Indiana Dunes National Park Virtual Tours

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eDNA Transcript

Hi, I’m Ranger Wendy thanks for joining us today here at the Cowles Bog wetland complex. Today we're going to learn about some research that's going on right here in Indiana Dunes National Park and in the surrounding Calumet Region.

We'll hear from Dr Erin Grey of Governor State University who's very interested in learning about the biodiversity of the wetlands in this area.

Before we meet Dr Grey though, I want to ask you if you wanted to know what kind of things were living in a particular habitat what would you do to find that out maybe you'd go looking, right? Look around to see what you can find or listen. Maybe you could look for evidence that animals were found there, maybe uh footprints animal tracks in the mud or maybe a place where an animal has built its home.

Well interestingly Dr Grey uses another kind of evidence to determine what kind of wildlife exists in a particular wetland. She looks at eDNA.

Come on let's go meet Dr Grey.

Hi, Erin how are you doing?

Hi Wendy, I’m doing good great.

Great. Um, this is Dr Erin Grey. Dr Grey is an aquatic ecologist at Governor State University where she is interested primarily studying invertebrates in both marine and um non-marine fresh water habitats.
Right, thanks.

And so, she's also using eDNA to survey wetlands and wetland conservation strategies in the Calumet Region.

That's right. And you have with you Aaron West. Hey Aaron thanks for joining us.
Thank you for having me.

You're a student a recent graduate right, from Governor State?

Yes, I’m a recent biology graduate from Governor State University.

Awesome, well I’m so glad that you came and joined us today.

So, Erin what is eDNA and why is it useful?

EDNA is simply DNA that we can find in the environment. So, in some cases, if I collect a scoop of water I can find DNA from whole organisms ifthey're small like diatoms or in other cases I find DNA that's shed from feces skin or scales of larger organisms and we can use this DNA to identify what's been in the water.

Very interesting, that's cool. So, Erin, what makes this a vernal pool?

Well this is a vernal pool because it's filled with water only part of the year. So, it'll fills up during the spring rains and then by late summer it'll be dried out. And these habitats are very important for a lot of invertebrates and amphibians that need a pool without fish.

oh okay, interesting. So, your eDNA work on vernal pools is part of a pilot study isn't it? What are you trying to learn from this?

That's right. We are trying to learn how best to sample eDNA in these pools. We think that there might be some unique chemistry because of all the decaying leaves in the water, that we might need to think about when we do our eDNA surveys. And we're also not sure how many samples we need to take to get a good picture of the biodiversity in these pools.

Okay so your work here will give you that information. Sounds right, that's right.

Cool well can you and Aaron show us how you collect your samples?

Sure, we'd love to.

Okay what I’m going to do now is I’m going to take my first sample, and for each sample we have a clean sterilized sampling kit to make sure we don't have DNA contamination across samples. So I’m going to come in here and grab a clean bottle to scoop my environmental sample or water. I’m going to come out here. Oh, lots of invertebrates I can see. And now I have my water sample. And then I’m going to give it to Aaron for filtering. And then I’m going to change my gloves because we don't want to contaminate or cross samples.

So now I’m going to take the sample that Dr Erin Grey gave me. I’m going to draw up 60 milliliters into the syringe, close the bottle up so nothing gets in or out, and then I’m going to try to filter 120 milliliters of our sampled water containing eDNA. So all that eDNA catches on the filter and after a while, our micro filter can get pretty clogged up and this will get kind of hard to push through.

So, after we filter it out, we're going to take our tweezers, open the cap, and there you can see our filter with all of our eDNA particulate. I’m gonna fold it up and we're gonna put it in Longmire solution. This is a DNA preservation buffer to make sure that our DNA does not degrade over time, until we get it back to the lab. There we go. Great, let me label this and we'll do some others.

Now that we've taken all of our eDNA samples I’m going to go out into the middle of the vernal pool and take some water quality measurements. This here is a YSI probe and it is going to measure the pH, temperature, conductivity, and nitrate concentration in this vernal pool.

So, when we saw you take the water quality sample out into the vernal pool, what do you use with the data that it collects? I mean how does that factor into your eDNA research?

Yeah so, um, I was taking basic water measurements like, temperature pH, s alkalinity, and nitrates. And what I’m interested in is to see if our eDNA surveys are more or less accurate in different types of vernal pools depending on all those different measurements.

Okay very cool. And we saw the filtering and Aaron's doing more filtering back there.

That's right. Um what happens to all this when you guys get back to the lab? Okay, when we go back to the lab what I’m going to do is I’m going to take the tubes you saw us put the filters in and we are going to extract the DNA out of those filters. And then we're going to screen the eDNA for different invasive species, different endangered species and just general biodiversity.

Very cool. So, Erin and what have you learned in the research that you've done so far?

Well last year we did a pilot survey of hemi-marshes in the region and what we found is that sometimes the water chemistry interfered with our ability to run the eDNA reactions that we needed to run. And we think that this is because of different plant compounds called tannins or humic acids. We also found that in general, eDNA surveys tend to be more accurate for things like fish that probably shed more DNA into the water than things like turtles which have hard shells and might not shed as much DNA.

Very interesting. So, can you tell me how the information that you're learning might help managers who are responsible for managing the natural resources in their parks or wetlands how they might find it useful?

Yeah, our hope is is to develop eDNA surveys that allow the park rangers to survey more habitats and get information a lot quicker than they could if they had to catch the actual organisms. That way they can prioritize habitats for conservation.

That's awesome, very cool. So, thank you so much Erin and thank you back there Aaron. We sure appreciate you guys sharing about your research with all these folks and maybe they'll see you out here on the trail one day Yeah great.

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10 minutes, 7 seconds

Learn how ecologists use eDNA to study vernal pools. See the tools and methods used to gather important research to help park management maintain the fragile ecosystems at our national parks.


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Hi I'm Rafi Wilkinson with Indiana Dunes
National Park. I'm here at Tolleston Dunes
one of my personal favorite trails here.
We have over 50 miles of trails and
fourteen different trail systems and
this is really one of our most
overlooked. This is a 2.9 mile trail and
it really gets a lot of varied habitats
from wetlands to some of the really best
oak savanna we have here and really nice
views and this time of year early summer.
We also have great lupines and prickly
pear cactus to see and it's just
absolutely a great hike and on a busy

I really recommend coming here instead
of waiting in line for other places. So
follow me as we take this hike.

