The larger parking lot on the east side of the Heron Rookery connects to a trail that heads west alongside the Little Calumet River. The trail is 3.3 miles round trip.

The small parking on the west side of the rookery is the quickest and easiest way to get to the plethora of spring ephemerals that bloom here annually. The trail is 3.3 miles round trip.


Geology You May See

Marvelous Plants of Heron Rookery

The forest of the Heron Rookery Trail includes a surprising diversity of trees, including gleaming white sycamores and the distinctive shagbark hickory, which looks like it’s continually shedding its skin. But the wildflowers here are the real stars. The river’s periodic flooding makes the soil here rich with nutrients and the perfect habitat for flowers. During the early spring months, unique plants like the dutchman's breeches, jack-in-the-pulpits, and trillium put on a dazzling show. This is followed by beauties like the nodding wakerobins and mayapples.

Heron Rookery Flowers
White flowers that look like little white breeches dangle from reddish stems.

Floristic Integrity

The floristic quality, integrity, and biodiversity along the Heron Rookery Trail is remarkable. This small area of only 400 acres has over 200 native plants.

​Within the Indiana Dunes National Park, there are over 350 non-native plant species, but here at the Heron Rookery there are only 11 documented non-native plant species. This is unheard of in this area.

Garlic Mustard is one of the few non-native plants in the Heron Rookery. Each spring, rangers tiptoe through the wildflowers to extract the plant before it uses up all of the area's resources.

In April, wild leeks fill the forest floor. Some say the Indigenous word Chickagou inspired the name of Chicago. It's its actual definition may relate to the smell of wild garlic and onions.

Botanist, Nathanael Pilla talks about a very interesting woodland wildflower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit. This perennial forest herb is related to the skunk cabbage and is able to change its sex.





The Indiana Dunes is one of the most biodiverse national parks in the entire country. Over 1,100 flowering plant species and ferns make their homes here. How many flowers can YOU find?

Birds You May See

Grab a copy of this self-led birding tour, and visit six of the Indiana Dunes area birding recommended by local birders. Spectacular birds are waiting for you. Can you spot 'em all?

Insects You May See

When most people think of bees, they might imagine only honeybees or bumblebees. But approximately 200 species of bees live in the Indiana Dunes! With so many flowers, it's no wonder!

Some wildflowers known as spring ephemerals bloom here for as little as three days. Tiny treasures like the harbinger of spring are visible from the trail, so look carefully!

Master of Camouflage

While resting with its wings closed, the Comma butterfly is nearly indistinguishable from a leaf. It is not only the color that helps the insect hide, but the ragged shape of its wings.

Comma Butterfly with closed wings
Comma Butterfly with open wings

Log jam calumet river

Little Calumet River

The Little Calumet River would naturally meander through this area, but it has been channelized and then ditched, so it's much lower in elevation than what it would have been historically.

The river is fighting and pushing against the bank and ultimately causes enough erosion to topple trees and create log jams. Anglers can take advantage of these spots because fish love to hide in the log jams. Paddlers, however, will have to portage their kayaks around such barriers.

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is the DNA that can be extracted from the environment, such as the Little Calumet River water. With a sample of water, the DNA of the local fish can be detected…

What to Expect

Be Ready

Poison ivy can grow alongside the trail, and portions can become wet and muddy. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Bring along a reusable water bottle and snacks.

Be Safe

Mosquitoes and ticks can be a nuisance in the summer, so be sure to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. Check yourself for ticks after your hike.

Be Responsible

Visitors must stay on designated trails at all times. We have created a video to help you learn about your role in enjoying the dunes area safely while minimizing your impact on the park.

How to Help

We are all responsible for protecting our parks for future generations. The Indiana Dunes, as a whole, is one of he most biodiverse areas in the United States. Here are some tips to help you limit your impact on the natural habitats in the dunes area.

Get Involved

Be the Change — Volunteer! Get more involved with the Indiana Dunes! There are many no-hassle, drop-in volunteer opportunities available for everyone. Just show up!

Love & Protect the Dunes

Each of us who visit the Indiana Dunes can also help protect natural heritage, biodiversity, and local culture by taking a few simple steps.