Cowles Bog Trail

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 can make this a 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, sun protection, and extra clothing layers as the the weather at the lake can be very different than at the parking lot.

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)

Overflow parking can be located at park headquarters when the main and Greenbelt lots are full. The park headquarters is located just south of Rt 12 at 1100 N. Mineral Springs Rd. These brown buildings have several parking lots for employees and fill up daily. Please use the lot closest lot to Rt 12. Be aware that there are no public restrooms at this particular parking lot. However, there are restrooms available at the other two lots. A pedestrian bridge is available to safely cross Rt 12 to the Cowles Bog Trailhead (Greenbelt, south).

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

Need to Know

Hours & Information

  • Hours – Open daily from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm.
  • Passes are required.
  • Hike Length – 4.7 miles, 202 feet of elevation gain, 15% maximum grade.
  • Hike Time – 4 hours.
  • Difficulty – Moderate to rugged with steep dune climbs in loose sand.
  • Trail Surface – Mixture of loose sand and packed dirt.
  • Facilities Year-round porta potties. No potable water.
  • Pets – Permitted on a leash (6' or shorter).
  • Prohibited – Littering and hunting.
  • Prohibited – Bicycles and motorized vehicles.
  • Prohibited – Removing plants, rocks, shells, and fossils.
  • Prohibited – Glass and fires on the beach.
  • The main (north) parking lot is gravel.
  • The south (greenbelt) parking lot is paved.
  • The south parking lot is also the trailhead for the Calumet Bike Trail and Porter Brickyard Bike Trail.


  • Please stay on the trail and respect closed area signs. Going off trail damages fragile habitat.
  • Ticks are present year-round. Take precautionary measures to prevent bites.
  • Poison ivy can be present on the edges of the trail.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions. The weather at the lake can be very different than at the parking lot.
  • In case of an emergency or to report a crime, call 1-800-PARK-TIP.


  • The trail is not wheelchair accessible.

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
Hike 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 his dissertation, entitled "An Ecological Study of the Sand Dune Flora of Northern Indiana". He later published his thesis, in modified form under the title, "The Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan." The Botanical Gazette helped establish 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: February 9, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

1100 North Mineral Springs Road
Porter, IN 46304


219 395-1882
Indiana Dunes Visitor Center phone number.

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