So, we've really just gotten started on
this trail and already there's many
interesting things to see for example,
here we have a lot of black cherry trees
gonna have this very distinctive bark
that's peeling up. Going down the trail a
little bit further here and we're gonna
see really one of the showcases of this
trail are the purple lupins that come up
every spring sort of early summer.

Just gorgeous and we're going to see
thousands of these blanketing the
hillsides a little bit further into the
trail. Now we have some yellow puccoon here.
Very very flashy. One of the best things I
like about this trail is it is easy to see
prickly pear cactus and although you know,
found throughout the United States, they really
like these sort of sandy soils here in the Indiana
Dunes and we find them everywhere. I
always find it amazing that they survive
the winter quite well and they survive
prescribed burns very well, and they will
have beautiful flowers here within the
next month. So just here of just this
little bit of area, this is what Indiana
Dunes is all about is this really,
it's really condensed habitats and plants to see here.

So we have arrived here at really the
kind of start of the trail into the dunes.
We've had a very nice sort of flat
walk and sort of seen a lot the prickly
pear cactus and stuff. One thing to note
here as well, is that even though we're in
Indiana Dunes and we're in Indiana you
really need to be prepared for anything
here. You know we obviously have all four
seasons and we have dry weather and we
certainly have wet weather. And so
obviously, a rugged pair of hiking boots
are something. You can expect to
either see anything from, you know here,
we have loose sand right up against a
flooded trail and we those change week
to week month to month. So you just got
to be ready for it. But, we can see we're
gonna be in for a real treat. We have
nice lupines here that are gonna lead us
into this trail. So let's see what's
coming up next.

So we've now arrived at a really cool
feature of this trail it's called the
inland marsh it's part of our extensive
wetland system that permeates throughout the Indiana Dunes.
The wetlands here was
formed around 3,500 years ago when we
had a lake level drop leaving these 3,500
year old dunes here. The water table rose
up to, ah, create this marsh and
it's just filled with birds and other
aquatic plants and in fact when we just
arrived here a mallard and some wood
ducks flew off. So ah, I do want to point
out that one will see that it being a marsh,
the water can be high, it
can be low, and so obviously plan
accordingly and wear boots. But, well
worth it and just a real gem on this trail.

(ranger walking through high water)
I made it!

So, I'm at another point along
the boardwalkk section we're over the inland marsh here
and what I really want
to point out is we can see here,
really, an encasing dune that is all part
of the Tolleston Dunes. These are all
parabolic dunes and as the wind was
blowing it pushed the sand into these arcs.

What's unique here, is these are not
the same direction as today's dunes. So
we're still forming these parabolic
dunes but this is part of a 3500 year
old layer in which the wind was
different. The wind was more out of the
west-northwest as opposed to mainly out
of the north when we have our strong .storms

So this is evidence of an earlier
time again around 3,500 years old but we
see what it's left us here is as the
dunes formed the water table actually
came up to form these beautiful wetlands
this one over here just covered in
lovely grasses.

So I've stopped on the trail here
because I found some pretty interesting
things to point out. Certainly first and
foremost, here we have our lupines.

They really just blanket the oak savanna
here and I think they're just beautiful.

And they're part of the legume family,
they've been used as a food source,
really worldwide for over 3,000 years.
And they also are very important for a
lot of butterflies
during the larval stage of butterflies

This is a food source for them so,
they're very dependent upon the lupine.

Right above this here, we have a
sassafras tree that's starting to grow.

Known for, obviously, for making a tea out
of it but one of the interesting things
about sassafras is they're one of the
few trees that have very distinct leaf
shapes we call mittens like so, here we
have this, they can look like this, they
can look like this, or here they can look
together, so very interesting. And lastly
we have more of our puccoons here that are
also sort of spread throughout.

This really delicate yellow flower that
really just adds a lot of vibrant color
to the to the trail.

There are some really cool plants,
obviously, we have this really showy this
red columbine. Interesting to note,
it's actually poisonous and can be toxic
and so they actually recommend not to to
touch it, certainly if you're going to
work with a lot of plants but it's
obviously very showy and provides a lot
of contrast against the green. Here we
have some raspberry growing here and
then we have something called Solomon's
seal. It's interesting this is called
false Solomon's seal because the flower
is on top or showy. Or the true Solomon's
seal, the flower would be underneath, less
showy. So just, obviously, just in
this little area, we have so much going
on. Let's see what else we can find.

So what an incredible area. It just doesn't
get any better than this. We just have patches
of lupines everywhere. We actually arrived at the
trail junction here for the cutoff. So we
came from the parking lot, went up that
first hill, we came to our trailhead, I
always like to do the trail
counterclockwise, we found the wetlands
there, and now we have arrived here.

If I go straight here, it's going to add about an
extra mile on to the loop. Well worth it.

If you have the time, the rest of this is
going to be sort of undulating, through
that the Tolleston Dunes.
Taking a left here, it's gonna shorten
about by about a mile. It still offers a
really nice ridge line view but your
choice, depending about how much time you have.

Either way you're going to get this tremendous display
of the lupines here for us.  Of all the
spots in Indiana Dunes National Park.

I really love this high area at Tolleston Dunes.
Where high up in a dune ridge with these great views
looking down,this is called oak savanna. It's a pretty
rare habitat.

There use to be over
50 million acres of this the United States.
There is now less than a hundred thousand acres.
Here at Indiana Dunes, we do maintain and restore
about a thousand of those acres.

In 2014 we were part of a 1 million
dollar effort with Save the Dunes,
Shirley Hines Land Trust and the Nature
Conservancy to restore this and it's an
ongoing project. What makes the oak
savannas so interesting is that it's
very sparse. We can see
by the light down there's not a lot of
under story here. We have all these lupines
growing. But left alone, this will come up
into a mature forest and so by lightning,
by Native Americans and by now us doing
prescribed burning fire is really
important to these. This habitat it won't
be here without fire and so we do
maintain this now and it provides this
wonderful understory and it's just one
of the critical habitats here at Indiana
Dunes and one of my absolute favorite
places to be in the park.

