Dune, Set, Hike!: Don’t take a day at the beach lying down

2013-06-19T00:00:00Z 2013-06-19T11:31:05Z Dune, Set, Hike!: Don’t take a day at the beach lying downMark Loehrke nwitimes.com
June 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For many beachgoers, a day of sun and sand requires but a few simple provisions – a large, sturdy towel, a clutch of celebrity tabloid rags and just enough square footage to recline and conquer. But while there’s plenty to be said for pure, unencumbered relaxation at the beach, the diverse system of trails that winds through the region’s fascinating dune areas makes the persuasive counterpoint; that there’s at least as much to be enjoyed vertically as horizontally.

Whether one sets out in search of an expansive sea-meets-sand vista or a less-beaten path of quiet exploration, there’s plenty of dune discoveries to be made on foot beyond the sedentary masses along the waterfront.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Cowles Bog Trail

Length: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate to rugged

Description: This peaceful, three-loop trail is not necessarily what one might expect of a “dune hike,” but its pathway through a variety of different habitats actually tells a far more complete tale of the dunes than a simple trip to the beach. From ponds and marshes to birch forests and open sand, the Cowles Bog Trail represents the many different faces of the dunes over time.

Notes: While the full three-loop experience offers the most complete assessment of this area, the trail can be broken down into more manageable one- or two-loop portions for those not interested in hiking the full nearly five miles. Not into bogs? Skip the southern loop. Climbing in sand not your thing? Take a pass on the northern loop.

Before You Go: Probably no surprise given the presence of the word “bog” right there in the name, but with its abundance of wetlands, this trail can be a mosquito haven at the height of the season – pre-treat accordingly.

More Information: www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Mount Baldy

Length: 0.7 miles

Difficulty: Rugged

Description: Most kids who happen upon Mount Baldy want to try and surmount it, but what they may not know is that the towering sand dune is, in fact, out to get them as well. Rising 126 feet above Lake Michigan at its summit, Mount Baldy’s popular dune slope was closed in recent years to prevent climbing-induced wear and tear on an already eroding natural structure that on its own will move four feet inland this year (thus its designation as a “living dune”). However, the rewarding views of Lake Michigan (and often the Chicago skyline) from the top can still be accessed by a designated trail on its flank.

Notes: While the trail doesn’t offer quite the same challenge as the shifting sand of the dune slope of yore, this is a vigorous climb nonetheless.

Before You Go: Stretch.

More Information: www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm

Indiana Dunes State Park

Trails 9 and 10

Length: Trail 9 – 3.75 miles; Trail 10 – 5.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: Out of many choices, these two trails are the longest and most interesting around which to build a day of hiking the park. Like Cowles Bog Trail (but without the namesake bog), Trail 9 is a scamper through several different habitats, with occasional rewarding glimpses of the lake. Trail 10 is more of a classic beach hike, following the shoreline for much of its distance before veering inland through the Dunes Nature Preserve and its more diverse flora.

Notes: The State Park offers a full range of trails of varying lengths and temperaments, most of which can be accessed from the helpful and centrally located Visitor Center.

Before You Go: Check out the Park’s web site to view a map of the full trail system and plan your day.

More Information: www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm

Warren Dunes State Park

Mount Randal Loop

Length: 4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Description: The one-mile trail directly up to the summit of 220-foot Mt. Randal is a popular option for those simply looking for a quick climb and a great view. But the series of connected loops in this area provides more of a little-bit-of-everything hike and a better overview of the many different terrains and habitats that make up the 1,952-acre Warren Dunes.

Notes: This loop offers several opportunities for scaling the dunes, as well as several stretches of hiking to the soothing accompaniment of the Lake Michigan surf.

Before You Go: Avoid any backtracking or confusion among the several different offshoots of the Mount Randal Loop by reviewing a map of the area in advance to familiarize yourself with the series of interconnected pathways.

More Information: www.michigan.gov/warrendunes

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