Research shows walking benefits both the body and the mind, and the Northwest Indiana region is full of parks, trails and nature preserves that highlight the beauty and diverse landscape of the area. Throughout the summer in Home and Garden, the Times will highlight some of the best places to walk and enjoy the unique topography this region has to offer.
One of the most well known jewels of the region is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Because of its vast size, however, knowing where to go for the best walking opportunities can be just as challenging as some of the terrain itself.
"Because the National Lakeshore is so large at 15,000 acres, with 15 miles of beach and over 45 miles of trails, we recommend people stop at the park's visitor center first," said Bruce Rowe, supervisory park ranger and public information officer. "You can talk to a park ranger at the information desk and learn what trails, beach areas, biking trails or even historic sites may interest you most."
While it is difficult to pick just one area that's great for walking, Rowe said there's many possibilities - giving visitors a new experience each time they visit the national park.
"The section of beach at Central Avenue access is a popular spot for enjoying a leisurely sunset walk, while the beech-maple forest behind the Chellberg Farm makes for a great woodland hike," he said.
If someone is looking for more of a challenge, Rowe said the new Miller Woods trail from the Douglas Center to the beach takes visitors through a spectacular mix of interdunal ponds and Black Oak savanna.
For those who enjoy bird watching while walking, Rowe suggests the Great Marsh Trail - an excellent place for spotting a wide variety of birds ranging from Great Blue Herons to Sand Hill Cranes.
"Along the lakeshore, the Portage Lakefront area has become a popular place to look for migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall," he said.
If you plan in advance, you can contact a ranger and visit the Pinhook Bog.
"Bogs, like Pinhook, are relics of our glacial past," Rowe said. "Acidic conditions have resulted in a glacial lake that is now completely covered by a floating mat of sphagnum moss."
Growing on the moss now, he said, are carnivorous and other plants that can survive in this unique habitat.
"Because it is such a fragile habitat, Pinhook Bog can only be visited when a ranger is present," Rowe said. "Contact the park visitor center to find out when the bog is open and for directions."
Other areas of interest include walking through the tall grasses of Mnoke Prairie, visiting historic Chellberg Farm and exploring the dunes that range in size from over 125 feet high to short marram grass topped dunes.
No matter which area of the Indiana Dunes visitors choose to visit, Rowe said they will see a wide variety of plants and wildlife. In fact, the National Lakeshore has more than 1,100 different species of plants.
"You can even find prickly pear cactus growing near arctic bearberry in some dune areas," he said. "But this diversity is more a reflection of the incredible diversity of habitats found here."
In the fall, he said, raptors such as red-tailed hawks can often be seen migrating, while the winter will occasionally treat birdwatchers with a snowy owl spotting.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center is located at 1215 N. State Road 49, Porter.
For more information, call (219) 926-7561 or go to nps.gov/indu/index.htm.