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Northwest Indiana provides the perfect scenic backdrop to the beauty winter offers.

Whether it’s the shelf ice that forms along Lake Michigan, the rolling snow-covered dunes or the tree-lined trails through the dozens of picturesque parks, the Region provides many spots to catch a glimpse of winter’s scenery.

If your family is experiencing cabin fever, especially with recent tundra-like temperatures, Northwest Indiana offers many trails that are perfect for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Lake County

The winter-friendly trails in Stoney Run County Park in Hebron, Lemon Lake County Park in Crown Point and Oak Ridge Prairie in Griffith are great options for families looking for a winter stroll.

“Those trails are groomed throughout the winter, so you won’t be stomping through extra-tall snow drifts, and each offers additional winter activities,” said Emily Trisler, communications specialist for Lake County Parks and Recreation.

Stoney Run and Lemon Lake both rent out cross country skis when the weather allows, and Oak Ridge Prairie features a giant sledding hill, she said.

Leashed four-legged family members also are welcome at all the parks, but Lemon Lake’s Dogwood Run dog park is open in the winter as well, if pups need some extra space to run, she said.

Highland also offers a paved trail that provides the perfect spot for bird watchers. The trail, which goes through the community to the Highland Heron Rookery, allows hikers to watch for blue herons and snowy-white egret nestlings, owls and eagles.

Porter County

In the winter, 1.5 miles of trails at Brincka Cross Gardens in Michigan City are picturesque, especially after a recent snowfall.

“The architecturally unique former residence looks like a cozy cabin, and the different species of ornamental trees and shrubs hold snow on their branches and create fun shapes,” said Brooke Allen, marketing and PR coordinator for Porter County Parks and Recreation, which manages Brincka.

“The trails are also a great choice for snowshoeing or cross country skiing.

About 12 miles south, at Sunset Hill Farm in Valparaiso, each area of the park changes in winter.

“The prairie plants are usually snow-covered, and if visitors look carefully, they can sometimes see deer popping their heads out over the top of the tall plants,” Allen said.

The 5 miles of trails at the park are great for snowshoeing, and a limited number of adult snowshoes are available for rent at the park, she said.

Indiana Dunes State Park

Indiana Dunes State Park is another popular spot to take in the winter view of the lake, either along the beach or on one of the trails that meander through nature preserves, marshes or dunes.

Dustin Ritchea, promotions director for Indiana Dunes Tourism, recommends Trail 9 at the State Park. The trail, named one of the most scenic hikes in the United States by USA Today, winds through mature forests and runs along top a dune ridge overlooking Lake Michigan.

The park, located along the north end of State Road 49 in Porter County, includes more than 3 miles of beach along the shoreline. Visitors should park at the Nature Center parking lot to access Trail 9.

Those wanting to try the winter activity of snowshoeing can visit the park this month for special events.

The Indiana Dunes State Park will host a Snowshoe Shuffle at 10 a.m. Feb. 9 and 16. Visitors can enjoy a naturalist-led snowshoe exercise hike beginning at the Nature Center.

The free hikes offer participants a chance to learn the history and techniques of snowshoeing for all levels, with snowshoes available to use for free on a first-come-first-serve basis. If there is no snow available - six inches are needed - naturalists still will provide a winter hike.

National Lakeshore

The 9.2-mile Calumet Trail is often used for bicycling, jogging and hiking. However, during the winter months, cross-country skiers are frequently seen exploring the surroundings.

The trail lies adjacent to Indiana Dunes State Park and passes through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It originally was developed on land leased from the Northern Indiana Public Service Company and lies within the company’s utility corridor.

The Glenwood Dunes Trail System features interconnected loops that wind through gently rolling wooded dunes. The extensive trail system includes loops that range from less than a mile to 15 miles.

The system can be accessed from either the Glenwood Dunes parking lot or the Calumet Dunes parking lot.

Cowles Bog in Porter also features 4.5 miles of trails that take visitors through a marsh surrounded by a small fen and then directly out to the lakeshore. Though cross country skiing is a popular activity along these trails, when snowfall lacks, a winter hike will take visitors to the perfect spot to view the winter shelf ice.

For families looking for some sledding fun after a winter hike, the National Lakeshore’s West Beach area in Gary features a designated sledding hill.

“This is the only area open in the National Lakeshore for sledding to protect park resources and to keep visitors safe,” said Bruce Rowe, supervisory park ranger and public information officer for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Be safe

Though winter provides a picturesque view of the shelf ice along Lake Michigan, visitors wanting to check out nature’s beauty should exercise caution.

Rowe, of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said families hiking along Lake Michigan should be careful.

“Shelf ice often forms along the edge of Lake Michigan during periods of cold weather,” he said. “Don’t be fooled. Despite its appearance, the shelf ice is not solid.”

In fact, due to the way it is formed, he said the shelf ice has numerous air pockets.

“It can be difficult to tell where the ice ends and the beach begins,” Rowe said.

He advises not to walk on the shelf ice. Even a person applying a small amount of weight on the ice can fall through easily and into frigid water that can quickly kill.

“Enjoy the beautiful and unique ice formations from the safety of solid ground,” Rowe said.

Take a hike ... and explore the more than 50 great trails in the Region

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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