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Explorations along the Little Calumet Trails

post by Brooke Allen, Indiana Dunes Community Engagement Director

I’ve hiked the Indiana Dunes State Park trails more times than I can count, and I’ve hit most of the Indiana Dunes National Park trails that are close to the beaches. But, I had never hiked at the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm (both part of the Little Calumet Trail system). Time to leave the office to explore and go to ‘work’. I made my husband tag along; the poor guy always gets sucked into my adventures. So on a Saturday morning, we packed a few waters, leashed up the dog and hit the road.

The great part about the Little Calumet trail system is that it’s easy to find and the parking is plentiful. Turn north on Mineral Springs road from Highway 20, and you’ll find the parking lot on your left, just up the road. Seriously, you can’t miss it. 

a cabin in the woods

– First part of the trail through the woods. How cute is this little cabin?!

What I loved about this trail is the mixture of history and nature, along with the chance to choose the intensity of the hike. We went for the long haul, heading north past Chellberg, trekking all the way to the old Bailly Cemetery, then looping back around through the Mnoke Prairie before passing the Bailly Homestead (about three miles total). But if you’re interested in a much shorter excursion, that’s cool, too. Check out a map of the trails here to plan your adventure.

Chellberg farm house

– The old Chellberg Farm home. Tiny and adorable.

The Chellberg Farm is oh-so-adorable. As you emerge from the trail at the back of the house, you step into history. Standing beside the small brick farmhouse, you get a glimpse of what life might have been like for the hard-working Swedish immigrants who once lived here. The National Park Service has done a phenomenal job of maintaining the property – so much so that my husband was nervous that we were walking into someone’s yard. Our dog, Bruno, had a fit when he saw the chickens outside the house (yeah, real chickens!), but we finally calmed him down and got back on the trail.

One part of the journey I was determined to experience was the Bailly Cemetery. Call me weird, but I love hikes to things historical or unusual, and this fits both! The cemetery is accessible only on foot. You might expect to see some old toppled, crumbling headstones, but instead, you emerge from part of the woods in front a giant stone edifice. My super scientific Wikipedia research shows that a number of people were buried in this monument before it was finally walled-in to prevent outsiders from encroaching on the family graves.

The Bailly family cemetery

– The Bailly family cemetery. You can only get there on foot, so pack your hiking shoes!

Continuing on the loop, we went west to Mnoke Prairie. We crossed wetlands and the the Little Calumet River. I was amazed at how much variety this trail has in wildlife, views and habitats. We walked through the prairie and along the way I ooed and ahhed aloud at birds and butterflies and identified wildflowers – none of which my husband wanted to know, but that’s ok: opposites attract.

The east branch of the Little Calumet River

– The east branch of the Little Calumet River runs through part of this hike. You can see we hiked on a beautiful day.

Finally, we rounded out the hike with a stop at the Bailly Homestead. It was WAY bigger than I thought. While the cute Chellberg Farm is quaint, the Bailly Homestead is a large historical house (mansion by some standards) with cabins dotting the property. The interpretive signage throughout the property helped explain the history of the site. In all my nerdiness, I pictured fur traders and Potawatomi Indians canoeing up the Little Calumet River and stopping here to trade – a convergence of two cultures where land and water also converge. I was actually so enchanted by the whole thing that I stopped at the library for a local history book (like I said, nerd).

The Bailly homestead

– Whoa! The Bailly Homestead was a lot bigger than I thought, but it was really neat.

We not only survived but enjoyed the three miles. We squeezed in nature, history and family time all in one. Poor old Bruno, our doggie, was pooped by the time we finished, but he blissfully rode home, exhausted, head out the window, ready to take on whatever spot we adventure to next in the Indiana Dunes.

Have you hiked the Little Calumet River trail? What’s your favorite part or what advice do you have for a visitor? Post in the comments below and share your story with us!