Valparaiso Moraine

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Valparaiso Moraine at Mink Lake, north of Valparaiso, Indiana Mink Lake Valparaiso Indiana 22.jpg
Valparaiso Moraine at Mink Lake, north of Valparaiso, Indiana

The Valparaiso Moraine is a recessional moraine (a land form left by receding glaciers) that forms an immense U around the southern Lake Michigan basin in North America. It is the longest moraine. It is a band of hilly terrain composed of glacial till and sand. The Valparaiso Moraine forms part of the Saint Lawrence River Divide, bounding the Great Lakes Basin. It begins near the border of Wisconsin and Illinois and extends south through Lake, McHenry, Cook, DuPage and Will counties in Illinois, and then turns southeast, going through northwestern Indiana. From this point, the moraine curves northeast through Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties of Indiana into Michigan. It continues into Michigan as far as Montcalm County. [1]


The moraine was formed during the Crown Point Phase of the Wisconsin glaciation. At this time the glacier covering the area had grown thin, so it was restrained by dolomite rock layers in the Lake Michigan basin. Where the glacier stopped, glacial till and sand was deposited, creating the hills of the moraine. After the Valparaiso Moraine was formed, the glacier retreated and formed the Tinley Moraine.

Many towns in northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois are named after the Valparaiso Moraine or the Tinley Moraine. The moraine itself was named after the city of Valparaiso, Indiana where the moraine is at its highest and the city lies on the moraine.

As part of the continental divide, many creeks or rivulets have their origin source in the Valparaiso Moraine. Water on one side of the moraine flows into Lake Michigan, through the Great Lakes, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence River, while water run-off on the other side of the moraine flows into tributaries of the Mississippi River, which eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The moraine divide was breached at the Chicago Portage by canal beginning in the 19th century.


Moraines south of Lake Michigan and southwest of Lake Erie. A composite of three maps (Leverett 1915) (Leverett 1902) (Larsen 1986) and other sources. Colors represent moraines from the same time period of the Wisconsin Glacial epoch Moraine Composite.jpg
Moraines south of Lake Michigan and southwest of Lake Erie. A composite of three maps (Leverett 1915) (Leverett 1902) (Larsen 1986) and other sources. Colors represent moraines from the same time period of the Wisconsin Glacial epoch

The Valparaiso Moraine formed as the first major moraine of the Cary substage of the Wisconsin Glacial period (10,000-50,000 years before present). [2] There are three minor moraines that have been identified in northeastern Illinois, the Minooka, Rockdale, and Manhattan. Within the arc created by the Valparaiso Moraine are two younger Cary substage moraines of the Tinley Moraine and the Lake Border Moraine. Younger still is the Port Huron system, which occurs in the northern portion of the Lake Michigan Basin. The Cary substage dates to around 30,000 years before present. [2]


Map of the southwestern coast of Proglacial lake Lake Chicago at the Valparaiso Moraine. Lake Chicago.JPG
Map of the southwestern coast of Proglacial lake Lake Chicago at the Valparaiso Moraine.

The Valparaiso system includes five moraines north of Chicago. The most northerly reach is to the headwaters of the Fox River in Waukesha County, west of Milwaukee. The moraine angles to the south and east, reaching the headwaters of the Des Plaines River west of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the county of the same name. The moraine forms a major portion of the eastern divide of the Fox River Basin and then the western bank of the Des Plaines River. The moraine continues southward along the Des Plaines River following the route of the modern Tri-State Tollway (I-294) around the west side of Chicago. Where the Des Plaines River bends to the west and forms the Illinois River, the moraine angles south and east, continuing along I-294 towards Chicago Heights. In this area, the moraine has widened out towards the south and east, becoming a broad plain covering large portions of Will and Kankakee counties.

Turning eastward, the moraine enters Indiana. The moraine is 17 miles (27 km) wide as it passes through Lake County, Indiana, [3] covering nearly half of the county's midsection. As it passes through Porter County, Indiana, it is under the city of Valparaiso, from which it derives its name. Through Indiana, the moraine forms a "continental divide" between the drainage of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River. [4]

The moraine then turns northeast, passing just north of La Porte, Indiana, through the county of the same name. Upon entering Michigan the moraine forms much of the shoreline of Lake Michigan northward through St. Joseph. [4] From here northward the moraine angles more eastward, missing Holland and passing through Grand Rapids, finally ending in a mingling of inter-lobe moraines about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Grand Rapids in Montcalm County. [5]


The inner border is less than 15 miles (24 km) and at its closest approach is only about 6 miles (9.7 km) from Lake Michigan. The system is from 5 miles (8.0 km) or 6 miles (9.7 km) up to nearly [6] 20 miles (32 km). It is narrowest in LaPorte County, Indiana and widest in Lake County, Indiana. [7] In northern Illinois the moraines merge into a composite moraine, including parts of earlier stages..

