“A must do trail in the park! Combines wetlands, savannas, dunes and Lake Michigan in one great loop.
— Rafi Wilkinson
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · Views · Wildlife
The Cowles Bog Trail highlights an area of such outstanding plant diversity that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1965, a year before the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established. This location, where Dr. Henry Cowles conducted much of his early work in plant ecology and succession in the early 1900s, remains an important focus for scientific study today.
Explore several distinct habitats along this 4.7-mile trail including ponds, marshes, swamps, black oak savannas and beaches. Steep sand dunes near Lake Michigan make this a very strenuous journey. Many visitors pack a lunch to enjoy at the shoreline while resting for the return trip (dont forget to pack out your trash). Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection.
The north and south parking lots and trails are open daily from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. No bicycles or motorized vehicles allowed. Stay on the trail to protect the wildlife and yourself.
Need to Know
Free parking and access. The trail is not accessible to wheelchairs. There is no potable water source. There are year round porta-potties at both parking lots. Pets are permitted on a leash (6 or shorter). Use insect repellent, wear long sleeves, and tuck long pants into socks to avoid ticks and poison ivy. The north parking lot is gravel with space for 10 cars with no handicap spots. The south lot is paved, has 18 spaces and 1 handicap spot.
This featured hike is a lollipop shaped trail and a classic of the Indiana dunes. Starting from the north parking lot, hike out back to Mineral Springs Road on the gravel entrance road and pick up the trail across the street. The trail heads along the edge of a wetland with abundant plant and wildlife diversity. At roughly the one-mile mark, you'll reach the loop trail junction. The preferred direction around the loop is counter-clockwise. Take the trail to the right. The trail will now run through black oak savanna and between interdunal ponds filled with aquatic life.
At roughly the 1.5 mile mark, stay to the right at the junction with the cut-off trail. As you near Lake Michigan, you have to climb up and then down the steep final dune. The reward is sweeping views of Lake Michigan and a beach to yourself. Pack a lunch and stay awhile.
For the return, travel 0.2 miles to the west on the beach and look for the trail and signs to head back over the dune. Stay right at the cut-off trail junction, left at the Greenbelt trail south parking lot connector and right at the loop trail junction. The trail will now take you back out to the north parking lot.
For a slightly shorter and easier journey, take the cut-off trail. This will take a little under a mile off the trail length and avoids the steep dune climbs (but also avoids seeing Lake Michigan).
The Cowles Bog Loop Trail can also be accessed from the south using the Greenbelt Trail at the south parking lot.
History & Background
This trail is a partnership between the National Park Service and the Town of Dune Acres.
The national lakeshore was established in 1966 to preserve for the educational, inspirational, and recreational use of the public, certain portions of the Indiana Dunes and other areas of scenic, scientific, and historic interest and recreational value in the state of Indiana. About two million annual visitors enjoy the parks 15,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, sand dunes, oak savannas, forests, and historic sites. The parks beach hugs the southern shore of Lake Michigan from Gary, IN, to Michigan City, IN. For more information, visitnps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/…