Dune Ridge Trail

Indiana Dunes National Park

Established in February of 2019, Indiana Dunes is one of the nation’s most recently designated National Parks. That doesn’t mean it’s a new park, however. Since 1966 the property had in fact existed as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, one of four such units scattered around the Great Lakes…wherein lies a controversy. I, like many other people, find it curious that Indiana Dunes should be honored with National Park designation before any of its other three lakeshore brethren. I’ve visited Pictured Rocks, Apostle Islands, and Sleeping Bear National Lakeshores as well…all of which, in my humble opinion, are much more deserving from both a natural beauty standpoint as well as being much more unspoiled. Unfortunately, National Park designations have become more politicized (Indiana Dunes is hardly the only park established, recently, to be a head scratcher) so it’s increasingly likely to see more parks, deserving or no, to be created or re-designated in the near future. Not that this is a bad thing…don’t get me wrong, I’ll never complain about having MORE National Parks! All this said you might then think I’m a bit anti-Indiana Dunes. Far from it actually…it’s a beautiful park and one certainly worth a visit. At around 15,000 acres in size, Indiana Dunes boasts a surprisingly varied landscape. Dunes, both forested and open, are obviously well-represented…as are freshwater marshes, bogs, prairie, lush woodlands, numerous historic structures, and over 15 MILES of Lake Michigan beach. Located as it is within the heavily populated region at the foot of the lake, Indiana Dunes is understandably popular. This means that a true wilderness experience within the park, unfortunately, is hard to come by. Even so, there’s beauty to be had here…as I hope you’ll see looking through this album.

With only a few precious hours to spend within Indiana Dunes National Park, this brief tour only provides a glimpse of what there is to discover but I think it hits on most of the parks highlights. In this album you’ll find two short hikes which tour numerous dune environments, the shore of the big lake, and some beautiful woodlands. In addition, there’s a quick drive-by tour of one of the oddest collections of historic homes I’ve seen anywhere. The first hike of the day would be around the short, three-quarter mile, Dune Ridge Trail which is accessed from the huge Kemil Beach parking lot. A lollipop loop, the Dune Ridge Trail leaves the parking lot by making a short ascent up a low grass-covered dune before descending into the woods beyond where the path splits alongside a disused outdoor amphitheater. You can go either direction from here. We headed counterclockwise as the ascent of the ‘dune ridge’ looked more gradual on our maps from that direction. At first the trail remains flat as it passes through a gorgeous woodland dominated by huge cottonwoods. As the south end of the loop is reached the trail veers northeasterly and begins the climb of the mostly-forested dune which is the highlight of the hike. The soft sand underfoot makes the short climb a bit more taxing than it would otherwise be (that and, on this day, the oppressive heat) but soon you emerge onto the partially open ridge top where a few limited views of the neighboring Great Marsh can be enjoyed. The trail then quickly drops back down off the dune and, after another beautiful walk through the stately woods, returns to the start of the loop where you’ll turn to retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Our next stop would be at the Mount Baldy area at the north end of the park. On the way, though, we enjoyed a nice drive along the Lake Michigan shore and through the aforementioned odd collection of historic homes. Known as the “Century of Progress Historic District” the cluster of five unique homes here were originally built in 1933 for the Chicago World’s Fair. At the time they were meant to exhibit what a ‘home of the future’ might look like. Moved across the lake from Chicago in 1935 they are now leased by the park as private residences, and are only open to the public during guided tours. After the historic district we then drove over to Mount Baldy, one of the highest dunes in the park, where a short path leads from the parking lot out to the beach beneath the dune (the dune itself is off-limits, except for guided tours, to protect the fragile environment atop it). There isn’t much to say about this trail. It’s fairly flat, super busy, and almost completely forested its entire length. In less than a half-mile the trail emerges on the steep side of the dune a short distance above the beach and the lake. Were it not for the stacks of a nuclear power plant on the northern horizon this would be a stunning spot. As it is, it’s pretty, but the busyness and industrial eyesores ruined it somewhat for me. After a hasty retreat back to some welcome air-conditioning it was time to bid adieu to Indiana Dunes.

As you can probably tell I have extremely conflicted feelings about Indiana Dunes National Park. By nature I’m generally supportive of any kind of addition to our National Parklands. It’s just that, after visiting as many park units as I have, I can find myself being nit picky when one particular site isn’t as spectacular as another. I mean…when you’ve been to places like the Grand Canyon, Zion, Isle Royale, or the Great Smoky Mountains (or honestly even Pictured Rocks or Sleeping Bear Dunes) it’s impossible for places like Indiana Dunes to measure up. Even so, I’m glad we made the quick stop. Though crowds and views of nuclear power plants aren’t really my jam when it comes to National Parks, I still found a way to appreciate the natural beauty that does still exist here…subtle as it may be at times. With all that said I’ll leave you to tour the album and make your own judgement. So, without further ado, I now present you with a quick tour of the unconventional, but still special, Indiana Dunes National Park…as always I hope you ENJOY!!

Kemil Beach (Dune Ridge) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  41.677434, -87.008989

Mount Baldy Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  41.706889, -86.929696

Dune Ridge Trail

Route Type:  Lollipop                 Difficulty:  EASY  (Petzoldt Rating:  1.04 )

Hike Length:  0.8 miles               Hike Duration:  0:30

Trailhead Temp:  90'F                 Trail Traffic:  1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  600'                    Max. Elevation:  700'

Total Vertical Gain:  120'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  150'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Dune Ridge Trail (unblazed)


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Mount Baldy Beach Trail

Route Type:  Out-and-back       Difficulty:  EASY  (Petzoldt Rating:  0.72 )

Hike Length:  0.6 miles               Hike Duration:  0:30

Trailhead Temp:  90'F                 Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  610'                     Max. Elevation:  640'

Total Vertical Gain:  60'              Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  100'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Mount Baldy Beach Trail (unblazed)


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