Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Overview
|Lake View Beach, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Christopher Light/courtesy, National Park Service)|
On Lake Michigan's southern shore, the Indiana Dunes rise as high as 180 feet above the water. The lakeshore encompasses a modest 15,000 acres, yet it is ranked seventh among national parks in native plant diversity. Visitors can explore white- and black-oak savannas, sedge meadows, tall grass prairies, swamps, marshes, bogs, and fens. And of course, let's not forget the 25 miles of white-sand beaches and wandering dunes such as Mount Baldy, where hang-glider pilots launch themselves toward the sun like modern-day Icaruses.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is divided into east and west units. Some of the more popular destinations in the East Unit are the Heron Rookery and Pinhook Bog. The West Unit features the Calumet, Hobart, and Hoosier Prairies.
The lakeshore is situated 50 miles southeast of Chicago and is bordered by Indiana's Michigan City on the east and Gary on the west. You can fly into the region via Gary Regional Airport, South Bend Airport, and Chicago's Midway and O'Hare Airports. The Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroads stop at several stations throughout the park. To get to the national lakeshore by car, take Interstate Highway I-94, the Indiana Toll Road, I-80/90 U.S. 20, or Indiana State Highway 12.
Skip a Stone
See how many times you can skip a flat, smooth stone across the surface of Lake Michigan. If you're really good, it might skip all the way to Wisconsin. Take a stroll along the shore as gulls and shorebirds hover overhead. West Beach is the only stretch of beach on the lakeshore monitored by lifeguards during the summer months. Facilities at the West Beach Bathhouse include showers, picnic areas, and food concessions.
Explore a Quaking Bog
Visitors can take a scheduled tour of Pinhook Bog, a quaking sphagnum bog (and a National Natural Landmark), where sphagnum moss forms thick mats on the water capable of sustaining a person's weight. The bogs are said to be "quaking" because they feel like springboard when walked upon. What is a bog? It's a standing body of water that is acidic and low in oxygen because there is no underground spring of freshwater to feed it. Carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps and pitcher plants have adapted to the poor soil, as have several species of orchid. So what's a fen? A fen is alkaline, rather than acidic, because it is fed by groundwater rich in calcium and magnesium.
Wander up a Wandering Dune
Keep off the dunes! How many times have you heard that before? At Indiana Dunes, you can clamber up two designated dune climbs, at West Beach and Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy is the largest wandering dune in the region and a top launch site for hang gliders. Wandering dunes wander inland as much as 60 feet per year, swallowing everything in their path. At present, Mount Baldy is engulfing a forest and will leave a ghost forest of skeletal trees in its wake.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication