The name of this trail is somewhat misleading. From the trail you won't get a view of the many marshes in the area. You're standing on an ancient beach. What you will see are the Tolleston Dunes, formed some 10,000 years ago when Lake Michigan was 25 feet that it is today.
The trail contains two loops for a total of 3.25 miles. The hike can be very strenuous in parts, some of the dunes climbs are 70 feet or more and at some points the trail can be very hard to follow. Despite that, this is one of the best "back to nature" hikes in the entire system. For more about the marshes than give this area its name, see the "Inland Marsh Overlook" tip under Off The Beaten Paths.
The latest, and most welcome, addition to the Lakeshore is a short, .9 mile linear hiking trail through this 120 acre tract of restored prairie on Beam Road, west of US 20. The trail contects to the Little Calumet River and Bailly/Chellberg trails. The name was given by some members of the Pokagan band of Potawatomi Indians. According to them the name means, "good land" or "pretty place." Well named indeed, and it will get even prettier in the years to come as student groups, volunteers and experts prune out invasive, non-native species and assist nature in propagating native plants through seed collecting and carefully controlled burns. I can't quite articulate the joy of walking through the prairie, so I won't even try. But if you visit the Dunes, do not miss a visit to this beautiful landscape.
They might have to rename this one, as the portion of the trail the skirted along the banks of the river are now too eroded to be considered unsafe for hikers. The southern portion of the trail has been rerouted into the new Mnoke Prairie; only at two points will visitors see the river that gives this trail its name.
Twelve thousand years ago, the area around the Visitor Center was the shoreline of a much-larger Lake Michigan. See the effects of time and succession by taking a walk on the short (half mile loop) Calumet Dune trail. This paved and handicapped-accesible trail is a great place for those who aren't as spry or mobile as this dune-trekker to understand and see firsthand the natural history of the area.
The trail begins and ends at the Dorothy Buell Visitor Center and also connects to the longer Ly-Co-Ki-We and Dunewood Trace trails. Be sure to pick up the "Calumet Dune Trail" interpretive brochure in advance as thirteen numbered stations along the way explain the natural highlights of the terrain. This is a good introduction to Indiana duneland.
This 1.6 mile trail follows the south bank of the Little Calumet River. When I hiked it it felt a lot longer than 1.6 miles. The trail is very narrow and uneven, making hiking in muddy or wet conditions difficult. Nonetheless, wildflowers abound in the spring and it's a good place to spot the majestic Great Blue Heron, who nest on the north bank of the river, hence the name.
This 2.1 mile linear trail runs between County Line Road and Grand Blvd in Miller, traversing a very pretty, diverse series of dunes, wetlands and forests; the Dunes in all their glory. The compacted gravel path is passable by bike and foot and is a great way to see a part of the Indiana Dunes usually unseen by most visitors.
Overall this trail includes three loops for a total of 5.1 miles. There are two trailheads, both located on Mineral Springs Road. Most of the walk is through forest-covered oak savanna dunes as well as wetlands (notably the large Cowles Bog) and access to the lakefront at the Bailly Boat-In Beach, right in the shadow of a giant NIPSCO plant and Bethlehem Steel. Note that if you decend down to the beach the walk back up can be very strenuous.
This 1.5 mile loop trail skirts dunes along the western edge of Long Lake, a post-glacial remnant. A sizeable chunk of the trail traverses areas flattened by sand mining, notice the attempts to "re-colonize" the land with native plants. The path crosses the entry road twice so take caution. Lots of wildflowers in spring. Note there is an entry fee to West Beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
This half mile loop trail leads from the parking lot to the infamous Mount Baldy, the 123 foot mountain of sand. Midway a spur leads up the backside of the living dune or a roundabout way that leads to the beach. I recommend the latter.
An excellent, one mile loop hike around a cattail swale and nearby oak savanna forest. A wooden boardwalk cuts through the middle of the wetland. A feeder trail allows access to the beachfront, about a mile north.
This half mile loop trail passes along the ridge of a well-established backdune and through very interesting landscapes: the edge of a wetland, exposed dunes in the early stages of succession, forest-covered backdunes. The observation deck atop the ridge is a good place to catch your breath, though the views aren't that great as it is obscured by trees.
Note the flat, open areas early on the trail. These were former homesteads. The Park Service has been purchasing private holdings within the property, subsidizing the former owners with generous terms and then returning the plots to a natural state after a set amount of time.
Very similiar to the Long Lake Trail, the 1.2 mile loop West Beach Trail connects to that and the Dune Succession Trail in West Beach. Note there is a entry fee from Memorial Day to Labor Day