Virtual Ranger Tour at Tolleston Dune Trail

Indiana Dunes National Park


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 weekend.

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.


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


10 minutes, 43 seconds


Jeff Manuszak

Date Created


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