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Indiana Dunes National Park

Located in northern Indiana, USA, Indiana Dunes National Park covers a 25-mile (40km) stretch along the shores of Lake Michigan. The park contains one of the United State’s most diverse groups of ecosystems, contained within 23 square miles (61km²) of protected area. Indiana Dunes is just a 30-minute drive from Chicago. The habitats within this scenic refuge include lake, beach, dunes, ponds between dunes, bogs, swamps, marshes, river, glacial moraines, prairies, forests, and oak savannahs, linked by roads and also hiking and biking trails. The Indiana Dunes National Park is an area that many citizens, scientists, and politicians have fought hard to preserve.

Note: Since authorisation by Congress in 1966 and at the time of the visit featured on this webpage, the area was known as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. However, on February 15, 2019, it was designated the nation's newest and 61st national park and is now known as Indiana Dunes National Park.

The photographs on this webpage were taken during a trip in September 2018, and the first stop was at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center. It is located at 1215 N. State Rd. 49 Porter, IN 46304, and is officially known as the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, after Dorothy Richardson Buell (1886–1976), who was an educator and nature preservationist who became the founder and first president of the Save the Dunes Council (a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the Indiana dune areas along Lake Michigan). Of note outside the visitors centre, is the unique landscaping which was carefully designed to allow nature to slow and clean local rain water, before it flows through Dunes Creek into Lake Michigan.


As with all areas managed by the National Park Service, the visitor centre makes for an ideal place to start with respect to finding out information for an enjoyable, educational and safe visit, as well as picking up a map and finding out which areas are accessible.


The park is an excellent destination for ornithologists and commonly spotted birds in the park include great blue herons, kingfishers, cardinals and towhees (the latter two being New World songbirds of the bunting family), as well as Canada geese, gulls, hawks, turkey vultures and mallards. Other fauna here includes cottontail rabbits, garter snakes, opossums, red fox, raccoons, white-tailed deer and various rodents. Indiana Dunes has over 369 species of flowering plants. Thirteen of these are considered threatened or in danger of extinction. The park is home to a number of invasive species and also several species of plants and animals have disappeared from the dunes.

Running from west to east through the Indiana Dunes National Park, the main highlights include the following:

West Beach – Depending on the temperature of Lake Michigan, this is a popular spot for swimming. A picnic shelter offers an area for grilling, and there are three trails through dunes and forest. The trails are Long Lake Trail, West Beach Trail and the Dune Succession Trail. The latter offers a chance to learn about plant succession; this is the process whereby plant communities replace each other over time. Henry Cowles (1869-1939) was an American botanist and ecological pioneer and he studied ecological succession in the Indiana Dunes. He noticed that it is possible to walk through both time and space together here. As he walked inland from the lake, he noted centuries of plant succession. He saw how plants take root in disturbed environments until their flourishing eventually creates conditions enabling other species to replace them. His work led to efforts to preserve the Indiana Dunes. The Long Lake Trail in fall and spring offers a chance to see migrating waterfowl at the Long Lake, which lies just inland from Lake Michigan.
Portage Lakefront and River Walk – This national park site has only been around since 2008 and here, there is a River Walk, accessible fishing pier, hike and bike trails, food service, plenty of parking and also a breakwater.
Cowles Bog – This is the site of the park area’s most rugged hike. The Cowles Bog Trail is five miles long and goes through wetlands and over wooded dunes to a remote beach.
Bailly Homestead / Chellberg Farm – Moving a few miles inland and southwest of the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, it is possible to explore an 1820’s fur-trading post and a 1900-era Swedish farmstead. The Little Calumet River Trail winds through or adjacent to diverse habitats, such as the Mnoké Prairie, Little Calumet River, and beech/maple woodland.

Indiana Dunes State Park – North of the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center is the Indiana Dunes State Park. The state park, located in Porter County is bounded by Lake Michigan to the northwest, and is surrounded on all four sides by Indiana Dunes National Park. The 1,530-acre (619.2ha) Dunes Nature Preserve covers most of the eastern part of the park, and includes most of it’s hiking trails and dune landscape. Like all Indiana state parks, an entrance fee applies. The state park was established in 1925 and designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974. Highlights in the state park area of the national park include swimming and sunbathing on the clean sandy beach (a small section of the shoreline is set aside as a public swimming beach and is protected by lifeguards between Memorial and Labor Day weekends), the bathhouse, the observation platform near the top of Mount Tom, bird-watching (a bird observation tower is located along Trail number 10 overlooking a marshland habitat), The Nature Center (offers a wide range of resources), picnicking (there are shelters for this in the park), and walking/hiking (including guided tours) along the trails (Trail number 8 leads to the tops of the three highest dunes, the “Tremonts”, whilst the hiking trails extend some 16 miles (26km) across various habitats). It is worth noting that cycling is not permitted everywhere within the park, although it is possible to cycle along the Calumet Bike Trail, runs along the southern side of the state park and beyond in either direction along the national park area.

