West Beach

Natural Areas: West Beach

West Beach is a very popular component of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. During the summer months, crowds throng the beach and bathhouse; during cooler weather, the capacious parking lots are abandoned, and you may have the place to yourself. Whatever the time of year, the trail system sees much less use than the waterfront. Even with the crowds along the beach, bank swallows may set up nesting colonies in the near-vertical sand banks along parts of the beach; look for their entrance holes near the tops of the banks.

West Beach dunes

Dunes. Click to enlarge

Of the trails, the Dune Succession Trail is the most popular, possibly because its spectacularly long staircases are an irresistible attraction. The Dune Succession Trail is a half-mile long; it begins in the foredunes, just beyond the beach. Marram grass is common here; it flourishes in the extremely sandy soil and its dense network of fibrous roots helps hold the foredunes in place. As it continues inland, the trail skirts several intradunal ponds that support their own populations of plants and animals, with many species that are different from those found either in Lake Michigan or further inland. Watch for starry Solomonís seal here.

West Beach Succession Trail

Succession Trail Staircase. Click to enlarge

Further on is a stand of Jack-pine, an evergreen with short, paired needles. Natural Indiana populations of this species are restricted to the northwestern part of the state; much larger stands occur in Michigan, Wisconsin, and especially in Canada. The plantís short (2"), closed cones can remain attached to branches for years, waiting for the fires that the seeds rely upon to germinate.

West Beach dunes

Long Lake. Click to enlarge

Other trails pass through somewhat flatter areas further inland. The terrain did not start out that way; it is flat because miners hauled the sand away and the natural processes of dune-building are just getting back underway. The vegetation here is rather low, and hiking during hot, sunny summer days can be a sweat and sunburn inducing experience, so dress appropriately and bring water. Exceptions include the northwestern portion of the Long Lake Trail, which passes through a very pleasant interdunal forest, and the southern portion of the same trail, which offer excellent views of the lake, where buttonbush thrives along the shore.

Trail Map

trail map

Click to enlarge


Porter County, just east of the Lake County line. From US 12, proceed north on County Line Road to the marked entrance on the right. (Fee)

GPS: N 41 37.514 W 87 12.484


Bathhouse, flush toilets, water, vending (in season)

Finder Sketch

Click to enlarge

Nearby Natural Areas (miles)

Coulter Nature Preserve (1.3)
Tolleston Dunes (2.7)
Miller Woods (3.7)
Cressmoor Prairie (7.2)
Cowles Bog (8.9)
Little Calumet River Trail (8.9)
Greiner Nature Preserve (9.3)
Bur Oak Nature Preserve (10.4)
Indiana Dunes State Park (11)
Ivanhoe South Nature Preserve (12)
Glenwood Dunes Trail (12.7)
Meadowbrook Nature Preserve (13.7)
Kemil Beach (14.2)
Great Marsh (14.5)
Moraine Nature Preserve (17.1)
Gibson Woods (18)
Hoosier Prairie (18)
Mount Baldy (18.8)