Invited to contribute photos with brief caption commentary each week to the Indiana Dunes State Park Facebook page, I began the following series of entries, which I regard as similar to picture postcards that include messages accompanied by an image. My aim has been to highlight specific locations that visitors might find appealing.
“Woods in Winter”
A recent bestselling book speaks about “the hidden life of trees.” Its author advises hikers walking through woods should “slow down, breathe deep, and look around” to observe the social nature and networking of trees. Especially during this season of cold and contrasted against a backdrop of snow, the bare branches and exposed trunks revealed in wintry dune forest scenery along various park trails allow closer examination of locations often inaccessible or camouflaged at times of full foliage.
“Shelf Ice Breakup”
Lake Michigan’s coast along the Indiana Dunes reshapes itself in each season, and the annual arrival of a thick rim of shelf ice in midwinter often marks a start to beautiful new views of the shoreline, but it is best seen from a distance. Although those frozen white fringes extending beside the beach sometimes might seem attractive and inviting wintry imagery, especially if lit by bright sunlight, they can be dangerous as well. Indeed, visitors are cautioned about a life-threatening situation if one were to step onto the shelf ice, particularly when collapsing fragments split in warming weather, separating from the larger mass without warning, and slip into the frigid blue water below.
“Beach Tree Beside Frozen Lake Michigan”
With recent temperatures falling into negative territory on the thermometer and wind chills some days well into double-digits below zero, an accumulation of snowfall along the coast has blended well, though deceptively dangerous, with the quickly developing shoreline shelf ice. Even each bare beach tree extending its twisted limbs suddenly seems like a delicate work of sketched art with the vast expanse of frozen Lake Michigan serving as a pale backdrop.
“Dunes Creek Bend in Winter”
With the recent arrival of additional snowfall and a late first freeze of waterways in the region, the distinctive bend scenery between two wooded dune hills at the west end of Dunes Creek, which winds along the short and easily accessible Beach Trail that begins at the Pavilion parking lot, appeared particularly wintry and especially appealing.
“End of Trail 7 in Winter”
Hiking the short one-mile course of Trail 7 up a sandy inland incline of coastal hillside, visitors eventually emerge from the forest edge onto a narrow ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. Moderately easy compared to the steep ascent of neighboring Trail 8 that traverses the three highest peaks of the state park and requires greater labor, this route opens at its top to a shallow path descending gently toward the lake through foredunes, where wind-smoothed slopes of drifting snow often appear in winter.
A few small storms creating light snowfall recently moved across northwest Indiana—just enough to decorate the landscape with winter’s white disguise but not hinder walking. Consequently, routine hikes through Indiana Dunes State Park now frequently reveal delightful new sights, allowing for rediscovery of scenery along familiar routes, such as seen in this image of the footbridge across Dunes Creek on Trail Two.
“Mild Morning in January”
Though weather can change quickly in the Indiana Dunes, temperatures during the first two weeks of 2021 remained above normal, extending the absence of shelf ice usually seen along the shoreline during this season. On mild winter mornings when almost all the snowfall along the shore has melted, the natural beauty of specific features beside the beach emerges into view once again, such as the scattering of crisp autumn leaves still strewn about the dunes, some caught among resilient tufts of marram grass, and the calm blue lake water adjacent to a lighter hue of brightening sky on the horizon.
“Beach Scene After Overnight Snow”
On clear winter mornings following a slight overnight snowfall we often wake to a new view of the landscape. Patches of marram grass are accented in sunlight when surrounded by white, and one might imagine even the bare branches of beach trees seem more expressive when seen against a backdrop of blue skies over lake water. Such days are ideal for visiting Indiana Dunes State Park!
“Chicago Skyline View in Beginning of Winter”
As winter officially arrives in the upcoming week and the new season begins to usher more frigid weather across the area, visitors to the park should recall that cold air often creates greater clarity for viewing faraway scenery, such as this slightly hazy Chicago skyline seen across Lake Michigan about 35 miles from the Indiana Dunes. Crisp conditions usually mean less humidity or vapor hovering over the water, allowing for distant images to seem even closer.
“Mild December Day”
Although we’ve almost reached the official start of winter, recent daytime temperatures have remained comfortably above freezing and air drifting inland over Lake Michigan has cooled only a bit. Therefore, park visitors might try hiking the elevated sections of Trails 8 & 9 before the weather transitions to less pleasant conditions or segments of these routes become more difficult with snowfall accumulations.
“Wilson Shelter Trailhead”
Cool temperatures and an absence of insects in late autumn create suitable conditions for exploring inland trails at Indiana Dunes State Park, where winding routes guide hikers through woods displaying tree limbs free of fallen leaves. A great place to initiate one’s excursion would be at the Wilson Shelter trailhead, where the hilly and more difficult Trail 8 begins, but which also offers access to the easier and flatter paths of Trails 9 & 10.
“Leafless Beach Tree in Bright Sunlight”
Although many trees among the yellowed marram grass stretching along the beach dunes have lost their foliage, leaves stripped away by seasonal change and persistent onshore breezes, their exposed branches sometimes seem even more aesthetically pleasing to visitors viewing the scenery. These bare limbs extending under bright afternoon sunlight present a sense of natural elegance rivaling the finest carefully crafted works of art.
