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.

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