Gibson Woods

Natural Areas: Gibson Woods

State Designated Nature Preserve [#65; 1982]

Footbridge over a swale

Footbridge over a swale. Click to enlarge

Gibson Woods Nature Preserve protects the largest remaining example of a rare landform known as “dune and swale”. Many thousands of years ago, Lake Michigan extended into this area, and as the lake receded, it built and left behind a series of dunes along its edge. Now mostly destroyed, these dunes once extended lengthwise for miles, roughly parallel to the present-day lake shore. Between each adjacent pair of dunes was a low area, or swale. The result somewhat resembled a giant washboard, with dunes and swales paralleling and alternating with each other. Aerial photographs reveal a striking striated pattern wherever the landform survives. The swales are usually wetter than the adjacent dunes, and the variation in soil moisture fosters unusually high species diversity.

Water-filled swale in early spring

Water-filled Swale in Early Spring. Click to enlarge

The trail system resembles a large figure eight with a couple of short access trails. In general, trails follow the dune ridges, and when the paths cross from one ridge to the next they do so by spanning the swales on short boardwalks. Like the landform, the principal ecosystem here - black oak savanna - is quite rare. Occasional controlled burns keep non-native vegetation in check. In addition to black oak, look for interspersed prairie plants and prickly pear cactus. State-endangered Franklin’s ground squirrels live here, but don’t expect to see one; you’re much more likely to encounter gray squirrels and, in the warmer months, mosquitoes.

Trail Map

trail map

Click to enlarge


Lake County. From I-80/I-94 exit 3, north 1.5 miles on Kennedy, then east 0.5 miles on 165th Street to Parrish, then north a few blocks to the entrance on the right.

GPS: N 41 35.961 W 87 27.111


Nature Center with bathrooms, water.

Finder Sketch

Click to enlarge

Nearby Natural Areas (miles)

Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve (3.5)
Hoosier Prairie (6.6)
Greiner Nature Preserve (12)
Bur Oak Nature Preserve (13)
Miller Woods (13)
Cressmoor Prairie (14)
Coulter Nature Preserve (16)
Tolleston Dunes (17)
West Beach (18)