The Great Marsh is the largest interdunal wetland in the Lake Michigan watershed and a hike worth seeking out, especially for those interested in birding.
Much of this marsh was drained in the early 1900’s for residential and agricultural use, but it’s hard to tell with the restoration work the National Park Service has done. Starting in 1998, the NPS (and its many volunteers) leveled homes and removed invasive flora, replacing them with natives.
It’s best to start at the south parking lot trailhead (the north lot is reserved for disabled parking). At 1.26 miles total, this could be a quick walk, unless you’re birding, and then it can extend for quite some time. The trail heads out, winding its way through the Marsh (the trail sometimes gets flooded and/or muddy), until a T-junction is reached.
Turning right from the T-junction results in a lollipop route, bringing you back to the same T-junction. Continuing on, one reaches the turnoff for the Great Marsh observation deck. Here’s where one can spend quite some time observing the birds, flora and fauna of the Marsh.
Great Marsh Slideshow:
From the observation deck, one can return to the T-junction, turn right, and wend one’s way back to the parking lot. Alternatively, turning right takes one along the paved trail (which allows for disabled access) to the road. A path along the road takes one back to the parking lot much quicker.
There isn’t much fauna in the Marsh, primarily turtles and frogs. The rangers we went birding with were neophytes and didn’t know if any ore animals made the Marsh home. Any reader who knows more should leave a comment.
Birding is why people take the Great Marsh Trail. Coots, mallards, wood ducks, kingfishers, tree swallows, rusty blackbirds, green herons, warblers and red-winged black birds are all seen at various times of the year. Being on many migration routes also means you may see rarer species if you’re lucky.
General useful info:
- Open Daily: Sunrise – 30 minutes past sunset;
- Parking for cars at two lots (main trailhead is at the south parking lot);
- Paved wheelchair-accessible trail to overlook;
- Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed;
- Trail surface is grass with some sections of packed dirt and boardwalk to the overlook;
- No restrooms or potable water are available;
- Pets are permitted on a leash (6’ or shorter).
As always, be careful to check for ticks when you’re done.
Getting to the Great Marsh Trail:
- Dunewood Campground, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
- Destination: Mt Baldy, IN
- Destination: 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes
- Cowles Bog Trail, Dune Acres, Indiana