Northwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Indiana Dunes State Park
Along the southern shore of Lake Michigan lies one of the greatest birding hotspots in the Midwest.
The Indiana Dunes State Park fits within the boundaries of the larger Indiana Dunes National Park and consists of 2,100 acres of beautiful high dunes, extensive swamps, and rolling oak savanna woodlands. The state park also contains three miles of sand beach. Established in 1925, the scientific, recreational, and historical value of the park is well recognized. However, it may be the ornithological value that is of most importance here.
Indiana Dunes State Park is a marvel during migration, when spring birds pile up on the lakeshore, and provide the best visible migration in the state. Fall birds funnel down the lake and provide a great diversity and abundance of birds. Summer hosts a diverse set of northern, southern, and western edge of range species, including Prairie and Hooded Warblers nesting in the same park as Worm-eating Warblers and Summer Tanagers. Winter brings the excitement of winter finch possibilities and offshore waterfowl. In total, over 300 species have been found within the state park, making it the state’s most diverse birding hotspot.
For birders wishing to hike, the Wilson Shelter and nature center are the best staging points for birding the forest and wetland areas. Trails 7, 8, and 10 are the most traveled. The Trail 8 boardwalk is well known for nesting Prothonotary Warblers, and the surrounding trails and picnic areas host many migrating and breeding birds. The higher dunes, including the blowouts, host Prairie Warblers in the summer, but often require a tougher climb to access. The same trails host Barred Owls and Eastern Whip-poor-wills after dark.
In recent years the most notable bird watching opportunity exists from March-May at the Dunes Birding Tower, sometimes called the “longshore tower,” by the park’s West Lot. From here, a large visible migration can be observed on any early morning with south winds. The paid park bird counter regularly logs over a ¼ million birds, of over 200 species annually. Fall lake-watches can also produce a variety of migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, and occasional jaegers. The nature center is also worth a visit at the feeders often host the first finches that arrive, and a slough of rarities over the year, including Harris’ Sparrow and Hoary Redpoll.
Total Birding Time:
Best Times to Bird:
1600 N 25 E
Chesterton, IN 46304
State Road 49 brings visitors directly north into the state park. US 12, 20, and I94 all pass by just south of the state park.
Hours: Regular park hours are 7am-11pm. Though birders are usually welcome before 7am.
Ownership: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks
Admission: Indiana State Park entrance fees apply. $7 in-state vehicles, $12 out of state vehicles. No gate fees in certain off-season weekdays.
Restrictions: During busy summer periods the park can be crowded with hikers and campers, including summer weekend lines to get into the park. Please obey all rules and regulations. A summary of property rules can be found at stateparks.IN.gov/6468.htm.
Parking: Parking can be found throughout the park in many lots.
Nearby Amenities: The park has ample vault toilets throughout, and modern facilities can be found at the year-round nature center, as well as by the beach. Food, lodging, and gas can be found three miles south in Chesterton.
Accessibility: A paved trail connects the campground to the beach. Accessible parking also exists near the Dunes Birding Tower, accessed via a service drive near the West Lot.
Phone Number: (219) 926-1952, Nature Center (219) 926-1390
Written by: Brad Bumgardner
Photo by: Lisa Vanderbilt