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 it may seem as if you almost have the place to yourself. Whatever the time of year, the trail system sees much less use than the waterfront.
There are several trails. The Dune Succession Trail is the most popular, possibly because its spectacularly long staircases are an irresistible attraction. The DST 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, some different from those found either in Lake Michigan or further inland.
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.
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 sparse, and hiking during hot, sunny summer days can be a sweat and sunburn inducing experience, so dress appropriately and bring water. An exception is the area around Long Lake, where button bush thrives along the shore and aquatic plants abound.
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. Entrance fee in season.
North 41 37.514 West 87 12.484
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Bathhouse, flush toilets, water, vending.
Nearby Natural Areas
Bloom: Hiking Indiana; Page 12
Habeck: Wild Indiana; Page 12
McPherson: Indiana Best Hikes; Page 130