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First-time visitors to the Oak Savannah Trail might be surprised at the profusion of natural areas they’ll encounter as they travel the 9.5 miles between Hobart and Griffith in northern Indiana’s Chicago metropolitan area.
The paved path follows the old Porter Branch of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway, whose main line made a semicircle around Chicago to avoid that city’s congested rail yards. The Griffith to Hobart line, first opened in 1888, later pushed out to Porter. In its prime, the railroad carried grain, meat, fruit, vegetables, and coal. Rail service in the corridor ended in 1984.
The trail, together with the Prairie Duneland Trail in the east, serves as a backbone in northwestern Indiana’s trail network. US Bicycle Route 36 runs the length of the two trails on its way between Chicago and the Michigan border.
Beginning on Hobart Street, at the western end of the Prairie Dunland Trail in Hobart, you’ll soon pass through the 300-acre Hobart Prairie Grove section of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The route takes you to the edge of Lake George here, an excellent fishing spot for bass and crappie. The lake is also home to a permanent population of geese, ducks, and ring-billed gulls. From the trail bridge, you can walk onto platforms overlooking the lily pad–covered neck of the lake between the lake’s larger main bodies.
The next few miles of trail beyond the lake travel west through oak savanna ecosystems. Shortly, you emerge at another lake at John Robinson Park, where you may want to take a rest in the small field of grass along the lakefront.
After the I-65 underpass, the path enters a more urban setting with several road crossings; an underpass below busy Broadway in Gary makes that crossing much easier. In a couple of blocks, you return to the quiet forest and prairie that dominate the trail. After passing a large private fishing club, you will see the end of the county airport runway, just west of the corridor.
Here, a very dense forest marks the entrance of Oak Ridge Prairie Park. At more than 200 acres, most of the park represents former farmland that has been restored to oak savanna prairie. Just beyond the park, in Griffith, the trail connects to the Erie Lackawanna Trail, which rolls between Crown Point and Hammond.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Hobart: From I-94, take Exit 15 or 15A and merge onto southbound US 6/Ripley St. Travel 3.5 miles, continuing south as US 6 becomes N. Hobart Ave. On your left, just before the Hobart Rd, & E Cleveland Ave. intersection, you will find a trailhead with parking.
If you want to park in the center of town, beginning from Hobart Road at E. Cleveland Ave., turn right, traveling west on Cleveland 0.6 mile until you reach a fork in the road. Veer left, toward the railroad tracks, onto Front St. In 0.2 mile, turn left onto Main St. and continue heading southeast on Main 0.5 mile until E. Seventh St. Turn right onto Seventh St. and travel two blocks, then take a left onto Lake St. A parking lot will appear on your left in a small city park; the trail runs right through the park.
To reach the parking in Oak Ridge Prairie Park on the west end of the trail: From I-94, take Exit 6 for Burr St. Head south on Burr 1.4 miles, and turn right onto W. Ridge Road. Go 0.5 mile and turn left onto N. Colfax St. Go 2.2 miles and turn left into the entrance for Oak Ridge Prairie Park and look for parking, or go 2.9 miles (Colfax becomes S. Arbogast Ave.) and look for parking on the right.
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