So one of the interesting things about
Indiana Dunes is of course, topology,
geography and so much of it is hills and
sand dune.s And we can see that here
obviously undulating terrain like this,
but if you ever see a flat spot, I'm
gonna walk over here, and you gotta ask
yourself; how can this be so flat? Knowing
that it was just sand blowing around
forming the dunes. And unfortunate, what
we have is an area of sand mining. It's
very very popular throughout from the
late 1800s through the mid 1900s and
some actually still continues today. But
we at the national park use those for
a parking lot. So for instance, where
our Tolleston Dune parking lot is flat,
great for a parking lot because of a
sand mine. West Beach, our largest 800 car
parking lot, completely flat, that was
completely sand mined out. So you know
this park is obviously, we try to
capitalize on wherever we have had human
interference before with this, and then
celebrate the natural areas.

Wow, I just finished up a great hike here
at Tolleson Dunes,saw the lupines, they were just
magnificent today. But I do want to point
out this hike is really great year-round.
I love hiking it in the wintertime when
there's snow on it, spring in the fall.
Just remember like all of our hikes here.

Just come prepared Bring water,
expect hot conditions or cold conditions
or sometimes you know like deep
water, like I saw today. And I also really
want to encourage you, this is just one
of 14 different trail systems. We have
over 50 miles of great hikes here at
Indiana Dunes National Park.

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10 minutes, 43 seconds

Join Ranger Rafi as explains the wonders of the Tolleston Dune Trail.

Tolleston Dunes Trail Map


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Good morning, and welcome to Indiana
Dunes National Park and our Virtual
Ranger Hike Series. I am Kim Swift, and I
am here at the Heron Rookery Trail. I am
starting this morning at the west end
parking lot in the west end of this
about a-mile-and-a-half one-way trail
that goes along the Little Calumet River,
but the reason I'm here this morning is
to explore and to do a little botanizing.

So what is botanizing? Well, it's what
bird-watching is for folks who love
birds, right, but I am out here looking at
wildflowers. So I have a few tools here
with me. I brought my handy Newcomb's
guide to help me identify some of these
wildflowers, and I have my trusty camera
because that's what I like to do when I
come out, and I brought a few, you know,
supplies with me. I've sprayed up with
some tick and mosquito repellent
because this is tick season. We're here
in mid and late April and early May. This
is a great time to come out here for
this trail, but it's also a really great
time for the insects to be emerging.

So I like to come prepared, as you can
see, and spend a morning out here, and
it's just gorgeous.
The birds are singing and the sunshine
is coming through to the forest floor,
and I'd like to invite you to come along
with me and let's see what's going here at
the Heron Rookery Trail. So, are you geared
up? Are you ready to go? Alright, let's hit the

So the trick to good botanizing, I think
is to bring a book. I like Newcomb's
Wildflower Guide. That's what I was
taught with and I enjoy using it. And, I
gotta tell ya, you can only go botanizing
with other people who like to botanize
'cause I'll tell ya I've brought friends
out and family members out on
the trail, and they get a little tired of
me stopping every few feet. 'Cause here I am,
on this trail, and I barely left the
parking lot, and I am surrounded by all
kinds of cool wildflowers. So, if you
really like doing this, I would recommend
coming on your own, at least when you get
started because it takes some time and
you really have to take the time to get
to know these wildflowers.

And again there's so many to get to know.
Here's my tip and the way that I go about
trying to identify using the Newcomb's guide,
and I'll use this beautiful white flower
here as a good example. The first thing
you got to do is take a look at the
flower and distinguish what type of
flower, and it tells you right here at
the beginning of the guide how to do
this. So, you count how many regular parts
it has as well. In this case, this white
flower has one, two, three, regular petals.

And I can see here from the other ones
that it's the same, one, two, three. So then,
I'm gonna go here to flowers with three
regular parts and that's number three.
Now, what plant type is it? Does it have
leaves? Are the leaves just at the base?

Are the leaves alternate? Are the leaves
whorled? Well, in this case, look at these
leaves. They are all three-clasped and
whorled around the stem
around the petal. So, this would be
another wildflower with
opposite of whorled leaves. And then, when
you go down to leaf type, are their
leaves at all? Are the leaves entire?
Meaning that they don't have any sharp
edges. Or, are the leaves toothed or
lobed or are the leaves divided? So, in
this case I would say that the leaves
are entire, so that's number two. So then
that tells me that I have a three, and I
have a four, and I have a two in here.

And so, I can go to the next section of the
book and I can look for wildflowers
with that numeric designation, three, four,
two. And it tells me to go to page 124.

Let's see if this works. Sometimes it
doesn't work, sometimes it does. Because I
kind of know what this plant is, so this
makes it a little bit easier for me. And
look at this,
voila! Newcomb's is right. We are looking
at a large flower trillium. So it's a fun
way to figure out what some of these
wildflowers are if you bring out your
Newcomb's guide and just get to know
some of these really cool plants that
are out here. And this trail is the
perfect place to do it.

Nice. Oh hi.

So I'm taking a picture of this
beautiful yellow shiny-petaled flower
right here, and I think, actually, I've
helped to identify what this plant is
because it's shiny almost oily-
looking almost like, maybe, butter. Does it
make you think of? It does me, and I
believe this is a buttercup. But also to
keep on our theme of butter, I've just
noticed, hopping along the bank here
of the little Calumet River, a bird that
has a really bright yellow rump and it's
called the yellow-rumped warbler or as one
of my good friends likes to call them,
butter butts.

So I'm wondering as I'm looking around
at this amazing carpet of wildflowers
here at the Heron Rookery Trail, why are
there so many flowers blooming right now
and why here? That's kind of got
me pondering a little bit and, so I'm
posing that question to you, and maybe you
can help me answer it. Or, maybe as I hike
along this trail I might find some clues
as I go along. So, let's see what we
can find as we keep on walking.

So, as I've been pondering this question
hiking along here, I think I've seen a
few clues. You know the first clue is the
river and that's pretty obvious, right.
I'm seeing all kinds of impacts of this
river rising and falling periodically
throughout the year overflowing its
banks, streams flowing into the river, and
all of this is bringing lots of new soil
and nutrients into this plain. That's
this floodplain here on both sides of
the river, and you can see the
wildflowers just extend on the other
side of the bank as well, and they extend
way into these woods very deeply all
around the river. And it occurred to me
we do have a couple other places in the
park where these spring-early
wildflowers bloom in a large
profusion like this. And the two of them
I think of right away are the Upland
Trail, which is at Pinhook Bog, and near
Pinhook Bog, which again is in a rich clay
loamy soil that is from the moraines of
the last glacial period, right. And so
that soil is much richer and much
deeper than some of the other areas
of the park.

