Michigan City/Dune Acres
The Calumet Trail is nine miles of bike and pedestrian pathway weaving through major wetlands, waving cattails, and darting dragonflies just inland from Lake Michigan’s south shore. It is a well-used crushed limestone trail along the Northern Indiana Public Service powerline route, paralleled by U. S. Highway 12 and the South Shore Commuter Rail that serve this intermixed industrial, rural land, seascape, and dune environment. It also borders in part the southern edge of Indiana Dunes State Park as well as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which hugs both sides of the Calumet Trail.
The trail is narrow in some parts with little shoulder area, but other sections of it are wider with adjacent vegetation mowed along the gravel path. Bike riders would be better with off-road or hybrid tires. There can be major puddles along some stretches. Being near federal and state park lands, the Calumet also easily connects to their numerous trails, of which some are designated hiking-only.
As mentioned, U. S. 12 runs beside the trail, but it’s best to have a local map before setting out on a hike or bike trip; the several access points are not currently marked on the highway, though the trail, hidden by its bordering vegetation and the rail line, is just a stone’s throw north. Good National Park Service maps and hiking/biking guides of the area are available at the Buell Memorial Visitor Center, south of U. S. 12 on Indiana 49. You can reach the trail at its western end via Mineral Springs Road; further east is the Beverly Shores access, behind the 1920s pink stucco train depot. In addition, there are unchain motels, restrooms, and watering holes to serve visitors.
Historically, this transportation corridor was much used by Native Americans as a route to the Mississippi River. Later, Europeans trekked along it as a connection with forts at Detroit and Chicago. In the early 1800s a mail route and then a stagecoach road followed where the current U. S. 12 now runs. Industrialization for steel, sand for everything from canning jars to automobile windshields, and the seemingly inexhaustible supply in the nearby dunes, aroused lakeshore conservation efforts even before the 20th Century arrived.
Protection from wholesale exploitation of established natural systems in the state park and national lakeshore, beside and through which the Calumet Trail now passes, is a miracle in itself. The long and often bitter political struggles to set aside these lands were fought for more than half-a-century. So, take the opportunity to visit and absorb the spirit of the dunes and south shore special places while you’re here, realizing that these unique biological quilts and vistas came very close to extinction in the recent past.