3.4 miles, 223 feet of elevation gain, 2% average grade, 20% maximum grade
Hike time: 2.5 hours
This loop hike combines sections of the three trails at West Beach. The hike starts with the Dune Succession Trail (Loop 1), which highlights the four stages of dune development. From the parking lot, head north to the bathing house to pick up the trail. This part of the trail is only ~0.6 miles long, but includes a strenuous climb up 270 stairs for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and Chicago. Along the way you will pass through a beautiful pinery of jack pine trees. These are some of most southern jack pines in the world and are a result of Lake Michigan and the work of glaciers transporting seeds. Support the restoration effort in the fragile dunes and ponds by remaining on designated trails.
The hike then picks up the West Beach Trail (Loop 2) for an easy hike through an area that was sand mined in the 1920s. The footing is mainly loose sand. This area is being restored as an oak savanna and is a great place to see prickly pear cactus. Birders will enjoy looking for water birds on Long Lake from the viewing platform.
The final section of the hike is the Long Lake Loop Trail (Loop 3). This section is moderate in difficulty. The trail follows along Long Lake and then heads into the dunes. There is a great view of Long Lake after the initial climb. After crossing the entrance road, the trail winds through the undulating dunes and then has a steep descent into the picnic area and back to the parking lot.
The trail surface varies from loose sand to packed dirt and sections of stairs and boardwalks. The hike will take longer than you think due the loose footing of walking in the sand. The trail starts in relative shade but ends in the full sun. Please bring plenty of water, sun protection and dress in layers. The weather on the beach can be dramatically colder or hotter than in the woods.
Dunes Succession Trail
0.9 mile, 81 feet of elevation gain, 3% average grade, 15% maximum grade
Hike time: 45 minutes
The Dune Succession Trail (Loop 1) highlights the four stages of dune development within its one-mile length. From the parking lot, follow the road north, toward the lake and look for the trail to pick up to the west of the bathhouse. This scenic, but strenuous, trail includes a climb up 270 stairs for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and Chicago. Support the restoration effort in the fragile dunes and ponds by remaining on designated trails.
History and Background
- The flattened area around the parking lots at West Beach are the result of sand mining that took place in the 1920s, prior to the land's protection. Sand was loaded onto railcars and shipped away for use as fill and other construction purposes. Thanks to activists like Dorothy Buell and Charlotte Read, the remainder of West Beach is preserved in its natural condition, and the sand mined areas have filled back in the native vegetation.