And then the other place is also along
the Little Calumet River just farther
downstream, Chellberg Farm and Bailey
Homestead. You can also see these really
great wildflowers blooming along that
Little Calumet River Trail. So, I think
part of our answer about why here is
this river. The Little Calumet River
helps feed this and helps to provide
good nutrients into the soil along this
area here. Now to answer the
question "why now," I think that's also
kind of obvious that you look at where I
see all this sunlight coming into these
woods right now. The leaves have not come out on all these trees, right.

We have a real good rich woods here, which is also
another clue as to why here. We have
black cherries, and we have beech trees,
and we have sycamores, all growing in
these woodlands. But they haven't leafed
out yet, so lots of sunlight is reaching
the ground, and so, these little
wildflowers are taking advantage of that,
right? That's why they're called spring
ephemerals. They come up for a short time,
and they take advantage of this light
that is hitting at the forest floor
before all the leaves come out,
and this is is just a great
opportunity for us to be able to witness
this amazing display of wildflowers
right here and right now.

So I've been returning here to the Heron Rookery
every year for twenty years that I've
worked here, and so I've come to feel
like these are friends that
return, and I come to greet them in the
early spring days. And so, I have gotten
to know them and know little features
about them, and you will too if you come
and get to know them and learn about
them using some of these guides. And so,
as I sit here on this log, I can greet a
number of them by just looking
right here at my feet. So, we have
bloodroot, the flower has already
finished, but the leaf is very
distinctive, this really large kind of
low lobed leaf in here of the bloodroot.

Then we also have the spring beauties,
again easy to identify with its really
simple leaves coming up at the bottom
and really pretty honey guides, I call
them, that lead the insects right to the
center where the nectar are. If we kind
of look around on this side, hepatica is
just finishing up this very distinctive
shaped leaf with the different
colorations in it helps me I know that
this is a hepatica. And the hairy stems on
the flower also, not that one, this one,
the hairy stems on this flower kind of
give me a clue that that's my friend
hepatica. Now this one is just getting
ready to bloom. This is lovely solomon
seal, and in a week or two these little
green buds will open up and have white
bell-shaped flowers. And I know this is
the solomon seal, which is a little
different from some of its cousins
because it has those flowers hanging
under this tall stem here. So, say hi to all
these friends just right here. It's
really great to see them again.

Oh look at this here's the prairie
trillium in full bloom.
Remember the large flowered white
trillium we saw earlier?
Well here's its cousin. And again, you can
see some of the common features, three
leaves, three petals, the leaves all in a
whorl, but obviously some differences
here in that the leaves are modeled and
the  flower itself is more of a red
and deep purple. But this is what we call
prairie trillium. So this is some more
evidence of that rise and fall of the
river here, right, you can see we're
overflowed its banks. It's created quite
a mess and as well as the streams kind
of flowing out into the river
have been rising - with all of these
nice spring rains that that we have.

And it really is true right, April showers
bring May flowers. And in this case it
brings a lot of mud as well. So be sure
and wear your good boots when you
come out here and not your good hiking

Oh goodness,
look at this display. There's all kinds
of spring beauties, buttercups, violets,
and some of the ruanemone
that we had identified before all on
this hillside. Not to mention, I also see
some of the prairie trillium up there,
and I see some geranium, they are getting
ready to bloom as well.
What a glorious display.

So this wildflower here doesn't need a book,
really, because it's so distinctive. These
long stalks here with these really
adorable little flowers, that if you use
your imagination can you see some pants?
Maybe? Or, pantaloons or breeches as they
used to be called. That's the clue for
this plants name. We call them Dutchman's
breeches, and it's a really sweet wildflower that comes up here in profusion.

And this, the leaflet kind of has this
fern-like look to it and is very
distinctive and easy to identify. Not a
lot of them left. We're kind of at the
end of their blooming profusion, but
there's still lots of other things to
identify just right here. Again we have
more of our prairie trillium that we've
talked about, spring beauties, and then oh,
look right here. Here's one that we've
missed, but it's really fun. The trout
lily has a little yellow or white flower
that comes up. Again, we're past the prime
of it, but that leaf is so distinctive I
guess some folks think it looks like
maybe the color of trout and the pattern
that a trout has on it. And that kind of
takes us back to our river because the
trout are running right now in the
Little Calumet River.

So, I just love sycamore trees. I think
it's their bark, really, that fascinates
me because it changes as you go up the
tree, and it gets whiter at the top. Almost
looks like a bone. Like, bones and other
colors and patterns of the bark are
really fun to notice. And different ages
of the trees look very different. The
other cool thing about sycamore trees is
that they tend to get hollowed out in
the center, so a lot of animals take
advantage of that and make their homes
in sycamore trees, owls, squirrels,
raccoons. So, it's always fun to see who
else may be enjoying our sycamore trees
out here. And this little Calumet River
bank is a great home to the sycamores.
They like their their roots to be wet
and they like water, so you don't see
them too often in other places in our
park except along this trail.

So, I hope you haven't really enjoyed this little
hike that we've done today on the Heron
Rookery Trail. This is a great time of
year to be out here, but actually any
time of the year you can enjoy the Heron
Rookery Trail. It's a great path for
hiking, for exploring, bird-watching,
fishing. A lot of folks do take advantage
of the river and catch a lot of
really cool fish in this area too. My
interest is botanizing and wildflowers,
but maybe yours is something else.

Regardless, we have something for you
here at Indiana Dunes National Park and
with all of our different trails, so I
hope to see you on another one soon.

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18 minutes, 39 seconds

Ranger Kim leads a hike down the Heron Rookery Trail during the amazing wildflower bloom. Learn how to identify wildflowers and discover the mystery of their ephemeral appearance in this beautiful hike.

Heron Rookery Trail Map


Open Transcript


Hey folks, I'm Ranger Kip, and I'm here to
welcome you to Indiana Dunes National Park.

As you know, the park stretches from
Gary, Indiana all the way to Michigan
City, Indiana, about 22 miles, and we have
a little over 15,000 acres. Now today
we're here at the Great Marsh, and I'm going
to be giving you a tour of this 1.2-mile
trail. As you can see, we're going to
start our hike here and
take the trail through the wetlands up
in this area here. There's a nice
overlook observation deck.

