Once the Indiana Dunes area is blanketed in a few inches of snow, you'll start to see people traversing the parks' trails on snowshoes. I've lived near the Indiana Dunes nearly all my life, but I've never even tried on a pair of snowshoes. Now that I'm working for the Indiana Dunes, I figured it was time to give them a try.
If you're like me and you've never used snowshoes before, head to the Paul H. Douglas Center in the Indiana Dunes National Park, which has snowshoes available for free checkout every day from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. Just be sure to call first to check on trail conditions, as they only offer snowshoes when there is at least a two-inch snow base. The snowshoes can be used to explore the three-mile-long Miller Woods trail system that winds through beautiful oak savanna and dune habitats.
The process for borrowing snowshoes from the Paul H. Douglas Center was easy! I walked in and had checked out a pair of snowshoes within minutes. There were plenty of snowshoes for both adults and children.
Snowshoes available for use at the Paul H. Douglas Center | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
I received a quick lesson from the park ranger on how to properly use snowshoes. Walking on a flat trail is fairly intuitive. The only difference is that you have to walk with a wider stance so you don't step on one snowshoe with the other. When going up and down hills, you just turn to the side and step up sideways. Armed with my training and feeling more confident about my adventure, I headed down the back stairs to put on my snowshoes.
The stairs at the Paul H. Douglas Center | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
The snowshoes are adjustable and easily attach to hiking or snow boots. I would definitely recommend wearing warm, waterproof boots, as the snowshoes don't keep your feet from getting snow-covered.
Snowshoes are available as a free rental at the Paul H. Douglas Center | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
The Douglas Center Loop trail is just under a mile and the perfect place for first-time snowshoe users or families with small children. For those wanting a challenge, a trail extension continues through Miller Woods and ends at the shore of Lake Michigan.
Trail sign at Paul H. Douglas Center | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
The Douglas Center Trail loop is a mix of sandy trails and a boardwalk that takes you out over the water. During other seasons, you can spot beaver lodges, a variety of birds, and other wildlife.
Boardwalk on the Douglas Center Loop Trail | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
During my hike, I spotted a few woodpeckers and many different kinds of animal tracks in the snow. I even spotted evidence that the resident beavers had been busy chewing on several of the nearby trees.
Can you spot evidence left behind by a certain mammal? | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
If you choose to venture out onto the extension trail to the beach, you'll travel through several habitats including wetlands, globally rare oak savanna, dunes, and eventually the beach. During other seasons, the hike out to the beach takes around two hours there and back. Being my first time on snowshoes, I decided to trek only another half mile or so before heading back. Overall, I'd say my first snowshoeing experience was a success and I'll definitely be trying it again!
My first time snowshoeing was a success! | Photo credit: Michelle Senderhauf
Snowshoes at both the Indiana Dunes National Park's Paul H Douglas Center for Environmental Education and at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center are proudly provided by the Friends of Indiana Dunes, Inc.
More Info on The Paul H. Douglas Center
The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education is located in the western portion of the national park at 100 North Lake Street, about one mile north of U.S. Highway 12 in the Miller section of Gary. For more information on this or other programs at Indiana Dunes National Park, call 219-395-1821 or check the park’s website at www.nps.gov/indu.