Chicago, IL: Warren Dunes State Park Loop

Connect wooded dunes, bottomland forest, and a pristine beach on this 3.7-mile loop along Lake Michigan in Warren Dunes State Park.
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Connect wooded dunes, bottomland forest, and a pristine beach on this 3.7-mile loop along Lake Michigan in Warren Dunes State Park.

Leave the trailhead and walk east to wooded dunes covered with maple, oak, and beech trees. The path ascends the dunes and passes deep ravines that drop down on both sides of the trail. Take a breather at the top of the dunes, and enjoy the bird's-eye view of Lake Michigan through the trees. Next, the trail descends to Painterville Creek and follows it northwest through bottomland forest. After 1.5 miles, you’ll climb out of the woods to grassy dunes overlooking the lake. From here, the path turns south for the return trip back to the trailhead. Pack a picnic and bring a swimsuit—the last mile of the hike travels a pristine beach on Lake Michigan's southern shores.
Mapped by Ted Villaire

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.9

Waypoints

DUN001

Location: 41.910347, -86.6038132

From the trailhead, turn right and head east to the campground.

DUN002

Location: 41.9108887, -86.5993423

Climb a series of wooded dunes blanketed with maple, oak, and beech trees, as well as wildflowers such as columbine and Solomon's seal. Deep ravines tumble downward on each side of the trail.

DUN003

Location: 41.9106331, -86.5984268

The ravines grow steeper as you continue to ascend. At the top, catch your breath while enjoying the bird's-eye view of Lake Michigan through the trees.

DUN004

Location: 41.9098434, -86.5912552

Turn left and hike northeast alongside Painterville Creek. Optional: To get closer to the sandy-bottomed creek, follow short spur trails on the right; look for patches of watercress growing in the creek's shallow spots.

DUN005

Location: 41.9157028, -86.5849457

Turn left in front of the old concrete foundation. Ahead, pass through a grove of big maple trees.

DUN006

Location: 41.9180603, -86.5829086

Turn left @ the sign for the Red Squirrel Trail. Start climbing; this trail wastes no time taking you out of the flat bottomland woods and back into the forested dunes.

DUN007

Location: 41.9192924, -86.5839539

Turn left, heading southwest, for a short loop on the White Tail Trail. Complete the loop and turn left to continue on the Red Squirrel Trail.

DUN008

Location: 41.9200783, -86.5850372

Continue straight; pass Oak Ridge Trail on the right.

DUN009

Location: 41.9206543, -86.5877762

Look for stands of hemlock trees as the Red Squirrel Trail gently rollercoasters over the wooded dunes.

DUN010

Location: 41.9213791, -86.5899277

Once the trail leaves the woods and mounts the open, grassy dunes, a great view of Lake Michigan opens in front of you. Stay on the trail: the dunes succumb easily to erosion.

DUN011

Location: 41.9230843, -86.5912857

Head west toward the water through marram grass and open sand; walk past the Blue Jay Trail on the right.

DUN012

Location: 41.9230843, -86.5936813

After passing through a small sea of marram grass, you'll arrive at one of the most beautiful stretches of beach on southern Lake Michigan. Turn left and head southwest, paralleling the lake.

DUN013

Location: 41.9168358, -86.5987244

Take advantage of the pristine beach by having a picnic, a swim, or a much deserved nap. Next, continue heading southwest to connect the loop back at Waypoint 1.

Views of Lake Michigan

Location: 41.9213791, -86.589798

© Ted Villaire

Sea of Marram Grass

Location: 41.9231186, -86.5934982

© Ted Villaire

Pristine Beach

Location: 41.9167328, -86.5987701

© Ted Villaire