So in the early 1900s, people thought of
places like the Great Marsh as swamps and
were places that needed to be drained because
of the mosquitoes and the muck that
was around. They didn't realize how
important it is. So. follow me
and we're gonna talk about how important
this area is.

So, you've heard the term
"drain the swamp." Well literally, that's what
happened here in the 1900s. People came
in, they put tiles in to drain away the
water, so they can get rid of all the muck.
the mosquitoes, and they can build their
homes. In fact, this trail used to be a roadway.
This area here has had a lot of disturbances.

In fact, our resource management team had to come in,
and they spent many years rehabilitating this
area to make it what it is today.
So once the tiles were put in and the
water was redirected and the
quote-unquote swamp was drained. Homes
were put in. Right over here, you can see
we have remnants of an old home site. We got
invasive plants here. Somebody had their
home here. In fact, there were hotels and
restaurants in the area, as well.

All right, so we're down the trail just a
little bit further and I see a big patch
of skunk cabbage here. The really unique
thing about skunk cabbage is the fact
that it's one of the first plants to
come up in the spring--early spring--, and
as it's reproducing, it actually produces
heat, so that way, it kind of wards
off any frost or anything that
might kill other plants. Right next to
that is May Apple, and underneath this
little umbrella come May, it's going to
be a little flower, and a fruit that
grows, you can actually eat May Apple,
but you got to make sure it's ripe, or else it
might give you a little stomachache.

Over here we have golden ragwort,
and this is another beautiful plant
that's going to flower later on in the
spring on the trail. You might see these
plants here. They're beautiful. They're
called marsh marigolds. Now marsh marigolds
are poisonous, so you don't
want to pick them and eat them.
You can make dandelion soup or tea, but
you can't make anything out of these things.

So you can see here, you can see the
little stump right there, that's actually
a beaver chew. So, beaver have come in and
started chewing down the trees to make
their lodges, and things like that. That's
just one of the animals that you can
find here in the marsh.

So you're probably wondering why I have this prop
here. It's called a sponge. You guys have
this in your house, probably in your
kitchen. Well, in the 1900s, people didn't
really understand how important wetlands were.

One of the things that the wetlands
did was it absorbed moisture. If you had
a hard rain, there wouldn't be flooding,
because the wetland acted as a
sponge. Also, I have coffee filters with
me. We drink water, and water is very
important to us, and guess what? The marsh
actually would act like a coffee filter,
and it would strain and make sure that
the water was clean. So, that's important
as well. I've got a baby in a baby crib,
and guess what?

The marsh is a place where lots of
different animals have their babies, and
the babies here are protected by the
the marsh, and grow into it into adults.

In fact, four out of every five bird
species that are in the park use the
marsh to breed, to find food, and just
have protection. People come from all
around to do birding. The great Marsh is
one of those great places to do birding.

In fact, it's one of the places where
waterfowl, on their migration, come to
stop to get food and breed, and have

Oh, here we go, we've got a
hawk feather right here. That reminds me
of the birds that I've seen out here.
I've seen bald eagles, osprey,
and even white pelicans out here.
Some of the more common birds
are blue-winged teal, and coots.

So we're here at the viewing platform of the Great Marsh.
If you look over my shoulder,
you'll probably see a sandhill
crane. That's one of the birds that
people come out to see. If you have a pair
of binoculars like this, and a good
camera, you'll have a great time out here.
This is also fully accessible. We've got
a parking lot just west of here, and a
ramp that leads to the lookout.

So we've come to the end of the trail here,
and I'd just like to thank you guys for coming
on a hike with me today. There's lots of
trails out here, over 50 miles of trails,
so please, come out and enjoy the
national park. Thank you.

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6 minutes, 1 second

Join Ranger Kip, as he will be discussing some interesting features along the Great Marsh trail, including bird-watching, its history, environmental benefits, and more.

Great Marsh Trail Map


Open Transcript


Hi folks and friends. I'm JP Anderson,
park ranger here at Indiana Dunes National Park,
and today we're out at Kemil Beach and
there's a really neat trail out here,
the Dune Ridge Trail and that's what
we're gonna do. We're gonna take a quick
little hike on this trail today. I'll
point out a few interesting things along
the way. It's springtime, a great, great
place. I'll show you one of my favorite
spots. Also all of these trails are
online, so we'll put a link on there to
show you where you can get all
detailed maps. Come with me. Let's go.

All right. Well, I wanted to briefly
explain dune succession. It's something
we talk about in the dunes, especially
with a lot of the school children and
such. Basically what it is, is how dunes,
the environment changes over time and,
really, that's with soil. So you'll have
in the beginning just a bare sandy soil,
let's say. And then through time you'll
get some pioneer plants that start to
grow in there they don't need a lot of
nutrients and a lot of soil moisture, but
they grow. They're very hardy plants. Like
a pioneer plant would be, like, a marram
grass or a cottonwood tree. Okay,
very hardy, resilient plants.

What happens is they grow for a while ,
and then in this really, really just sandy soil ,
their leaves and leaf litter and debris,
and such eventually turns into a little richer
soil. It has the capability of holding
the moisture a little more, and it has
more nutrients in it. So, what happens is
then more plants can grow. And it's just
that simple: with more plants then you
get a richer soil, and you eventually get
a more diverse habitat with many or many
more plants that can grow in it. And then
with that you get more and more animals
as well. So, that's kind of dune
succession in a nutshell.

Here's a really neat pioneer plant, wormwood,
right here, and it's the second year here
with the seeds. So, the first year kind of
looks like this, really soft, and the second year
you have the seed head there. I also wanted to
remind everyone just about the
phenomenal birding in the region
here. We're on a major migratory flyway,
and for instance, probably real soon this
week I'm probably gonna come out here
and sit in the parking lot and just look
right here on this little dune, this
dune area. They'll probably be some
woodcocks out here doing their
incredible little flying mating thing
right here. It's really something to see.
So the woodcocks, look that up. It's
something interesting.

So many wonderful things going on in this park
all around us. All right. Basically what
we've just done: we come off of the
parking lotand we've gone through that
little foredune area that I stopped at
and talked about dune succession a
little bit. You'll come over this dune
ridge and then all at once you're in a
nice little oak forest here. And you'll
see this, we put this in here years
ago for doing environmental education
programs, but, golly, I've seen groups out
here. I've seen church groups out here,
youth groups out here, Boy Scouts, Girl
Scouts. I mean, hey, have a picnic out here,
come on out, and have some fun.

