Cowles Bog Trail
4.7 miles, 202 feet of elevation gain, 2% average grade, 15% maximum grade
Hike time: 4 hours
This featured hike is a lollipop shaped trail and a classic of the Indiana dunes. Starting from the north parking lot, hike out back to Mineral Springs Road on the gravel entrance road and pick up the trail across the street. The trail heads along the edge of a wetland with abundant plant and wildlife diversity. At roughly the one-mile mark, you will reach the loop trail junction. The preferred direction around the loop is counter-clockwise. Take the trail to the right. The trail will now run through black oak savanna and between interdunal ponds filled with aquatic life.
At roughly the 1.5 mile mark, stay to the right at the junction with the cut-off trail. As you near Lake Michigan, you have to climb up and then down the steep final dune. The reward is sweeping views of Lake Michigan and a beach to yourself. Pack a lunch and stay awhile.
For the return, travel 0.2 miles to the west on the beach and look for the trail and signs to head back over the dune. Stay right at the cut-off trail junction, left at the Greenbelt trail south parking lot connector and right at the loop trail junction. The trail will now take you back out to the north parking lot.
For a slightly shorter and easier journey, take the cut-off trail. This will take a little under a mile off the trail length and avoids the steep dune climbs (but also avoids seeing Lake Michigan).
The Cowles Bog loop trail can also be accessed from the south using the Greenbelt Trail at the south parking lot.
History and Background
Henry Cowles was a botanist from the University of Chicago. He published his dissertation, entitled "An Ecological Study of the Sand Dune Flora of Northern Indiana". He later published his thesis, in modified form under the title, "The Ecological Relations of the Vegetation on the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan." The Botanical Gazette helped establish Cowles as the "father of plant ecology" in North America. The article brought international attention to the intricate ecosystems existing on the dunes.
The trail is a partnership between the National Park Service and the Town of Dune Acres.