The 3 Dune Challenge is a difficult 1.5 mile trail at Indiana Dunes State Park. It makes up parts of Trail #8 and Trail #4, and is a loop that starts and finishes at the Nature Center. The challenge goes to the tops of the three tallest dunes in the park for a total of 552 feet of vertical climbing.
I took the trail in a counter-clockwise direction, picking up Trail #8 from the Nature Center. It didn’t take long to get to the first dune I climbed, which was Mt. Jackson. It has an elevation of a whopping 176 feet. It was named after Indiana governor who established the park Edward Jackson.
Next was Mt. Holden, which is a bit higher at 184 feet. It was named for Charles Holden, the first president of the Prairie Club. The club was instrumental in conservation efforts of the Indiana Dunes parks.
Finally, after climbing in the sand up the first two dunes, it was a relief to see a staircase for the third one. When I reached the top of Mt. Tom, I was greeted with a sign that congratulated me for completing The 3 Dune Challenge. I was also able to see Lake Michigan and the skyline of Chicago very faintly in the distance.
Mt. Tom is the highest of all the dunes at 192 feet. It was named after Tom Brady (no, not the quarterback!). He was a former British officer who supported the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He fought minor battles against British soldiers in the Dunes area during the war, including one at Petit Fort, a small fur trading outpost established by the French and acquired by the British in the French and Indian War. Petit Fort was located somewhere south of the Beach House in the park and demolished in 1779. No trace of it exists. Personally, I found it fascinating that the American Revolution reached so far west into Northwest Indiana, in what was at that time frontier wilderness!
After resting on Mt. Tom, the trail finishes down the steps along Trail #4, leading to the campground and back to the Nature Center.
It’s an exhausting but fun trail to do. Scientists say walking on sand takes 1.6 times more energy than walking on hard surfaces, so it’s also a great workout. If you’re visiting Indiana Dunes State Park for the first time, you can’t leave without doing the 3 Dune Challenge.