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Cowles Bog Trail

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.6 (41) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A must do trail in the park! Combines wetlands, savannas, dunes and Lake Michigan in one great loop.


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Map Key

4.7

Miles

7.5

KM

Loop

689' 210 m

High

587' 179 m

Low

202' 62 m

Up

202' 62 m

Down

2%

Avg Grade (1°)

15%

Max Grade (9°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · Views · Wildlife

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.

Overview

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 Park 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.

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.

Description

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.

Indiana Dunes National Park (formerly national lakeshore) was established to preserve portions of the Indiana Dunes and other areas of scenic, scientific, historic and recreational value. Up to two million annual visitors enjoy the park's 15,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, sand dunes, oak savannas, forests, and historic sites. The park's 15 miles of beaches hug the southern shore of Lake Michigan from Gary, IN, to Michigan City, IN. For more information, visit nps.gov/indu or facebook.com/IndianaDunesNPS.

Contacts

Shared By:

Rafi Wilkinson

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 41 votes

#186

Overall
  4.6 from 41 votes
5 Star
71%
4 Star
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3 Star
7%
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1 Star
0%
Recommended Route Rankings

#2

in Indiana

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Photos

Marram grass along Lake Michigan as seen from the Cowles Bog Trail.
Jan 13, 2016 near Burns H…, IN
Lake Michigan coming into view from the Cowles Bog Trail.
Jan 13, 2016 near Burns H…, IN
This is the view from the top of a dune along the trail. You can see the Chicago skyline on clear days.
Feb 13, 2017 near Burns H…, IN
The bog remains surrounded by leafless trees in early February.
Feb 13, 2017 near Burns H…, IN
Lookout before the beach on Cowels Bog Trail.
Jun 2, 2019 near Burns H…, IN

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Check-Ins

Jun 27, 2020
Kristin Campbell
10h 15m
Jun 23, 2020
Annie Wisecarver
Jun 14, 2020
Austin Wehrwein
4.7mi — 1h 35m
May 30, 2020
Jeff Molek
5mi — 2h 00m
May 23, 2020
Dani Gauch
Only did a tiny bit 1mi
May 7, 2020
Sarah Bivens
4.7mi — 1h 56m
May 7, 2020
Shawn Victa
With Sydney
May 2, 2020
Matthew Meredith