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Winter Hiking: Three Dunes Challenge

Submitted by: Donna Lind

I love hiking the Dunes trails in winter. I love the way the trees look without summer’s green, their silhouettes gracefully curving and bending and reaching upward, casting striped shadows across the sand. I love how you can see the sandy slopes and the shape of the land rising up from the shore of Lake Michigan.

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About a month ago, between Christmas and the New Year, my husband, Greg, our lively lab mix, Cooper, and I headed out late in the day for an overdue winter hike. We parked near the Nature Center in the Dunes State Park choosing Trail 8 and The Three Dunes Challenge. We had hiked this trail several times, and had climbed these three dunes long before they became the challenge that visitors love to conquer, but this time of day was new for us. It was a gorgeous afternoon. The December sun was sinking toward the western horizon creating long shadows and turning everything the color of gold.

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I love hiking the Dunes in winter because, although the snow from the week before had melted, the sand was still firm so that each step up made fruitful progress unlike the climb in summer’s sand where each step up results in sliding a half step back. We reached the top of Mount Jackson, 176 feet above Lake Michigan and stopped long enough to catch our breath before Cooper pulled us down the other side towards the next climb up Mount Holden at 184 feet. At the second summit, we met some energetic hikers going in the opposite direction, each of us nodding and smiling to one another, sharing in the satisfaction that we had completed two climbs with just one more to go.

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Greg. Cooper and I reached the top of Mount Tom, the tallest dune at 192 feet, just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. From here we could see Lake Michigan, all serene and blue that day.  The skyline of Chicago was clearly outlined on the horizon and orange light covered everything. Using plenty of available light we headed down the other side of Mount Tom and took Trail 4 back towards the Nature Center and our car. The afternoon ended in friendly conversation with a family visiting the area, having just come off a trail themselves and wanting to give Cooper some welcome attention.

Did I mention that I love to hike the Dunes in winter?

For more of Donna’s blog posts, please visit her Evidence of Life blog at  You can also view her photographs at


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