“November Sunset at Indiana Dunes”
By the time mid-November arrives, the daily east-west path of the sun finally aligns with the Indiana Dunes shoreline. Sundown seen from the beach suddenly takes on a new character as the spectacular display of sunset, that had been occurring across Lake Michigan most of the year, has now drifted far enough south in late autumn to take place beyond a western edge of land.
“Lake Waves in Autumn”
Visitors who walk sands of the Indiana Dunes beach in autumn are frequently rewarded by impressive views of Lake Michigan with a wide expanse of dramatic skies overhead. Cool onshore breezes brought by those more frequent northern currents of the season often toss waves toward the coast and also carry clusters of clouds across the horizon.
“Autumn at Trail 10”
As the month of October closes and November begins, a few locations along routes in the Indiana Dunes State Park yet exhibit a bit of fall foliage, such as this section of Trail 10. Sheltered by high dunes from strong onshore winds, a number of autumn leaves remain in the canopy, and visitors can hike through these woods below overhanging branches of trees still displaying an almost golden glow.
“Trail 8 in Autumn”
Traveling through the dune woods in late October, visitors witness those upper branches of trees along Trail 8 more exposed to cold and wind already exhibiting evidence of peak fall foliage. The winding way displays a path of soil and sand mixture, now also layered with a chaotic yet colorful covering of fallen leaves, reaching ahead and disappearing deep in the distance.
“Dunes Creek Walk in Autumn”
The final two weeks of October usually offer peak fall colors at Indiana Dunes State Park. Perhaps one of the easiest and most accessible walks on all the trails, the short quarter-mile path between the beach and the Indiana Dunes State Park campground, includes a pleasant stretch of boardwalk along Dunes Creek lined with trees exhibiting vivid displays of leaves that often will flare on sunlit days during autumn’s chill.
“October Sunset at Indiana Dunes”
Following a summer season of park visitors observing sundown across Lake Michigan, sometimes dipping behind the distinctive skyline of Chicago, the crossing path of an autumn sun slowly shifts farther south in October. Each stunning sunset becomes more aligned with the east to west Indiana Dunes coastline, silhouetting trees along the shore, and creating interesting angles for landscape photography.
“Dunes Creek In October Light”
With this week’s arrival of October, the annual dramatic transition in appearance at Indiana Dunes State Park begins. Throughout this month leaf-peeping visitors will be rewarded by the gradual shift in foliage towards creation of a more colorful landscape brought by cooler autumn weather.
“Dunes Creek at Start of Autumn”
In the first week of autumn, Dunes Creek extends between deep woods yet thick with green foliage overgrowing Trail 2 as it twists alongside. A dappled bed of gold sand can still be seen beneath splotchy reflections of sky in a slow-flowing but clear current.
Near the end of summer, at a patch of dunes along the beach just west of the park pavilion, where clusters of still flourishing foliage and small full trees grow close to the Lake Michigan shoreline, one can witness an artistic contrast in the spectrum of colors, displaying tan sand, green leaves, turquoise water, and blue skies with splashes of white clouds.
“Twisting Trees Along Trail 9”
In September as summer draws toward its final days, twisting trees along trail 9 where it winds through dune woods toward the shoreline ahead still display full foliage, and the narrow path yet remains protected by shade from a thick canopy of green leaves overhanging on those uppermost branches.
“Sunset at End of Summer”
Labor Day weekend often represents the waning of summer with autumn’s arrival only a couple weeks away, and some believe the best of nature’s beautiful imagery also will end soon. However, sunset views at the Indiana Dunes tend to intensify during fall and winter as the angled light passes through more of the atmosphere. Consequently, rays of late sunshine get scattered, emphasizing a diffused spectrum of brilliant red, pink, yellow, and orange colors in the skies above Lake Michigan.
“Trail 8 Marsh Bridge in Late Summer”
Near the start of Trail 8 at the Wilson Shelter parking lot, the picturesque path crosses a short footbridge spanning marsh water and lushly framed in vivid green by seasonal growth before disappearing into thick woods of mostly oaks. There, the route intersects with Trails 9 and 10, offering visitors a variety of hiking options for exploration while protected from strong sunshine and late summer heat by the cooling shade of dune forest.
“Eastern End of Trail 10”
At the distant eastern end of Trail 10, the longest route in the Indiana Dunes State Park at about 5.5 miles, the sandy path moves inland through a section titled “Paradise Valley” and eventually emerges from a stretch maneuvering within dark hardwood forest into bright sunlight, then descends a shallow slope down isolated foredunes toward the shore, offering a renewed view of Lake Michigan.
“Trail 7 Under Summer Sunshine”
Trail 7 in Indiana Dunes State Park, at just over one mile, is a short but favorite route for viewing evidence of the various stages in development of the landscape. Starting at the Nature Center, this path moves comfortably through thick inland shrubbery, along a lush cove of trees or underbrush, and ascends toward the tops of sand mounds, attractive beach dunes rising above the shoreline that present impressive views of Lake Michigan.
