The Indiana Dunes State Park has over 2,000 acres of beaches, sand, swamps and forest. The best part about the Dunes is the prime location; only about a 20 minute drive from campus. While one might think that there would be nothing to do at a state park in the wintertime, the Dunes actually has many activities to be enjoyed during the cold months.
Marie Laudeman, a Naturalist at the park, shares opportunities visitors can look for.
“There is a quietness about the winter season,” Laudeman said about the park. “The winter is also a time when you can see the movement of animals a lot better because there aren't leaves or snow on the ground so you can see tracks for example. So wildlife feeling and just a quietness in the park.”
Although ice sets in on Lake Michigan, making it more difficult to enjoy the beach area, tourists do often visit what is known as an “ice shelf” on the lake. An ice shelf is a floating sheet of ice, but on larger bodies of water like Lake Michigan, the shelf is shaped by wind and waves, making it a beautiful sight to see.
“When it's cold enough our shelf that comes on to Lake Michigan is like nothing that you see in Indiana because it mimics Arctic tundra landscape,” Laudeman said. “So that draws in a lot of visitors to come and see that spectacular show as well when we have a winter.”
Even though shelf ice is beautiful, it typically isn’t very thick ice and would be very dangerous to walk on. Laudeman notes that while there aren’t many other dangers around the park in the winter, it is still important for visitors to follow normal regulations.
“We do have lots of park rules that even though our park might be quieter in the wintertime, sometimes people think that's the time they can break the rules,” Laudeman said. “So we have lots of park rules that should be continued to be respected and enforced, like staying on the trail. Another one would be keeping your dog on a leash. Those are both not only risks for your dog, but also respecting other visitors as well and respecting our natural resources by staying on the trail.”
Walking trails remain a popular attraction in the park even during the winter, and so the Nature Center sells snowshoes to help visitors navigate the often snowy landscape. A Full Moon Hike, one of which will take place this Saturday, Feb. 8, is led by a ranger and takes visitors all the way to Lake Michigan and back to the nature center. The Dunes also has open cross country trails for those who want to run.
“It's really a time for all ages to have an adventure at night and take time to reflect and observe something we take for granted every night, which is our moon,” Laudeman said. “So it really opens your eyes to enjoying the Dunes at night and then also enjoying the stars and the moon that are always there.”
For those really committed to visiting the outdoors during the winter, camping is still available at the Dunes. The Nature Center holds interpretive programs for those visitors, which began Jan. 19 and will run through the end of February. These include “breakfast with the birds,” which involves feeding birds in the park, a walk along the beach to view shelf ice, a jewelry making workshop, and get to look at the small mammals that live at the Dunes. There are also workshops hosted where souvenirs can be made that tell the history of the park, investigation is done on the remains of owl food, and visitors can hear stories about one of the shipwrecks that happened in Lake Michigan.
While many dread the idea of going out on a cold day, the Indiana Dunes State Park is a great resource close to campus for winter-time fun at a low cost. Transportation to the dunes from campus can be made possible via the V-line bus on the brown line. Contact the Nature Center or visit their website indianadunes.com for more information on activities.