We have a lot of old home sites before
this park was established. A lot of the
land had already been purchased and
there were homes, and a lot of those
homes have been taken down. So, you'll
even see that some plants that maybe
shouldn't be here, like some yucca here
and such, but we do home site
restorations and things like that
too. That's a whole 'nother ballgame, but
we're gonna basically just continue on
our walk right here.

Just so that you can keep your bearings.
Just off of where that little
amphitheater area was there was an old
road here. I was saying, used to be roads
here and homes, but here's an old road
coming off of Kemil. But you'll see the
DR for Dune Ridge, so we just kind of
follow it right up towards that dune
ridge. A couple things you may notice
along the trail are some trees that kind
of are, just almost, like snaky. Call 'em snaky
sassafras is what I call them with the
kids. It's a sassafras tree. They're very
fragrant, yeah, you scrape 'em off a little
bit, then you can smell this. Smell really,
really citrusy, almost, to me, and it's a
neat tree. And when they-- when they leaf
out, they'll actually have three
different shaped leaves: one that's kind
of just one lobe, like a football, and one
kind of like a mitten, and one kind of
has three lobes, put two holes in it,
looks like a ghost.

But you also see trees that look as
though they've been burned and they have
been. We do have management
prescribed burns here too to work with
this area and keep it the way we like it.
And with the different oaks in here, and then
you have the understory like the
sassafras as well. Neat story about that,
we had a group here a couple summers back
and there's a lot of wildlife here too.
And one of the people said, "Hey look
Ranger there's a, there's a rabbit right
there," and it was right here. And I
looked over and I go, "I'll be darned," and
here comes this big Eastern Box Turtle.
Was kind of just walking towards us I
kind of got a kick out of that. That was
fun, but just to tell you what kind of
different animals are out here. Box
turtle would be quite a treat.
We just passed some folks, and they said
there was a bald eagle down here on a
tree towards the marsh area, so I'm gonna,
hopefully we'll get a look at it.

I mentioned the management prescribed
burns, and here's a good example of a
burn. You'll see a lot of the burned trees
around the area, but you also see an open
area here too. Why we do that is for many,
many years, traditionally there were
fires that came through naturally and
then people just put fires out. That's
what people do.

Well, it wasn't, it wasn't the natural
process, so we're kind of getting back to
that natural process. And then it
helps with controlling the invasives
and things like that as well. So, just
wanted to share that. Another wonderful
part of this trail is when you come over
through the woods here and over this
dune, you get this beautiful view of the
remnant of the Great Marsh area here.
Great habitat for migratory birds that
are coming for a nice resting area, some
food. An abundance of wildlife lives out
there as in any wetland, and okay, I hear
some of my friends. I want to go down and
see some of these frogs.

Spring time.
Great time for listening to the wildlife
out here, especially in the marsh area. I
hear some spring peepers and some chorus
frogs. Little wetlands, like this little
wetland area, is the perfect place where
they mate, they lay their eggs. There's a
lot of food sources in there too, a little
macro invertebrate and such. And I'll hike
up here and show you my favorite part of
the whole entire trail.

From the low area down here by the Great
Marsh, this is probably the steepest
incline you're gonna have going up the
backside of this dune ridge here, but the
view's way worth it. Okay, what we're about
halfway there. We're gonna head up to that
point right there.

Now you're here, this is one of my
favorite parts in the whole entire park.
I've been a ranger here for 30-some years,
and this is one of the best views I've
found. This Great Marsh-- I can just
imagine sometimes how much it
went on, how large it was. The abundance
of wildlife that depended on it but
still does today. That's why we have
national parks. To save and protect
for our future generations to have views
like this, but also mainly for the
plants and animals that depend on
these areas for their survival.
Wow, come out here and hike this trail.
See this view. It's quite spectacular.

Another great advantage of hiking
this trail in the spring is you can
actually get a glimpse of Lake Michigan,
a beautiful huge dune ridge right off of
its shores out here. Golly, that is
just beautiful.

Well, we just saw that spectacular view,
one of my favorite parts in the whole entire
park. And now right around the bend, look.
I'm gonna descend down into these mighty
oaks. All right.

Well, we were talking about dune
succession and how habitats changed through
time has a lot to do with the soil. So, I
just wanted to, saw a really good example
here of a soil horizon, and right down in
here, and what's really nice is as the
changing-- as it changes with the leaf
litter and the decomposition and such,
the soil gets to the point where it can
hold moisture a little better. And it
also has a lot more nutrients in it and
the soil temperature, which allows more
diversity, more plants to grow here, which
then you have more animals coming into
the area. That's just kind of a little
part of that dune succession how
habitats change here in the dunes
through time.

Well I've had a blast hiking
the Dune Ridge Trail with everyone. I
hope you enjoyed it too. Please,
please keep in mind stay on the trail
the best you can, poison ivy, a lot of
ticks. Ticks are bad, real bad.
All ready in the spring, we've
been finding ticks out here, but
nonetheless it's not a reason to not come
out to hike. S,o find your park. Mine
is this park. Find your spot, mine's this
spot, you saw it, I showed you my secret
little spot. I love it. There's
many more in this park. So,
anyways hope you enjoyed it. Come out
and hike the dunes.

Hey, one more thing: if you enjoyed this
virtual hike and you get a chance to
come out, take some photos and post them,
post them on the comments on our site.
We'd like to see them. Thanks.

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10 minutes, 28 seconds

Join Ranger JP as he takes us on a spring hike along the Dune Ridge Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Dune Ridge Trail Map


Open Transcript


Hi, I'm Ranger Rafi Wilkinson
with Indiana Dunes National
Park. I'm here at Mount Baldy,
and a great day, looking forward
to the Virtual Ranger Challenge.
I'm gonna take mine right now.
I'm gonna head off on the trail.
I look forward to seeing your
comments on Facebook.

So, we'll talk about this later
in the video, but here we
are along the trail to the
beach, and it's a really
interesting feature here. This
is the humus or soil layer.
The scientists call it a paleosol,
especially when it's been
buried under the dune, but what
we're seeing here is soil from
about 3,500 years ago to the
present, and so this sand right
here is older than 3,500
years, and this has been under the
soil layer the whole time, and
we'll see that that's really
important because scientists
can follow this soil layer all around this area,
I guess most importantly,
underneath Mount Baldy that's
been burying it, and so they can
kinda see and date where they
are within the dune at any
region because of the soil layer.

