February 2008: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


Porter, Indiana

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park of striking contrasts. More than 1,400 plant species have been identified within park boundaries, ranking it 7th among national parks in native plant diversity. Growing zones clash here at the southern base of Lake Michigan so southern dogwood mixes with arctic bearberrry and northern conifer forests thrive alongside cacti. The park itself stands in stark relief from the industrial surroundings of Gary, Indiana and Chicago. The national lakeshore was designated in 1966 and preserves 25 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Canine hikers will also find the dog-friendly trails, with dips and climbs, to be of a different style than the generally flat northern Indiana area. The high point on the dunes is 123-foot Mt. Baldy at the extreme eastern point of the park - you can make this short, sandy climb your first or last stop. If you take your time, even older dogs can make it to the top or you can hike a trail around Mt. Baldy directly to the beach.

Other trails highlight the natural and cultural signifigance of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. You won't even realize you are mere yards from Lake Michigan on the Cowles Bog Trail, three stacked loops totalling 5 miles. The trail goes past the sub-arctic bog, declared a National Natural Landmark.

The similarly inland Little Calumet River Trail leads to the Bailly Homestead, a National Historic Landmark from the pre-Colonial fur trading era and the Chellberg Farm settled by Swedish immigrants.

The Indiana Dunes are considered the birthplace of the science of ecology. University of Chicago professor Dr. Henry Cowles used the dunes to develop his theories of plant succession, the process of botanical colonization and development. The one-mile West Beach Succession Trail illuminates the natural processes that over thousands of years have created oak forests on once barren sand.

Visitors can access the national lakeshore via Interstate Highway I-94, the Indiana Toll Road, I-80/90 U.S. 20, or Indiana State Hwy 12 and various state roads.