Northwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan and has much to offer.
Combined with the encased Indiana Dunes State Park, the “Indiana Dunes” are both the state’s largest tourist attraction and the best birding destination in the state. With 15,000 acres, the park contains 50 miles of trails through a diversity of habitats. Together with the state park and surrounding region, over 350 species have been found in the Indiana Dunes area.
The national park is more fragmented than other national parks, and often identified by the many units that make up the park. For birding purposes, the best areas for birding include Beverly Shores, Heron Rookery, Cowles Bog, West Beach, and Miller Woods.
Beverly Shores, or more formerly known as the Great Marsh is long drive and associated hiking trail through the extensive wetlands that sit behind the dunes. Many birders do a slow drive down Beverly Drive in search of birds or hike the Great Marsh trail for wetland birds. The high dunes along this stretch are good for Whip-poor-wills in the summer. The beach lots at Lakeview and Dunbar can provide good scanning points in the fall and winter for loons, scoters, and grebes. In winter Beverly Drive can be a reliable spot to find Northern Shrikes.
The Heron Rookery is a great spring birding destination, but not for the herons that are now former breeding residents. The rich forestland hosts a great spring wildflower show and often hosts the first migrating songbirds, from April kinglets, Winter Wrens, waterthrushes, to May warblers, thrushes, and vireos. Two parking lots cap the ends of this linear trail.
The Cowles Bog area is not only the site of early ecological work by Henry Cowles, but an outstanding forest and swamp habitat. A 2.5-mile trail circles the swamp and can produce high numbers of migrants in the spring and fall. Many rarities have been found here, including Kirtland’s Warbler and Western Kingbird. For those wanting a longer walk, the trails continue to the beach through upland oak savanna habitats.
Some of the best intact dune and swale habitat can be found at West Beach. As the park’s primary beach area, summer crowds can be heavy, but spring, fall, and winter birding can be productive. The “pinery” area along the succession trail can host winter finches and Long-eared Owls. On the southern portion, Long Lake is worth a scan for waterfowl and shorebirds when the water levels are low. The little bluestem prairie areas can shelter fall sparrows, including Swamp, White-crowned, and LeConte’s Sparrow.
Finally, Miller Woods, on the park's far west end, is comprised of mostly oak savanna. Many neotropical species utilize this location as stopover habitat during migration, including such WatchList birds as Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, and Canada Warbler. The Karner Blue Butterfly, listed as a federally endangered species, also can be found within the savannas of Miller Woods.
eBird Hotspot Links:
Beverly Shores: ebird.org/hotspot/L356175
Heron Rookery: ebird.org/hotspot/L152749
Cowles Bog: ebird.org/hotspot/L152744
West Beach: ebird.org/hotspot/L353993
Miller Woods: ebird.org/hotspot/L761517
Total Birding Time:
Best Times to Bird:
1215 N SR 49
Porter, IN 46304
Address above takes you to the official visitor center, rather than the ranger headquarters. State Road 49 is the most common access route from I-94 and I-80/90. US 12 and 20 also traverse the park west to east. Download a NPS map on the website for all units and directions.
Hours: 7am-11pm. Note that the park is on Central Time Zone.
Ownership: National Park Service
Admission: Free, though special use parking fees exist for West Beach during the summer season.
Restrictions: During busy summer periods the park can be crowded with hikers and campers, including summer weekend lines to get into the park.
Parking: Parking can be found throughout the park in many lots.
Nearby Amenities: The park has ample restrooms throughout, and modern facilities can be found at the nature center, as well as by the beach. Food, lodging, and gas can be found three miles south in Chesterton.
Accessibility: The Great Marsh trail features a short paved wheelchair-accessible trail to an overlook of the marsh from the north parking lot.
Phone Number: (219) 395-1882
Written by: Brad Bumgardner
Photo by: Dan Barriball