river and cliffs
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Dinosaur National Monument
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Extensive wetlands provide an irreplaceable rest stop for migratory birds and are home to numerous plants and animals. (Photo © Costa Dillon)

great blue heron
The great blue heron is just one of 352 species of birds found at Indiana Dunes. (NPS photo)

the Florida Tropical House at Indiana Dunes
Five homes from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, including the Florida Tropical House, pictured above, were relocated to the lakefront of Indiana Dunes. (NPS photo)

Lake Michigan shoreline Homepage photo: Lake Michigan's shoreline contains dunes over 125 feet high and short marram grass-topped dunes. (NPS/Jim Rittker)

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Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Standing at the base of Mount Baldy for the first time I thought, “This can’t be Indiana!” After hiking 130 feet to the summit the stunning view of Lake Michigan stretched before me, I had the very same thought. Every time I lead visitors or friends up Mount Baldy, I hear similar reactions of wonderment and surprise.

Tucked in the northwest corner of Indiana, about an hour from Chicago, Mount Baldy is part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which sees nearly two million people a year. Almost all come to relax along the 15 miles of sandy beach, hike up a lakeside dune, or enjoy the cool waters of Lake Michigan. Very few visitors explore the startling diversity of life and recreational activities that lay beyond the steep sand dunes and magnificent lake views.

Indiana Dunes is home to more than 1,100 native plant species. Extensive wetlands fill many of the depressions that dip between ancient dune ridges. Hiking the Great Marsh Trail takes birders to an overlook of the restored marsh where they might spot some of the 352 bird species that frequent the park.

Hiking is hardly limited to wetland habitats. The park's 45 miles of trails wander through dunes, prairie, woodlands, and even a quaking bog. You can join a ranger on the fragile Pinhook Bog trail to explore a floating world of carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and sundew. If you're looking for more of a workout, hike the rugged five-mile Cowles Bog Trail to explore wetlands, oak savannah, and towering dunes.

The Ly-co-ki-we Trail with its gently rolling terrain through oak woods is popular in winter with cross-country skiers. The rest of the year, it serves as the park's only horse trail. But it is strictly BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse).

Park trails are not limited to land. Experienced kayakers get a very different perspective of the dunes from the Lake Michigan Water Trail. Kayak lockers at Lake View allow visitors to stop, enjoy a picnic or hike without worrying about gear, or set up tents in the Dunewood Campground about a mile inland. Less experienced paddlers will find prime canoeing and kayaking conditions along the Little Calumet River, where fishing thrills anglers during trout and salmon runs.

Take a trip back through time and tour the Bailly Homestead, a national historic landmark, and Chellberg Farm to learn about early Duneland history. Other historic sites include five homes from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair that were relocated to the park just after the fair.

No matter how you choose to enjoy Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, be sure to take some time to explore beyond the shoreline wonders. You may be surprised at what you find.

By Bruce Rowe, Park Ranger, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore