The Dunes of Indiana : Part One

#40hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

It’s true. I’m a bit obsessed about finding new trails to hike. I try to include a hike when I travel. No matter the reason why I’m traveling. Last weekend was no exception. It was time to take my son for his first year of college in Indiana so, of course, the maps came out to find a hiking opportunity. With the addition of Indiana Dunes National Park as our 61st National Park on February 15, 2019, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

One Park or Two?

As I explored the park further, I learned that the national park wraps around the older Indiana Dunes State Park (formerly known as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore). A two-for-one park opportunity! Even better. I booked my campsite (more on that in my next post) and reached out to the Women Who Hike Indiana Facebook group for insights. Consensus was that boots, not sandals would be the better choice for hiking. I threw both into the car so I could make the call on the fly, packed my gear and loaded the car for college, hiking and camping.

After the weekend getting the college student settled, I headed to the parks. Stopping the main visitor center, which is located near Tremont, I learned that there is no fee for visitors to the national park. If I planned on hiking at the state park, I’d need to get a permit at the state park gate which is about 5 minutes away. And the campground I’d chosen didn’t require check-in. It was early enough in the day that I decided a hike would come before finding my campsite.

Indiana Dunes State Park

The moment I saw the historic gates of the park, I knew I was going to like this one. A lot. The two historic towers that flank the road to the park on the way to the main gate (a modern version of the original gate) are gorgeous. Each has three quotes engraved in the upper section of three sides from the likes of Francis Thompson, Milton, John Muir and others.

The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
And the storms their energy,
While cares will drop off like autumn leaves

John Muir

At the main gate I picked up my day pass (a non-resident bargain of $12/day) then headed to the trailhead for Trail 9 & Trail 10. Both had been recommended by members of Women Who Hike Indiana as “must” hikes for someone on limited time. Between the two, I could get in up to 9.75 miles of hiking if I wanted. Much like other parks I’ve hiked, I went in with an assumption that I’d be heading straight into the dunes for a sandy workout. That’s not the case at all.

Trail 10 starts out near the Nature Center into a marshy area on the inland side of the dunes. I had chosen the route to end my hike along the shore of Lake Michigan, and perhaps catch the beginning of sunset if I took my time. The trail meanders to an area known as The Pinery, along the Indian Portage Trail, across a boardwalk built as an Eagle Scout project, into a sparsely wooded area known as Paradise Valley and turns slowly to reveal the first view of Lake Michigan.

The trial along the lakeshore is about 4 miles in total. It’s mostly easy to follow with several unofficial trails that lead to the dunes and even some places that, while clearly marked to not disturb the dunes, it’s apparent that the temptation is too great for some to ignore. For the most part I had the dunes completely to myself. It was a glorious, but hot afternoon.

As is often the case, I was disappointed at the around of garbage I found. Dog poop bags left on the side of the trail. Yuck. Thankfully I had my Dueter Dirtbag with me so I slowed my pace to pick up trash. Into the bag went the stinky poop bag. On the lake front, with the view of Chicago off on the western shore, it didn’t surprise me that most of what I found were straws and plastics. I collected as much as I could before heading up the dunes on Trail 9 for the hike back to the car. I was reminded that hiking on sand is an excellent workout. There would be no doubt I’d sleep well.

What I did find interesting is that throughout the entire hike, the only wildlife beyond butterflies and dragonflies was one lone squirrel as I neared the trailhead. The trails are well used and there are homes sprinkled within the park boundaries which must mean that the wildlife is likely to be hiding during the day. All totaled I hike just over six miles before I was exhausted and hungry enough to leave. There is still another whole section of the park, including Mt. Holden, Mt. Tom and Mt. Jackson, that I didn’t touch and would love to visit again. Camp and hunger were calling so it was time to go.

Thankfully on my way to the Dunewood Campground on the north end of the national park, I happened on the most lovely food truck, pumping out handmade, wood fired pizzas. That would be much better than rehydrating the trail food in my pack. I snagged a Windy City and headed to my campsite where I promptly sat down and scarfed the entire thing before setting up my tent. If you get the chance to stop by the South Shore Ovenworks near Beverly Shores before the season is over, do it. You can’t go wrong with whatever you order!

GEAR: Columbia Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Granite Gear Blaze 60 Backpack,  Marmot Kompressor Pack, Slumberjack Trail Tent, Paria Thermodown 30 Down Quilt, MSR Pocket Rocket, MSR Dualist Cookware, Slumberjack Trial Tent, REI Co-op Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview: Indiana Dunes : Part Two where I take a quick trip around Mount Baldy before hitting the road to head home.

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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