Easy, multi-use trail follows power lines past prairie, woodland, and wetlands just outside the Indiana Dunes parks.
Great fall color and late-summer wildflowers, with excellent wildlife viewing. Diversions to the beach and Dunes hiking trails
Roughly 20-mile trail loop (roundtrip combines parts of 9-mile crushed-limestone bike path, plus 6 paved miles along Beverly Drive)
Behind the Scenes
A diverse partnership sees to the trail’s upkeep, including habitat restoration
From I-94, exit at State Rd 49 north to U.S. 12. Turn left/west on U.S. 12 for 1.3 miles to Mineral Springs Rd. Go right/north on Mineral Springs; park in lot on left, just after railroad tracks.
Into the Wild
Porter County, Indiana
Photo: Ron Trigg
The bank of oak, maple, shrubby sumac, and sassafras along the north side of the Calumet Trail offers one of the finest displays of fall color in the Indiana Dunes. The 9.1-mile path skirts the southern boundaries of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Dunes State Park, sampling the interesting topography and biological richness that make the Indiana Dunes so special. By detouring north a half mile, cyclists can extend the ride another six miles along Beverly Drive and get close-up views of the natural marsh and wet woodland communities.
The trail, which accommodates biking, hiking, and skiing, is a good example of nature coexisting with human activities: it parallels a busy highway, commuter railroad tracks, and high-power electric lines. Citizen groups pushed for its creation in part to encourage alternative transportation for Calumet-area residents. The trail occupies land owned by Northern Indiana Public Service Company, but it is managed jointly by the Porter County Parks and the national and state parks. Volunteers from local conservation groups also monitor the trailside vegetation.
Start your ride at the trail’s western terminus on Mineral Springs Road, near the Cowles Bog unit of the National Lakeshore. Good prairie habitat lines the trail, and late-summer wildflowers — blazing star, asters, goldenrods, and great blue lobelia — grow abundantly. Joe-Pye weed and sunflowers tower up to ten feet tall. Watch the trailside for stunning red cardinal flowers and the delicate purple beauty of fringed gentians.
Photo: Mary & Lloyd McCarthy
Snakes of several species are common here, including blue racers, little brown, garter, and hognose snakes. Look for them basking along trail’s edge in the early morning, or you may see them on the move in the fall as they gather at denning sites. Rodents and other small mammals abound in the grasslands, and you may happen across the red foxes and coyotes that prey upon them. Many types of hawks and the occasional owl also hunt along the trail from high above.
The heavily canopied State Park Road offers a shady transit to Beverly Drive, where you’ll penetrate a complex of wetlands known locally as the Great Marsh. The National Park Service is removing drainage tiles and ditches here to return it to an open marsh more attractive to waterfowl. Peer through the woody shrubs along the road and you’ll find great blue herons, egrets, and other wading birds fishing in the water. Watch for northern water snakes swimming on the water’s surface. Birding opportunities are always rich here, especially during fall migration. It’s a particularly good place to spot the olive-sided flycatcher.
For a break from biking, take one of the roads north from Beverly Drive to the lakefront. The beaches at Beverly Shores are all open to the public and are generally sparsely populated. Hiking is another option; the trail systems at Cowles Bog and Dunes State Park, both near the bike path, are the best in the Indiana Dunes (CW, Summer ’04).
For more information, call (219) 465-3586 or visit the Hoosier Rails to Trails Council.
— Ron Trigg