With limited time, a visit was made to the state park’s beach, between Porter Access Point and Mount Tom. Of note here is a large bathhouse. From this vantage point, on a clear day, it is possible to see the downtown skyscrapers of Chicago in the distance on the horizon, partially hidden lower down due to the curvature of the earth. Photographs from the visit can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Glenwood Dunes – Just to the southeast of Indiana Dunes State Park, the Glenwood Dunes offers a trail for all seasons, with hiking, horse riding, or skiing in winter through the wooded dunes and wetlands. Skis and horses not supplied!
Lake Views – Just east of the Indiana Dunes State Park are a couple of beach access points (Kemil Road Access Point and Dunbar Access Point) and the Lake View picnic area. The latter is wheelchair-accessible, overlooks Lake Michigan, and offers a shelter. It provides an opportunity for watching beautiful sunsets over the lake.

1933 Century of Progress Homes – Along this particular section of Indiana Dunes National Park are to be found five interesting and unique properties. Diverting away from the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and having a keen interest in modern architecture, the author of this webpage made a stop here and felt compelled to take a look around (within the confines of respecting private property).

The “Century of Progress” homes at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair showcased innovative and experimental building materials and designs. Modern features at the time included things taken for granted these days in developed nations, such as dishwashers and air-conditioners. In 1935, developer Robert Bartlett purchased and brought five demonstration Century of Progress homes to the lakefront here, in the resort community town of Beverly Shores. Beverly Shores is largely surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Park and it was, at the time, hoped by Bartlett that the five houses would entice buyers here, to his new resort community.

Four of the homes were moved here by barge, whilst one came here by truck. Today, the homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Indiana Dunes National Park works alongside the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana to preserve and rehabilitate the homes through a historic leasing agreement. Private tenants lease the homes and so whilst they are a popular sight, it is important to respect privacy. The five houses are the House of Tomorrow, the Florida Tropical House , the Armco-Ferro House, the Wieboldt-Rostone House and the Cypress Log Cabin. Photographs of all of these, bar the Cypress Log Cabin (which was difficult to view from the main road, where the car was parked) are shown in the gallery below:

