Cowles Bog Trail System

Cowles Bog Trail

Getting There
Need to Know
Trail Map
Featured Hikes
Nearby Hikes

The Cowles Bog Trail highlights an area of such outstanding plant diversity that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1965. 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 (don't forget to "pack out" your trash). Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Trail Features: Fall Colors, Lake, Views, Wildlife
Must See Gems: Lake Michigan


Getting There
Trailhead Parking Lots
Main Lot (north): 1450 North Mineral Springs Road, Dune Acres, IN 46304
(Look for the gravel entrance road on the right just before the town guardhouse)

Greenbelt Lot (south): 1184 North Mineral Springs Road, Dune Acres, IN 46304
(Look for the entrance road on the left just after the railroad tracks)

Trailhead GPS Coordinates
Main (north): 41.645191, -87.084633 (Decimal Degrees)
Greenbelt (south): 41.636898, -87.087185 (Decimal Degrees)

Need to Know

Hours & Information

  • Both parking lots open daily from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm
  • Free (no access fee).
  • Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed.
  • Pets are permitted on a leash (6' or shorter).
  • Trail is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Trail surface is mixture of loose sand and packed dirt.
  • No potable water.
  • Year round porta-potties are available at both the north and south parking lots.
  • The north parking lot is gravel and has room for 10 cars (no handicap only spots).
  • The south parking lot is paved and has 18 spots (1 spot is handicap only).
  • The south parking lot is also the trailhead for the Calumet Rail Trail and Porter Brickyard Trail.


  • Stay on the trail to protect the wildlife and yourself.
  • Use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and tuck long pants into socks to avoid ticks and poison ivy.

Trail Map
Click here for a list of all hiking trail maps of the Indiana Dunes National Park.
Download a national parks interactive trail guide phone app. Apple or Android.
Paper trail maps are available at the trailhead kiosk and the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center.
Cowles Bog Trail Map
Cowles Bog Trail Map

Featured Hikes
Cowles Bog Trail
4.7 miles, 202 feet of elevation gain, 2% average grade, 15% maximum grade
Average hiking time: 4 hours

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 will 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 and Background
Henry Cowles was a botanist from the University of Chicago. He published an article entitled "Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan," in the Botanical Gazette in 1899 that established Cowles as the "father of plant ecology" in North America. The article brought international attention to the intricate ecosystems existing on the dunes.

The trail is a partnership between the National Park Service and the Town of Dune Acres.

Nearby Hikes
West Beach
Paul H. Douglas (Miller Woods)
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk

Click here for a list of all hiking trails in the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Cowles Bog Trail
Fall colors on the Cowles Bog trail.
Cowles Bog Trail
Oak savanna on the Cowles Bog trail.
Cowles Bog Trail
Cresting the final foredune and seeing Lake Michigan on the Cowles Bog trail.
Cowles Bog Trail
A sea of marram grass along Lake Michigan at Cowles Bog.

Last updated: March 6, 2019

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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