Indiana Dunes Lakeshore
Clear water, sandy beaches and abundant wildlife create an oasis on the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
The weekend after Labor Day, my husband, Larry, and I head to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to camp with friends. We set up tents about 4 miles from our favorite beach, so bikes are a must.
With a day’s supply of towels, coolers and toys, we pedal to the shore. Larry takes some floating noodles, and one friend has a bubble maker on their bike. It’s an idyllic way to see and experience Indiana Dunes.
The park is an oasis containing 15 miles of beaches surrounded by tall sand grass, and a lakeshore that is one of the most biologically diverse sites in the national park system. It has about 15,000 acres of natural terrain, with marshland and jack pine forest, hundreds of flower species, and animals such as egrets, white-tailed deer, great blue herons and red fox, to name a few.
Indiana Dunes is so beloved that there’s a movement to make it the 60th national park. It’s the latest in an ongoing effort to save these pristine dunes that began in 1899, when industry and preservationists battled to control this shore. In 1966, the ecosystem won when the area was declared a national lakeshore.
Today, visitors climb to the top of the big sand dunes and then run back to the bottom. It’s a tradition loved by children most of all. The clear waters invite a swim—one of my favorite things to do, especially at sunset.
Larry and I have hiked most of the 50 miles of trails. We love seeing the array of plant and animal life. Tamarack trees, floating mats of sphagnum moss, and blueberry bushes grow along the Pinhook Trail System. Rare flowers like pink lady’s slippers and yellow orchids dazzle hikers. (Sandy conditions on the trails require a bit more exertion, so bring plenty of water.)
The 4.7-mile Cowles Bog Trail winds through a pristine beach habitat, an 8,000-year-old fen (open wetland), a lowland forest of red maple, and a yellow birch and black oak savanna. This part of the park is named for Henry Cowles, whose plant studies led to its designation as a National Natural Landmark.
Birders flock to the Great Marsh Trail to spot coots, sandhill cranes and wood ducks. During migration, warblers, kingfishers, tree swallows and rusty blackbirds come to rest. Animal activity is a huge draw along the Great Marsh.
On our way back to camp we have to stop at a local gas station for soft-serve ice cream. It’s the perfect, refreshing end to a day of exploration in one of Indiana’s natural treasures.