So, this is a really good
example. We're not even, you
know, to the front of the dune
yet, and we see here in the
forest. Sand is beginning to
cover this whole forest area,
and this is a really good
indicator of erosion where over
on the front side of the dune,
we've lost our marram grass, and
the wind is now transporting
huge amounts of sand up over
the dune and actually starting
to bury these trees and cut
holes and then we can see
all these roots systems being
exposed and a really good
indicator of a lot of erosion
that's happening here at Mount

So just a friendly reminder
here, we really try to do a
good job of marking all of our
trails and especially here at
Mount Baldy, where it's really
a fragile ecosystem.
In particular, the marram grass
can be damaged really easily.
We really want you to stand
these trails and you know here
we see evidence unfortunately
of a visitor or visitors
climbing up this dune and
actually going up to the summit,
where it's closed to the public,
and so we would just ask that
once again that we stay on
these trails down to the beach here.
One of the things that I
really like about Mount Baldy is
it's really dynamic. Every day
is different out here.

The weather, the beach today, and we have
a lot of beach, but also the trail.
That final trail down to the
beach changes really monthly,
and so we see here today, we're
actually presented with two
choices. We have a trail that's
gonna been here around to our
right and offers maybe a
slightly less steep approach
down or we have this straight
down all right here, which is
really, really, steep.

So good visitor tip for Mount
Baldy and really for a lot of
Indiana Dunes National Park,
where we have a lot of sand is
to use the right footwear. I
always recommend going one
extreme or the other. So, I like
hiking boots. I can go all
hiking all around Mount Baldy and
not get sand in my shoes, or go
the entire direction: wear
sandals. But if you're gonna
wear running shoes or standard
shoes, you are definitely gonna
fill your shoes with sand and
have to empty them out at the

Another great tip here at Mount Baldy
is how to handle your pets. See here,
a great example here we have
visitors here. Both of their
pets are on a leash. They picked
up after their dog, and they're
carrying it out, and it just really
is enjoyment for everybody, and
it really protects our
environment. We have a lot of
people come out here and
think that because their dogs
don't bite, it's okay. But also
we have so many critical
habitats out here. The dogs
will unknowingly destroy that.
It's really important to keep
them on leash.

An the interesting thing to
note here in Indiana Dunes
National Park is Mount Baldy
is actually just one of
thousands of dunes to make up
our 15 miles of shoreline and
all these are different. Some
are different shapes. Some are
long and straight along the
lake. For dunes, we have
parabolic dunes, or form like
this, and even if you were just
to go to Mount Baldy and then
drive down to our West Beach
and see that the dunes look and
behave very differently. And
certainly at West Beach,
they're very friendly towards
hiking them. They're more
friendly towards going to the
beach and bringing a cooler or
chairs whereas here, Mount Baldy,
it's a little bit more
difficult. So, we definitely
wanna advise people a good tip
is to please come here. Bring a
backpack bring a light lunch,
but don't plan on bringing
large coolers or large amounts.
You have a wagon with a bunch
of gear because you're not
gonna make it down to the

Here at Mount Baldy, I
really wanna point out some
really sort of interesting and
amazing things about our park.
I mean everyone comes here for
the lake. They know, you know, we
have these 15 miles of awesome
shoreline, but right here just
in this small little area and
that's what Indiana Dunes is
all about. We had this clay
layer 6,500 years ago, and this
was a lagoon. I take a few
steps up. I've got the sand
cliff that shows us just the
erosion that we're having now,
these high lake levels, and we
see that really the importance
of this marram grass we all
sit in the summer.

You know it's maybe a couple of
feet tall, but what people don't
realize is that the roots
system, the rhizomes, go more
than six feet down and really
lock all these dunes together
and then in in the foreground
or in the background here we
can see this. This is really
interesting soil layer called
paleosol that is really
showing up at 3,500 years ago.
We had a very stable dune here
and years and decades and
hundreds of years of stability,
but now Mount Baldy has buried
it and we see all that sand
above that clay soil layer is now
new dune as it's moving
backwards towards our parking

So I'm standing here in
front of some close signs
here says "keep off the dunes"
and it's really important. We
ask visitors to stay off this
dune again. I'm sure everyone
knows by now we had an
unfortunate incident where a
kid literally fell into a hole
where an oak tree had
decomposed and he literally
fell over 10 feet in the hole.
Luckily, he was rescued, but we
have since used ground
penetrating radar and we know
that there are now dozens of
these holes that exist up there
and that's why we keep this
closed. So,, really we're asking
people for their own safety, but
behind it is a really
fascinating layer. I mean, we see,
of course, erosion. We see this
with the loss of vegetation
that is moving but halfway
through that we see this
horizontal line that is a soil
layer, what scientists will
call a paleosol and
basically below it is old dune.

It's around 3,500 years old
and above it is new dune within
the last 100 years, and so we
know that roughly 3,500
years ago, we had a very stable
situation here was covered soil
was being developed, probably
forested but a hundred years
ago, we started to have a large
movement of this dune.

The Michigan City break wall was
put in and started starving
sand here. We have a lot of
visitor traffic up here.
We don't know for sure, but we
suspect it was deforested in that
the 1800s and all that
really led to the dune now
moving inward. The wind is
consistently covering
up everything here and we've
now moved a quarter mile
inland, but this paleosol is a
really easy way for scientist
wherever they are even using
ground penetrating radar to see
the ancient forms under the new
Mount Baldy as it moves inward.

