One of the main reasons for our stay in western Michigan was the proximity to Indiana Dunes National Park. It is one of the newest National Parks, only being named such in 2019 after being a National Lakeshore since 1966. The Park is a patchwork along Lake Michigan, with a town, several steel mills, and a state park all intermixed.
We started our visit at the visitor’s center, where we got a stamp for Bird’s passport and picked up a map. We just started collecting tokens for the National Parks in addition to the sticker for our door and postcard for Bird’s album, so I found those in the gift shop as well.
I had done a little research on hikes in the park prior to our arrival on the NPS app (which I highly recommend if you are visiting any parks or landmarks), and we set off for the Paul H. Douglas Trail through Miller Woods. We selected this trail because it was around 3 miles long (which is about our limit with Daisy) and went through several habitats, including dunes and the beach.
The trail starts at an environmental center where there is a short loop around wetlands, but the trail to the beach is an out-and-back that branches off from the loop. We started on one side of the loop, took the trail to the beach, and ended on the second half of the loop.
Through the wetlands, we saw evidence everywhere of the apparently large beaver population. There were plenty of trees with tell-tale signs of beavers and huts built throughout the ponds. As many signs of beaver that we saw, we unfortunately did not see any of the critters.
From the wetlands, we made our way into the black oak savanna. This area was absolutely beautiful with wildflowers blooming all along the forest floor. This habitat is home to wild lupine, which is the only food for the caterpillar stage of the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Because of the habitat is so fragile, there is a narrow trail and signs asking hikers to not go off the trail. The flowers were in full bloom and were incredible to see. We did not see any of the butterflies, though. I am not sure when they emerge, and they apparently only live for a short 5 days, so it would be extra special to see them.
After walking through the savanna, we found ourselves making our way around the dunes. As we got in among the dunes and closer to Lake Michigan, the wind picked up, and we could hear the roar of the lake long before we could see it.
As wind-blown as we were, it was a beautiful sight to crest over the final dune and see the emerald green of Lake Michigan before us. We made our way down to the beach and had hoped to spend some time wandering close to the water, but due to the wind and cold, we made it a rather quick stop.
The beach was gorgeous, and although we had not seen more than a couple of people on the trail, there were several small groups of people enjoying the beach. We marveled at the white caps coming into shore and really enjoyed seeing the Chicago skyline from across the lake.
When we got Bird out of the backpack, she was so chilly that she only wanted to cuddle up with me for warmth and to get a break from the wind. I did not mind one bit and soaked up every second of that time with her nuzzled in against me. She did eventually get down long enough to poke around the sand and look at a few rocks, but she was definitely ready to get back in the pack and head away from the beach.
The return trek to the truck was much more crowded than the hike out, and we were happy we got there early (changing time zones from our campground in Michigan to the National Park certainly worked in our favor!). The hike was a total of about 3.5 miles, and with the wind and much of the trail being sand, it was a workout.
After eating a quick lunch in the truck, we made our way along the lake to other sections of the park. We took our time as Bird almost immediately fell asleep and Will and I thoroughly enjoyed the drive along West Lake Front Drive that took us right by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes.
The homes along this portion of the lake were originally constructed in Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair as visions of what the future of homes would look like. I cannot even imagine what people in the 1930s thought of these homes, as they look modern even by today’s standards. After the World’s Fair, these homes were transported to where they stand today across the lake from Chicago. There were a few plaques outside of these homes, but it was an awkward place to stop and get a really good look, especially because the homes are actually private residences, but they were really neat to see, nonetheless.
Indiana Dunes is a small but unique National Park that I wish we had time to further explore. There were so many additional trails and beaches to see, but I feel like we got a great view of the park from our hike and drive. This is just the first of many National Parks on our list for this summer, and I simply cannot wait to see even more of what our country has to offer.