A brief description of each of the houses follows: The House of Tomorrow featured prefabricated concrete and the original concept included an airplane hangar next to the garage. Dubbed “America’s First Glass House, it played a pioneering role in the development of passive solar heating. This came as a surprise to its architect, George Fred Keck, who noted workmen inside it labouring away taking off their winter coats, concluding that the sun streaming through the glass walls could be an economical source of heating. After the fair, Keck incorporated south-facing windows into his designs. One issue, though with the House of Tomorrow, though, was that the heat source from the sunlight coming through the windows worked against its much mentioned feature, namely the air-conditioning; The Florida Tropical House was designed to blend indoor and outdoor environments. The only state-sponsored Century of Progress home, it was commissioned by the State of Florida to lure people to “The Sunshine State”. At a construction cost of $15,000, it was the most expensive and luxurious of the homes, it was designed for people at the upper end of the market and its design was inspired by the subtropical climate of Florida. It’s Miami-architect, Robert law Weed, styled this Art Deco home with plentiful windows, so that, in his words, “The rooms themselves become part of the out-of-doors”. It centrepiece was a spacious two-storey living room, with an overhanging balcony. The large flat roof, suitable for sunbathing and lounging, was modelled after an ocean liner. The nautical theme continued indoors, with portal windows and aluminium railings. Materials native to Florida used in the construction included limestone, and travertine, another form of limestone, deposited by mineral springs; The Armco-Ferro House, made of corrugated steel panels, was the only one of the Century of Progress homes to meet the Fair Committee’s design criteria; it “could be mass-produced and was affordable for an American family of modest means”. Designed by Cleveland-architect Robert Smith Jr., it was an ode to the virtues of porcelain, enamel and steel, expressed in the form of a prefabricated home. It was manufactured at a cost of $4,500 by Insulated Steel Inc. for the American rolling Mill Co. and the Ferro Enamel Corporation and was the first house to be produced using frameless steel and an exterior sheathing of vitreous enamel. It took just five days to be erected from prefabricated panels. The relatively thin corrugated steel panels of the house were connected by steel clips and despite having a modern exterior, the interior was more traditional, in appearance; The Wieboldt-Rostone House was made of Rostone, which is a stone-based composite cladding. However, the material did not survive Lake Michigan’s harsh winters. It was designed by Lafayette-architect, Walter Scholer and was created to showcase Rostone, an exciting new material billed as “never needing repairs”. Rostone was manufactured by a company of the same name also based in Lafayette and the material is composed of limestone, shale, and alkali. The company advertised the fact that the material could be produced in a variety of colours and forms, including slabs and panels. Most of the design and fabrication of the home took place in a factory and the steel framed structure, complete with exterior Rostone panelling was the heaviest of the buildings relocated from the Fair Site to Beverly Shores. Wieboldt Department Stores of Chicago and Evanston furnished he home’s interior. By 1950, local weather extremities and the effects from nearby industry had resulted in severe deterioration of the Rostone, which was then covered with Perma-stone, a popular concrete stucco. In Lafayette, there is still a block of houses which can be seen today still retaining their original Rostone exteriors; The Cypress Log Cabin included original rustic elements, such as carved animal heads and fantasy creatures. It was built to demonstrate the many uses of cypress, using traditional materials rather than the experimental materials used elsewhere in the exhibition. Constructed in the style of a mountain cabin, set in a picturesque, asymmetrical landscape, the design was meant to be a display space rather than a model home arranged to look as if someone lived there. Paradoxically, it was the only house at the Chicago World’s Fair that actually served as a home, occupied, in part, for both seasons by the it’s sponsor and his wife.
The park and its partners provide an annual tour of the homes for the public (details on park website – link at end of this webpage). Shown below is a map with the five “Century of Progress” homes as they stand today in Beverly Shores.

Dunewood Campground – Just over a mile inland from the Lake View mentioned above is the Dunewood Campground. It offers modern wheelchair-accessible facilities and wooded sites. Between here and the beach is the Great Marsh Trail, which is also wheelchair-accessible.

Central Avenue Access Point – This beach is located in the eastern part of the national park and is situated between Lake View and Mount Baldy (see below). It offers more pleasant surroundings than beaches further west, such as the one in the state park itself, as the unsightly steel works seen to the west are out of sight. A short walk is required to access the lakeshore from the car park. Some more photographs from this location are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Mount Baldy – This is the national park area’s most dynamic dune. It stands 126 feet (38½m) tall. It is one of the largest moving dunes along the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan and can move up to an astonishing 20 feet away from the lake each year. As a result of this sand movement, it is difficult for the park authorities to provide visitor trails and access. Consequently, at the time of the visit, it was noted that the park has closed the dune to hiking or climbing for two important reasons. Firstly, there are a large number of small to large holes in the dune which were formed b trees being covered by moving sand and then decomposing, creating dangerous tubes or holes which people can fall into and become trapped, and secondly, the dune vegetation on Mount Baldy is returning, due to restoration works being carried out; park staff are attempting to stabilise the sand by planting dune grasses along the northern slope and in areas where sand has been exposed. Successes from the planting are now evident with increased marram grass and cottonwood trees growing on the fore-dune in front of Mount Baldy. Care can be taken of this large dynamic dune, by keeping to the designated 18-minute, or so, trail to the beach and viewing Mount Baldy from the level of its base. Some photos from the Mount Baldy visit are shown below:


Heron Rookery and Pinhook Bog – Finally, a couple of other highlights, both of which lie some miles inland to the south/southwest of the park’s shoreline are the Heron Rookery and Pinhook Bog. The Heron Rookery was set aside to protect the nesting grounds of the great blue heron. A trail leads through the area and the rookery can be seen on the other side of the riverbank to the north. It is best to visit with a ranger on a guided walk during the annual nesting season. Pinhook Bog can be visited on a ranger-led tour. It is a unique bog resulting from a large chunk of stranded ice age ice. The habitat here is fragile and the bog has been designated a National Natural Landmark. The site rests on sphagnum moss (even the trees and the boardwalk) and contains a large variety of plants. In addition, a sister bog, Volo Bog, is located nearby. For more information on tours, contact the visitor centre.

References and Further Information

1. In-Situ Information Boards and Literature
2. Further Information on the National Park Service Wesite Here

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