Route: Indiana Dunes High Traverse (IN)

Submitted by Michael Drazer on Sun, 08/23/2020 - 02:49pm
Indiana, US
16 mi
Vertical Gain
1,200 ft

This point-to-point route is located in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and National Park, as well as the state park. It showcases the full spectrum of ecological diversity in the area. The route begins on the Little Calumet trail, which is located near the western border of the national park in Bailly Chellberg Farm. The farm is notable for its prairies, boardwalks, and well groomed trails. The route then dives into the Cowles Bog area, which contains a wide variety of wildlife and botanic diversity. The Cowles Bog trail contains a number of challenging sand dune descents and ascents. The route then leads to the front entrance to the larger, more developed state park (check entrance fees and carry some cash in case they are charging a fee when you arrive). Here, the route incorporates the "Three Dunes Challenge" route, a short and challenging, but scenic, series of climbs up and down three sand dunes, before finishing on "The Ridge", a classic proving ground for local runners that winds through a series of "Blowout Dunes". The route then finishes at the end of trail 10, on the shore of Lake Michigan. This ending is located at the eastern end of the state park, near the town of Beverly Shores, which also serves as a convenient location for departure via vehicle. 

This route is a superb, challenging introduction to the various types of trails that are well known to local trail runners. It is also an excellent route for backpackers and hikers who are interested in exploring the ecological diversity of the Indiana Dune area.

New variation submitted October 2022 by Jessica Lyza

This trail-only variation is an approximately 11 mi out-and-back, fully single-track trail that begins and ends in Indiana Dunes State Park. It's the State Park and State National Recreation Area portion of the Indiana Dunes High Traverse. This variation avoids the roads needed to link up the rest of the High Traverse so that this course is entirely on trail.

The trail starts at the campground trailhead for trail 8, which is better known as the 3 Dune Challenge - a tough 1.4 mi route that encompasses three 200-ft dunes and deep, loose sand in between. At the trail junction, take a left to follow Trail 9 east. This trail has two options - a low and a high option. About a mile into Trail 9, take the left turn to ascend to the high route option for trail 9 (you should immediately hit a sand 150 ft, steep sand dune). Follow trail 9 high route until it links back up with 10, where you'll head south for about 100 ft, and then meet a fork in the trail. Take the left trail to link up with "The Ridge" section that goes through the State Recreation Area. This is by far the coolest trail we have at the Dunes, so enjoy the 2.5 miles of rolling sand and steep (for Indiana) uphill. This trail terminates when it joins back up with Trail 10 of the State Park (there is a big trail 10 post, you can't miss it). Take a left and head out to the beach to touch the water - the turnaround point for the route. Follow back the same way you came - from 10 to "The Ridge", from "The Ridge" to trail 9 high route, from trail 9 high route to lower trail 9, to trail 8 (3 Dune Challenge).

This chunk of the Indiana Dunes high traverse has the most elevation (and best views) of the whole route and is about 90% loose sand - a real challenge over 1794 ft of both rolling elevation and 200 ft sand dunes. Parking, bathrooms, etc. are available near the trailhead at the Nature Center at the State Park. There is a $7 fee for in-state residents without an annual pass and a $15 fee for out of state.

Keep your eyes open for birds, other wildlife, and the vast variety of plants and flowers that make the Indiana Dunes one of the most diverse areas in the world. Depending on the season, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, red-trailed fox, coyote, bobcat, and many different variety of small birds can be found nestled in the trails of this course.



Cool route Michael! Roughly how much of this would you say is sand? (i.e., 90%? 50%? 25%)? Thanks!

I'm headed north today to take a crack at this route. Michael, the route's originator, has graciously offered to run a portion of it with me to help with navigation, so this will be a supported attempt.

Would an all-trails track be accepted to track an unsupported fkt on this route? 

Yes, AllTrails GPS activites can be used for verification. (Sorry for the delay; at present, these comments don't generate any notifications to regional editors.)

Great overview of what the national and state parks have to offer.  Loved the unmarked route between trails 9 and 10 in the state park.  One of the blowouts in this section has the most dune grass coverage I've seen across the dunes areas.

I was hiking trail 9 today with the intention of following this route.  There is a no hiking sign now at the unnoficial trail portion of this trek.