs, or straight up the stairway to a plateau. My fear of heights was questioning my decision to do this, and I considered bowing out at this exact moment, but I prevailed and got these shots of the kids climbing the steps and hanging out at the third post. Instead of turning around and going back the way we came – we descended steps into the camping area right behind where we began the journey.

How to end your 3 Dune Challenge hike

This is a great question. There are several ways to commemorate accomplishing the challenge. You can head to the beach and picnic there during the warmer months and then take a swim. You can also head back to the nature center to take in the exhibits there, and pick up some souvenirs. It’s also space where you can interact with one of the park rangers. The day that we visited we saw a pregnant Asian Praying Mantis and some Ant Lions. The kids were able to ask a ton of questions about the animals and relate it to things we had seen on the trail, or here at home. I felt pretty awesome to squeeze in a bit of road schooling without anyone being the wiser. At least they didn’t let me KNOW that they knew.

All along the walls were animals that can be found in the Indiana Dunes territory. Penelope was super excited to see all the types of owls that are residents of the area. She’s hoping to go back to see if we can catch a glimpse of any of them, even though we know that they are nocturnal animals.

You can also head back to the visitor’s center to get your 3DC sticker and possibly purchase a hoodie to wear. The visitor’s center is also a great spot to stop and plan the rest of your time in the Indiana Dunes/Porter County area. Stay tuned this week as we share the spots that we explored this second time around.

So, tell me, do you think that you could handle the 3 Dune Challenge?

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