Location: East Trailhead: 2752 U.S. Highway 12, Town of Pines, IN 46360 and West Trailhead: 1184 North Mineral Springs Road, Dune Acres, IN 46304.
Trail Length: 4 miles easy to moderate but with a few very steep climbs
Hours: 6am to 11pm
Entrance Cost: Requires a National Park Pass: 1-7 day vehicle pass: $25 per carload/$20 per motorcycle; Walk-in, bike-in, boat-in 1-7 day pass: $15 individual/$25 family; Indiana Dunes National Park Annual Pass: $45/year; America the Beautiful Annual Pass (entrance to over 2,000 federal recreation sites): $80/year. Passes can be purchased at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, 1215 N. State Road 49, Chesterton, IN.
Parking: Yes – North lot by Dunes Acres guard shack or south lot on Mineral Springs Road near Calumet Trail
Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash
Restrooms: Porta Potty
Tips: Great for running! Be on the lookout for the sandhill cranes who camp out along the road in the spring.
Bloggers Thoughts: (Donna Lind)
Early spring hiking in the Dunes . . . the landscape clearly defined, the shape of the land and the trees stark against the sky and new life so close, just there, waiting for the right amount of warm days and sunshine to let loose.
On this particular day we decided to hike the Cowles Bog trail – four miles of trail that never disappoints. We started out in late afternoon, my personal favorite time for hiking. The shadows are long and the colors are soft and warm and buttery. We were able to park in the north Cowles Bog parking lot, off Mineral Springs Road and close to the Dunes Acres guard shack. The trailhead is actually back across Mineral Springs Road and begins easily along the north edge of the bog (which is actually a fen!).
Here our hike was moderate, winding through tall stands of sentinel trees scattered over gentle sloping dunes covered in last year’s leaves and sleeping foliage. To the left the sunshine caused the serene blue waters of the wetlands to sparkle and from somewhere on the other side, we could hear the honking alarms of Canada geese.
Although we weren’t able to see the lakeshore yet, we could feel the trail bringing us closer as it started to climb up sandy dunes and the inclines became more significant. About halfway into the hike, the trail turned a bend and we found ourselves at the top of a steep dune overlooking Lake Michigan. A quick trip down from this height took us to the shoreline, but be warned that the trail follows the shoreline for about .2 miles and required that we make the steep climb back up the dune to continue the trail.
After hiking back up a significant climb, and catching our breath, we took the return trail back towards the trailhead, threading back through the forest and along the southern side of the bog. The trail here was like hiking along a levy with wetlands on either side, and gave us a new perspective of the marshy waters, cattails and tall grasses. Toward the eastern edge of the wetlands, the trail connects with the Greenbelt trail leading to the southern parking lot close to the Calumet Trail and Highway 12, but we took the fork to the left that took us back to the trailhead where we had started.
As we headed out and back toward our car, we passed a late afternoon runner heading down the trail in the direction from where we had just come, disappearing amongst the straight tall trees and their long shadows.