Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a treasure of diverse natural resources located within an urban setting. The lakeshore features communities that have both scientific and historic significance to the field of ecology. In addition, four National Natural Landmarks and one National Historical Landmark are located within its boundaries.
The park is comprised of over 15,000 acres of dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests. It contains 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline spanning the distance from Gary to Michigan City. Lake Michigan itself is one of the largest lakes in the world. The fine beaches of the national lakeshore, washed by the warmest waters of the lake, are the most significant recreational resource in the park.
Immediately inland from the beaches, sand dunes rise to almost 200 feet in a series of ridges, blowouts, and valleys. Extensive wetlands fill the depressions between the dunes. These dunes have preserved an important remnant of what was once a vast and unique lakeshore environment resulting from the retreat of the last great continental glacier some 14,000 years ago. The park landscape represents at least four major successive stages of historic Lake Michigan shoreline levels, making the lakeshore one of the best and most extensive geologic records of one of our world's largest bodies of fresh water.
The biological diversity within Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is amongst the highest per unit area of all our national parks. Over eleven hundred different species of flowering plants and ferns make their homes here. From predacious bog plants to native prairie grasses and from towering white pines to rare algae species, the plant diversity is rich.
The wildlife is also diverse. A wide variety of habitats within the park coupled with the moderating effects of Lake Michigan make the region an ideal home for hundreds of animal species. The park is renowned for its birdlife; more than 350 species have been observed here. Located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is an especially important feeding and resting area for migrating land and water birds. One area within the national lakeshore has been set aside especially for its value as a great blue heron rookery.