Location: 1600 N 25 East, Chesterton, IN. 46304
Hours: 7am – 11pm daily
Trail length: 3 miles
Entrance Cost: $7 for in-state vehicles; $12 for out-of-state; free admission from November until April; Annual State Park entrance passes can be purchased for $50 for Indiana residents and $70 for non-residents.
Parking: Yes, at Wilson and Southwest Shelters and at the Nature Center
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
Restrooms: Yes, in parking areas
Submitted by: Donna Lind
Hiking in Northwest Indiana in late March and early April can be a challenge if you’re depending on the weather to cooperate. After a long cold winter, the urge to get out on a trail is stronger than ever and I’ve learned at this time of year, I have to work with what Mother Nature provides when I hit the trails.
The goal on this particular hike was to complete Trail 2 in the Indiana Dunes State Park from start to finish, something I hadn’t done in the past. This trail is about three miles long and can be accessed from several different starting points On the map, the trail is listed as easy because it is very flat with no challenging dunes to climb. Easy, that is, unless you decide to hike in the spring after a series of rainy days like I did.
It was an April weekday afternoon and I had only the Bluejays and Woodpeckers for company. A winding paved trail leads away from the shelter and follows the main park road where it crosses the Dunes Creek. At the bridge and across the road, I found the trailhead clearly marked and I was off. This section of the trail follows the Dunes Creek over a series of wooden bridges however at this time of year, it is very wet and muddy so plan to wear sturdy, waterproof boots.
Although I stopped several times to appreciate the reflections in the little ponds along the way, marvel at the first green signs of ephemerals poking through the undergrowth and familiarizing myself with a section of the park I hadn’t seen before, I was also challenged many times by low places in the trail covered in mud and standing water. At one point I almost turned around when the trail seemed to lead straight into a large pool of water until I noticed the path on dry land conveniently leading around this large pond and allowing me to continue my adventure. Now and then the quiet was broken by the knocking of a woodpecker high out of sight or the plop of a startled frog jumping back into the water.
About halfway into the hike and feeling pretty good about having successfully navigated the low spots along the way, I reached the gravel service road that would take me to the Wilson Shelter parking area.
Here the trail is wide and relatively dry because the park has installed little culverts that pass under the trail and provide drainage. These little culverts, being buried under the trail and incorporated into the landscape, fit well with the atmosphere. In fact, when hiking with my eight-, six- and four-year old grandchildren, these little underground streams provide a lot of interest and exploration. They love watching leaves and sticks follow the flow of water in one side and under the trail to emerge on the other side. We even watched a crayfish crawl around in the mucky bottom clearly trying to hide from our inquisitive children.
This long stretch of Trail 2 passes through the wooded Dunes Nature Preserve. Because the trail is dry, clearly marked and very flat, it is a great section for families and hikers of all ages. It provides easy access to the nature preserve for all skill levels and abilities. In the winter, it is a popular trail for cross-country skiing, as well.
To finish out Trail 2, the wooded trail takes a ninety-degree turn into the Great Marsh over the beautifully restored half-mile boardwalk. This is by far my favorite part of the hike and what our little hikers were looking forward to, asking every so often the hiking equivalent of, “Are we there yet?” Once we reached the boardwalk, the clouds broke apart to reveal sunshine and bright blue skies that reflected in the water all around us. Because the boardwalk is sturdy, wide and safe, the older two kids were free to go on ahead, excited to take in the wonder of the Great Marsh. Once we reached the Wetland Observation Platform, we took some time to watch a pair of Mallard ducks, appreciate the building skill of beaver dams and listen to the call of Canadian geese off across the water.
Not far from where the boardwalk ends, the trail leads back into the woods and ends by connecting to Trail 10. Here the hike can be concluded as a loop towards the west by following Trail 10 to Trail 8 leading back to the Wilson Shelter or continuing Trail 10 to the Nature Center.
Be sure to check out all our trail descriptions, right here.