One of the great things and interesting
things about Baldy is that
there's so many things going on
here in just one small area
For a ranger, it could be
challenging to tie everything
together. For instance,
you know here in the middle of
the beach, we have what looks
like a rock, but this is
actually clay, and the clay will
break apart, and if we can see
that, but there's small white
specs and sometimes more
pronounced than others. But
these are actual animals, the
shells from animals 6,500 years
ago, when this area right before
us was not the shoreline. We
were actually in a lagoon
formed by a barrier sandbar out
there that lasted a couple
thousand years, enough time to
deposit. And I've seen areas
with more than two feet thick of
clay and it was an inland
marsh. It actually formed,
the Great Marsh, that area.
So one fascinating history of Mount

The other thing is that I
know that everyone wants really
pristine sand beaches, and a lot
of time, we do have these very
beautiful uniform beaches, but
we also have a lot of this. This
is very natural, so, and this is
actually small. We do have some
larger stuff, cobbles are
typically around two and a half
inches in diameter. A lot of
good skipping stones and our
beaches are a mixture of all this
because of where this comes
from. A lot of this larger
stuff, cobble was transported
in during the the Ice Age the,
last ice age by glaciers down
from Wisconsin and Michigan and
even Canada. And then we also
get a tremendous amount of sand
that comes down to drift down,
and has for thousands of years,
along the shoreline. So these
cobbled beaches are very natural and
actually, when we get larger
stones like this, these are
very helpful because even large
wave action will not move this
away. And so this does help our
beaches and keeps our beaches
in place when we do have a
large cobbled section.

So I'm standing here at Mount Baldy
and it's known for its sand, it's
beaches. And I have these rock
looking structures in front of
me and in fact, it is a layer.
It is under everything here and
it's a clay layer that dates
back from about 6,500 years ago.
At that time, there was enough
sand out in the lake that pushed
up and actually formed a
barrier to the lake and this
became a lagoon. Not unlike
what we find at the Barrier Island
saved on the Atlantic Ocean, but
here it resulted in this
lagoon that really provided a
lot of marine life. We see a
lot of shells in here for that time
and it truly what's the
creation of the broader
Great Lake or Great Marsh
system that's here at the
national park. And it's
impervious to water, so it
holds the water in and it's partially
why we can have the Great Marsh
there with all the sand and
because it's clay and this is
direct evidence where we see
the the water is actually
seeping out of this clay layer
trying to find a way to kinda
get back back to the lake.

Here at the foot of Mount Baldy
here along the lake, and several
things to point out: one is when
we first started here, we saw
this very crooked, jagged
shoreline and that's really
evidence of an erosion of
something taking place in
particular at Lake Michigan.
The lake really wants to have
straight shorelines, so anytime
we have interruptions or we see
crooked shorelines, it's
definitely gonna be a potential
indicator of erosion and we see
here we should have marram
grass. It should be all grassed
over, but it's not and we see
how steep the sand is. It's
basically a cliff in here. As
we can see marram grass roots,
in fact, we can actually see if
it's possible. But during your
hike definitely look for-- we can
actually see a section of
boardwalk that used to be part
of the trail that was carried
over, covered up and now it's
exposed, so lots of signs of
erosion here taking place, very
dynamic with the high lake
levels and what's going on
recently with the weather.

An important visitor tip when
visiting Mount Baldy and
actually many places in Indiana
Dunes is that our weather can
be very different. So in the
parking lot when I got here, it
was 65 degrees out. People were in t-shirts,
but I put on a sweater because I knew
in just a third of a mile
that I come to the lake and
I would need this sweater. So a pro tip for
coming to Mount Baldy is to bring a
lot of layers. You can always
expect wind at the lake and
then generally cooler
temperatures than what you'll
find inland and perhaps at your house.

So another tip here from
Baldy is in particular, if you
decide to come down to the
beach, there is really only one
way back up. And currently we
can see in the back, we have
visitors coming up and it's not
for the faint of heart. You are
definitely gonna have to climb
a loose amount of sand to get
out of here, so just know that
and make the decision wisely
when you do decide to come

Thank you for taking the
Virtual Ranger Challenge here
at Mount Baldy. I really look
forward to meeting up with you
on Facebook and seeing your
photos and seeing your comments
and answering your questions.
And I really hope that you get
the following out of Mount
Baldy: I tried to talk about,
sort of, visitor tips and, you
know, how to best enjoy it. I
talked about the paleosol that was
a soil layer that is all under
Mount Baldy. I talked about the
clay layer, the fascinating
lagoons that were here at 3500 years ago.
I talked about erosion. And then we see so
many different signs of erosion,
and I kinda discuss how much
all this is just one of
thousands of dunes here and
each one unique and definitely
worth it to hit the various
parts of the park.

Thanks again for coming out.

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13 minutes, 6 seconds

Join Ranger Rafi Wilkinson as he discusses intriguing aspects about Mount Baldy while hiking along the trail.

Mount Baldy Beach Trail Map


Visit Your Indiana Dunes

External YouTube Video: Discover Indiana Dunes - Park Introduction
Duration: 1 minute 56 seconds
Description: Join Ranger Jean-Pierre Anderson as he introduces the Discover Indiana Dunes video series.


Discover Indiana Dunes - Visitor Center

External YouTube Video: Discover Indiana Dunes - Visitor Center
Duration: 1 minutes 37 seconds
Description: Take an inside tour of the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center with Park Ranger Kipton Walton.


Understand Shelf Ice at Indiana Dunes Winter Beaches

External YouTube Video: Discover Indiana Dunes - Winter Beach
Duration: 2 minutes 19 seconds
Description: The winter beach is an exciting place to visit, hike along the beach and see shelf ice safely.


Perscribed Fires... What's That?

External YouTube Video: West Beach Prescribed Fire
Duration: 2 minutes 20 seconds
Description: Watch Fire Ranger Micah Bell as he describes a live-action prescribed fire at West Beach.

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11 minutes, 36 seconds

In the 1890s the dunes now protected as Indiana Dunes National Park hosted the first research on plant succession. That research helped establish ecology as a science, made succession an enduring concept, and explains why you mow your lawn.

Virtual Cancellation Passport Stamp

Is Your Virtual Tour Complete?

Thank you for virtually visiting Indiana Dunes National Park. Have you completed your virtual visit to the park, but now you need your passport stamped? No problem! Download our Virtual Passport Cancellation Stamp today to make your journey genuine.

We appreciate your visit to one of the many national parks this nation has to offer, but wait, there's still so much more to learn here! You can click one of the other important links below to find other ways to experience this park on the Web.

Other Important Links

Videos are great, but here are some other indoor and outdoor learning activities you, your friends, or your loved ones can enjoy!

Park Photos

Become a Junior Ranger

Park Explorer Challenge

Trail Maps


Support your park.

Donate to the Indiana Dunes National Park. Donations will be used to fund maintenance projects and enhance activities at the park.

Last updated: August 7, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1100 North Mineral Springs Road
Porter, IN 46304


(219) 395-1882
Indiana Dunes Visitor Center phone number.

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