Hiking Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park

A nearly private beach and stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline await on this 4.5 mile hike through the charming forested dunelands of the United States’ youngest national park.

Cowles Bog at Indiana Dunes National Park features diverse habitats and was one of the sites used in botanist Henry Chandler Cowles’ study of ecological succession — one of the driving factors behind efforts to save the dunes from commercial development.

Cowles Bog Interactive Trail Map

HIKING ILLUSTRATED

Directions to the trailhead

From Highway 12, head north on Mineral Springs Road. At the Town of Dunes Acres Security Office, take a right on the short one-lane gravel road to a small parking lot.

Although entrance to the national park is free, this lot may be full by mid-day. There really aren’t any other parking options, so arrive early to ensure a place to park or plan for alternatives.

 

Head west from the parking lot, crossing Mineral Springs Road and passing the security office to pick up Cowles Bog Trail.

Here begins a lovely two-mile lollipop loop trek to the secluded Bailly Beach (4.5 miles round trip), which is only accessible by this trail or via boat.

A woman backpacker walks Cowles Bog Trail in a stand of trees at Indiana Dunes National Park.
The black oak savannas at Indiana Dunes are some of the last surviving oak savannas in the world.

From the trailhead kiosk: “Cowles Bog Trail highlights an area of such outstanding plant diversity that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1965, a year before the national lakeshore was established … The area remains an important focus for scientific study.”

A woman hiker hugs a tree with exposed roots that seem to hug her back, with sand and Lake Michigan.
The tree that hugs you back. A common sight in the dunes are black oak trees with their roots exposed due to wind erosion.

The beach to yourself

We love photography, and of course we love hiking, so with the prospect of having a stretch of beach all to ourselves, we decided to have a fun little fashion shoot with a nice dress I recently bought.

 

During our stay at the beach, we saw just four people pass through. This was on a weekend, so it’s probable that on a weekday you’d never see anyone for hours.

The huge and curious-looking Burns Harbor is nearby, but even this doesn’t take away from the experience. After all, this is just 30 miles from Chicago in a heavily-populated and developed area, so although not pristine it is impressive to find such serene natural majesty here.

It’s easy to see why so many people fought to preserve the dunes.

A woman in a colorful dress walking along the beach with a grassy plain, trees and an industrial harbor in the background.
Beautiful secluded Bailly Beach juxtaposed against ugly Burns Harbor.

Tips

Cost? Free!

Dogs? Okay if leashed.

Hours? 6am to 11pm.

Total hiking time? Two to three hours, depending on how much you dilly dally and how many dresses (or man-kinis) you’re going to model at the beach 🙂

Hiking poles? This trail is flat for the most part, but you might like having one for the 125-foot return climb from the beach up Mount Tuthill. We usually have a couple like the ones below stowed in Andrew’s backpack for such occasions.

Gaiters? You bet.

We’ve mentioned this before, but gaiters work well at Indiana Dunes. These inexpensive and lightweight boot covers work nicely to prevent sand getting in your shoes. On our previous hike at the dunes, I initially started the trail without them. It didn’t take long for little sand dunes to form inside my boots. Andrew wore them from the beginning and had no issues.

After dumping out my boots and donning the gaiters, I didn’t have any more trouble either. For the price, these are definitely worth it.

Woman hiker standing atop sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes State Park.

More to see!

Looking for more great hiking opportunities at Indiana Dunes? Check out The Perfect Hiking Route at Indiana Dunes.

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