The area furthest west in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education. It’s located in the Miller area of the city of Gary. It has displays on the plants and animals that can be found in the dunes as well as hands-on activities for children. One room has tanks with some of the animals native to the dunes. Behind the building is the Miller Woods Trail a 1 mile loop through a rare oak savanna. A longer trail extension leads to Lake Michigan and the beach.
Next is the most popular area of the park, West Beach. This family-friendly beach also has some of the best representative trails of the dunes. The West Beach Trail is a 1.4 mile trail through an area that was mined for sand in the 1920s. It’s being restored as an oak savanna and has prickly pear cactus. The Dune Succession Trail is 1 mile long and shows the 4 stages of dune development. A third trail, Long Lake, is 1.6 miles long and is popular for bird watching. In the summer, a fee is charged. As of writing, it was US$6. This is the only area of the park with a fee.
Just to the east along US Highway 12 is the Tolleston Dunes area. This 2.6 mile trail goes through a black oak savanna and 10,000 year old sand dunes. The area was a marsh before it dried up and became a savanna. There is also an overlook along US 12 just to the west of the parking lot.
The newest section of the park is the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. This is a reclaimed natural habitat that was once a toxic waste dump. There’s a 0.9 mile trail through the dunes and along the Burns Waterway. A public pavilion with meeting space, a 900ft. breakwater, a fishing pier, and a beach are also on the site. Continue to Part 2.