“Beach House Blowout”
Perhaps the most dramatic features in Indiana Dunes State Park are various vast cuts carved by winds into the dunes, such as the Beach House Blowout that can be seen at the eastern end of Trail 9, which runs just inside the first growth of woods along high ridges overlooking Lake Michigan. Each blowout displays an expansive opening in the sand mounds. These gaps in the hills along the lake have been created by a constant erosion from strong onshore gusts over an extended period of time.
“Dune Trail Above Lake Michigan”
In summer, isolated hikers will find some of the finest stretches of trails offering interesting vistas displaying various sights at Indiana Dunes State Park extend along the edges of dune ridges. A section of Trail 9 extending between the Beach House Blowout and the Furnessville Blowout is particularly ideal. On warm sunny days, tall slim blades of marram grass often quiver and the leaves of small trees rustle under the influence of a light wind drifting inland from Lake Michigan, cooling those travelers walking high above the shore. Scattered pockets of wildflowers nod easily with each gentle sweep of breeze. Along the beach below, clusters of ring-billed gulls also can be observed as they flutter just a few feet above the surf’s small waves breaking on the sand. In the distance on clear days the distinctive skyline of Chicago is usually visible, although sometimes a thin overcast could hang above the horizon and some fluffy low clouds nearby might be seen floating overhead.
The month of July annually draws the largest number of visitors gathering for swimming and sunbathing along the shore at Indiana Dunes State Park as they seek a break from the peak of summer heat. Even as isolated squalls of storm cells sometimes suddenly sweep sideways above Lake Michigan, displaying clusters of clouds illuminated by bright sunshine and containing visible curtains of rainfall crossing in the distance, beachgoers appreciate the brief relief brought by rising onshore breezes creating a slightly turbulent surf exhibiting easy ripples of lake waves.
“Dune Trail Below Mt. Holden”
A wide and sandy trail descending from the peak of Mt. Holden—part of the Three Dune Challenge that also includes Mt. Jackson and Mt. Tom—to the beach below might be one of the best brief walks in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Though the way may be a bit steep at times, the whole descent offers an impressive vista of Lake Michigan. In addition, this path passes the spot where Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes,” lived from 1921 until 1952 in a lakeside log cabin cottage with a view from the large front window toward his native Chicago skyline rising across the water. He hosted numerous visitors, including public officials, at this studio so they could witness his gallery of landscape art in an attempt to advocate for the environment, hoping to promote and protect the future of the Indiana Dunes.
Many people eagerly anticipate thrilling colorful fireworks lighting the high skies on July 4 each summer; however, this year many celebratory displays have been canceled due to current conditions concerning public health. Nevertheless, visitors to Indiana Dunes State Park are able to view nature repeatedly performing its own vivid spectacle above Lake Michigan most evenings in every season when a setting sun ignites the horizon.
Traveling Trail 4 just east of Mt. Tom—at nearly 200 feet, the highest peak among the Indiana Dunes—hikers move through a wooded hollow sheltered by the inland side of the coastal mounds. A favorite path for visitors in the Indiana Dunes State Park during all seasons, the course extends on the lee side of the dune hills, protected from onshore winds or the heat of the sun. Terrain in this natural haven remains especially refreshing and milder in mid-summer. After a short distance in the cool shade of trees, one arrives at an intersection with Trail 7, where the two routes unite at a location made famous in a painting titled The Seventh Trail by Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes.” Emerging from overhanging branches and stretching toward Lake Michigan, the trails end when a sandy way then winds down a shallow slope toward the shoreline yet spread under bright sunlight.
The late spring and early summer path of sun as seen from the Indiana Dunes State Park coastline during June and July tracks steadily north and then begins its southern return, moving each day toward and behind the distinctive outline of Chicago’s downtown structures. As bright sunsets backlight the city and silhouette famous features of the skyline, they offer opportunities for dramatic photography by beachgoers or those hiking higher paths along the shoreline dunes.
“The Devil’s Slide”
When visitors pass through the entrance gate at Indiana Dunes State Park and drive into the main parking lot behind the Pavilion located at Waverly Beach, a steep sandy slope rising just to the east seems to attract much attention. This feature, named The Devil’s Slide, rises about 100 feet and appears appealing as a moderate challenge for climbing under bright summer sunlight, perhaps good practice for the park’s well-known Three Dune Challenge, which includes the higher peaks of Mt. Holden, Mt. Jackson, and Mt. Tom, each a bit under 200 feet. However, this dune also provides a place in the park permitted for sledding during winter snows.
Dunes Creek wanders through the grounds of Indiana Dunes State Park, at times paralleling Trail Two and also branching toward the marshland at the center of the park. The west end of the creek eventually extends along the short Beach Trail that serves as a shortcut to the shore for visitors at the campground. The winding waterway finally curves around Devil’s Slide and intersects Lake Michigan just beside the Pavilion at popular Waverly Beach. Although a brief path about a half mile long, the Beach Trail snakes beside Dunes Creek as it wends its way between two wooded dune hills. In summer the entire area is filled with rich green foliage and lush slopes displaying tall reeds of grass lining the creek and reflected in its darker water.