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Heron Rookery Trail - magic in any season

Location: Main East Lot: 1336 600 East, Michigan City, IN 46360

Alternate West Lot: 1301 North 450 East, Chesterton, IN 46304

Trail Length: 3.3 miles

Hours: Daily from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm

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

Dog-Friendly: Yes, on a leash

Restrooms: No

There is not a more magical hiking experience in the Indiana Dunes National Park system than the Heron Rookery Trail. Bordering the Little Calumet River, this there-and-back trail has so much personality no matter the season.

The Main East lot is a good place to start. There is plenty of parking and the flat, hard-packed trail starts off right away at the bank of the Little Calumet River. From there, the trail weaves back and forth along the river’s edge for a mile and a half of deep woods splendor. However if spring flowers are what you've come for, starting at the West Lot will lead you directly to a carpet of Trillium and later in the season, waves of Lupine.

A hike here in the spring will require you to be prepared for muddy spots along the trail, but you are in for a display of spring ephemerals. Tucked into the forest floor you’ll find trout lilies, carpets of white and red trillium, Dutchmen’s breeches, the umbrellas of May apples and leafy ramps. Late spring will bring an explosion of purple lupine, especially toward the west lot.

In mid-to-late summer, the trail narrows as vegetation becomes thick and leafy. Tall cow parsnip gives the trail a fairy-like quality. Autumn brings a fiery display of color as dense green gives way to October yellows, reds and oranges. Even in winter, a hush settles over the trail with a covering of snow, highlighting the backdrop of this diverse trail as the footprints of woodland creatures welcome you.

And all the while, the Little Calumet River gurgles and washes by in all its seasons.

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