Weekend Backpacker: Chicago
|Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore|
Indiana Dunes State Park
1600 North 25 E.
Chesterton, IN 46304
Located about 50 miles southeast of Chicago, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore spans 15,000 acres along three miles of Lake Michigan's sandy shoreline and includes more than 45 miles of trails. About 2,182 acres are located in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Visitors will find miles of beaches, dunes, bogs, wetlands, woodland forests, an 1830s French Canadian homestead, and a working 1900s-era farm all within the lakeshore's boundaries.
The state park features the highest dunes in the area and fascinating finds such as dunes blown out by wind to form caves and canyons. You'll also see live dunes, which move a few feet each year, and a vast array of more than 1,400 plant species and trees.
While hiking, it is important to stay on the trail to avoid disturbing the fragile ecology of the area. There are a few places to climb the dunes, including West Beach and Mount Baldy. Bird life is also abundant, with more than 250 species. If you're lucky, you might also see deer, hognose snakes, and 12-lined racerunners.
Be sure to visit the Pinhook Bog, Cowles Bog, Hoosier Prairie, and the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Preserve, the area's four national natural landmarks. The steep, sheer dunes will astound you, as will the vast variety of desert plants, giant wood ferns, and white pines.
The best way to see the lakeshore is to camp at the state park or Dunewood and take daytrips on the numerous hiking trails. Mount Tom is the park's optimistically named highest dune;to reach its 192-foot "summit," take the 1.5-mile Trail 8, which begins near the nature center.You'll find great views and interesting dunes along Trail 9, which heads east from the naturecenter toward the Beach House Blowout, a sand canyon carved by the powerful winds comingfrom Lake Michigan. Unusual flowers can be seen on trails through a marsh and forest inland.At the end of your day of hiking, cool off in the lake at the park's half-mile stretch ofbeach.
Getting there: Traveling east or west on I-94, US 20, or Indiana Toll Road I-80/90, exit atIndiana State Highway 49 North. Continue north until you reach US 12. Follow the signs to theDorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center.
Camping: The Dunewood campground, which is part of the national lakeshore, has 54 drive-inand 25 walk-in sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are notaccepted. Camping fee is $10. Hot water showers are provided. Gathering wood is prohibited.The state park has 286 camping sites with showers. Reservations are made by mail or inperson only, beginning March 1.
Permits: There are no entrance fees for the national lakeshore, but donations are accepted at theDorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center. Daily use or an annual pass is required for entrance tothe state park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication