Microcamping on the Little Calumet River Trail

by Justyna Frank

Boy, I really needed a day off. Sometimes mild weather in late winter bring a level of busyness to the bike shop that is hard to manage, given our seasonal staffing fluctuations. We end up working long hours on our feet, jumping endlessly from one task to the next, juggling customer requests, vendor orders, phone calls, texts, schedules, and thinking about work even in our sleep. I’m sure your work throws similar curve balls at you from time to time.

In times like these, taking a day off from work can seem like an unaffordable luxury, yet it is absolutely imperative for maintaining health, sanity and ability to keep working with any degree of efficiency.

I knew I needed to get out of the house for my one free day this week, not just to avoid simply defaulting to doing household chores, but also so I could fully disconnect my brain from work-related concerns. Being in nature always seems to help. I opted for a hike, because I was looking forward to being alone on deserted trails, and I wanted to test out some nifty small adventure gear we’ve been compiling at the shop.

The trails in Indiana Dunes never disappoint. I’ve hiked there countless times, but never had a chance to explore the Little Calumet River Trail, located inland from Route 12, and away from Lake Michigan. We’ve passed along it on a bike ride last year, and enjoyed a very pleasant early-spring picnic on a small dock on the Little Calumet. The trail beckoned invitingly, but since we were on bikes, we could not explore the designated footpaths at that time.

I picked up the trail from the parking lot near the Volunteer Station, and headed in the counter-clockwise direction around the Bailly/Chellberg loop. The trail was mostly dry and hard-packed, with a nice springy feel. I proceeded downhill into the ravine, then up a set of wooden steps, and continued briefly along the paved bike trail to join the main Little Calumet River Trail.

The first section of the trail encircles the Dunes Learning Center, and is dominated by enormous oak trees, especially dramatic in their current leafless glory. I also spotted beech trees, shagbark hickory, a few birches, and even stately pine trees, a relative rarity in this part of the world. West of the learning center, the trail turns south, and the terrain becomes more varied, with some rolling climbs and descents.

I confess that at this point I ventured off the trail, scrambling uphill through the thicket of thorny blackberry canes, in search of a secluded spot to try out my new ultra-compact hammock. At the top of the hill, I found a nice clearing, with conveniently spaced trees, and enjoyed a delicious half-hour interlude watching the wind sway the tree crowns above me, and listening to the birds and occasional train whistle in the distance.

Rested, and now completely free of work related concerns, I continued down a boardwalk over the what seems to be a wetland, although the day I was there, it was mostly dry, with masses of small birds darting in and out of thick, dry grasses and reeds left over from last season. After crossing the river, the trail climbs again, skirting the edge of a power line easement, where there must be an actual wetland, judging by the urgent chirping of peepers that accompanied me all the way up the hill. The path eventually ventures out of the woodland to an open prairie, not quite yet awake from its winter snooze, and circles back over a short stretch of quiet road to the Bailly Homestead and parking lot.


  • Located in the Indiana Dunes National Park, this trail is part of a 3.9-mile network of hiking trails connecting Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, and the Dunes Learning Center.
  • A trail map can be picked up at the trailhead or the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center.
  • The trail passes through the Mnoke Prairie, skirts the Little Calumet River valley, and follows a boardwalk through wet bottomlands before climbing to a hardwood forest and pine plantation.
  • The trail can get very muddy. Good footwear is a must.
  • National Park Service Little Calumet Trail page.

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