Gibson Woods Nature Preserve

Gibson Woods Nature Preserve protects the largest remaining example of a rare land form 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.

Though not very tall, 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.

Swale Crossing

Old aerial photographs of this area reveal a striking striated pattern wherever the dune and swale system survived. The swales often fill with water; at the least, they tend to be wetter than the adjacent dunes, and this variation in soil moisture leads to an unusually high species diversity. Alas, commercial and residential development has obliterated most of the dune and swale complex.

Like the land form, 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.

Oak Savanna


Three trails enter the preserve. The Short Trail or Prairie Dune Trail is about a half mile long and sticks close to the Nature Center. The Self-Guiding Trail or Nippissing Lake Trail is about one mile long; it heads off to the west.

The Long Trail ventures into the eastern portion of the preserve, where the dunes seem to be a bit taller; it’s about two miles long. 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.


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.

North 41 35.961 West 87 27.111
DeLorme 18:C4

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Nature Center with bathrooms, water.

Nearby Natural Areas

Cressmoor Prairie
Hoosier Prairie Nature Preserve
Miller Woods


Habeck: Wild Indiana; Page 8
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
McPherson: Indiana Best Hikes; Page 136