The Valparaiso morainic system in Michigan includes the morainic belt along Lake Michigan, from the Grand River Valley south. In places it consists of two or more ridges. These ridges coalesce and separate repeatedly. In northern Van Buren County it becomes associated with the Saginaw moraine. [7]


The moraine runs between 650 feet (200 m) and 690 feet (210 m) above sea level, or 70 feet (21 m) to 110 feet (34 m) above the surface of Lake Michigan. From the inner border there is usually a rise of 100 feet (30 m) or more. In some places of 200 feet (61 m) or more. The crest in Illinois ranges from about 750 feet (230 m) to 900 feet (270 m) above sea level. The highest point is near Lake Zurich, in southern Lake County. The lowest is on the Des Plaines River, in Will County. In Indiana the crest ranges from 750 feet (230 m) in Lake County to nearly 900 feet (270 m) in LaPorte County. The Michigan section is 670 feet (200 m) to 800 feet (240 m) in near the St. Joseph River and north to the Allegan and Van Buren county line. In Allegan County the moraine has its greatest variation. The highest point is 900 feet (270 m), while the low point near the Kalamazoo River is a little above 700 feet (210 m). [7]

Thickness of the drift

The drift across the Valparaiso moraine and outwash plains is the result of repetitive ice advances and intervening recessions. This drift and the drift from the previous ice sheets of the Illinoian and Iowan glacial periods are present across northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. The early Wisconsin drift are similar to that of the Valparaiso drift that identification of each period is not currently possible. [7]


Moraine Nature Preserve is located north of Valparaiso, Indiana, east of State Route 49 and south of US Route 6 on County Road 750 North (Meska Rd). Indiana Department of Natural Resources maintains 809 acres (327 ha). The preserve has numerous trails through rolling ridges and steep hills left by the glaciers. The area includes potholes and a shallow pond. It is covered by a mature beech-maple forest on the high ground and buttonbush and black willow in the ravines, potholes and near the pond. [8]

Correlative moraines

The Lake Erie basin has two moraines of the same age as the Valparaiso Moraine, the Mississinewa Moraine and the Union Moraine. These moraines formed from the Lake Erie Lobe of the continental glacier.[2] In Michigan the Kalamazoo Moraine is of the same time period. It is the result of the Saginaw lobe of the Laurentian glacier. [9]

See also

Glacial features, north to south from Lake Michigan:

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Tinley Moraine Moraine in the midwestern United States

The Tinley Moraine is a moraine around the Lake Michigan basin in North America. It was formed during the Wisconsin Glaciation and is younger than the higher and wider terminal moraine called the Valparaiso Moraine, which is located farther from the lake than the Tinley Moraine. Compared to the Valparaiso Moraine, the Tinley Moraine is much narrower and occupies a similar swath, about 6 miles (10 km) closer to Lake Michigan, and passes through the communities of Flossmoor, Western Springs, and Arlington Heights. The moraine was named after the village of Tinley Park, a village southwest of Chicago that lies on the moraine.

Kankakee Outwash Plain

The Kankakee Outwash Plain is a flat plain interspersed with sand dunes in the Kankakee River valley in northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois of the United States. It is just south of the Valparaiso Moraine and was formed during the Wisconsin Glaciation. As the glacier, stopped at the Valparaiso Moraine, melted, the meltwater was carried away to the outwash plain. On the south side of the moraine, where the elevation drops, the meltwaters eroded away valleys, carrying sand and mud with them. As the muddy meltwater reached the valley where the slope lessened, the water slowed, depositing the sand on the outwash plain. This created a smooth, flat, and sandy plain. Before its draining, the Kankakee Marsh, located on the outwash plain, was one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States.

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The Calumet Shoreline is an ancient shoreline of Lake Michigan located in the Lake Michigan Basin. It can be clearly seen as a sand ridge along Ridge Road south of Chicago. Closer to the lake from the Calumet Shoreline, there are the Tolleston shorelines and farther from the lake are the Glenwood Shoreline, the Tinley Moraine, and the Valparaiso Moraine. The shoreline is named after the Calumet Region of Northern Indiana.

Glenwood Shoreline

The Glenwood Shoreline is an ancient shoreline of the precursor to Lake Michigan, Lake Chicago. It is named after the town of Glenwood, Illinois. The shoreline was formed when the lake was higher during the last ice age, while ice blocked the Straits of Mackinac. After the straits were freed, the lake receded and left behind a sand ridge at an elevation of about 640 feet (200 m) where the shore resided. This ridge can be seen clearly in Glenwood, Illinois, Dyer, Indiana, and Schererville, Indiana, all south of Chicago.

Kankakee Torrent

The Kankakee Torrent was a catastrophic flood that occurred about 19,000 calibrated years ago in the Midwestern United States. It resulted from a breach of moraines forming a large glacial lake fed by the melting of the Late Wisconsin Laurentide Ice Sheet. The point of origin of the flood was Lake Chicago. The landscape south of Chicago still shows the effects of the torrent, particularly at Kankakee River State Park and on the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park.

The Mississinawa Moraine begins in Ohio east of Lima in Hardin County, then running in a shallow arc to the south of Grand Lake St. Marys and St. Marys in Mercer County towards Fort Recovery, Ohio. Just west of Fort Recovery, the moraine again arches southward towards the Mississinewa River. The moraine follows the eastern bank of the river northwestward to where it enters the Wabash River at Wabash, Indiana. Angling towards the north and a little east, the Mississinawa moraine merges with the Packerton Moraine north of the Eel River in Whitley County near Columbia City. The moraine does not end here, but continues in a northeasterly direction through the three corners area of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio until reaching Ann Arbor, Michigan where numerous moraines intermingle. Note: There are two common spellings of the name. Mississinawa is commonly used in the older reports. Mississinewa is the modern usage and the spelling used on modern maps and projects associated with the river. Both spellings are used interchangeably in this article, based on the source material.

Fort Wayne Moraine

The Fort Wayne Moraine is considered contemporary to the last stages of the Valparaiso Moraine. Centered on Fort Wayne, Indiana, the northern leg of the moraine is mostly overlaid by the younger Wabash Moraine angling northeastward through Williams County, Ohio. It only becomes identifiable in Lenawee County, Michigan south and northeast of Adrian before ending in the intermingling of moraines around Ann Arbor. The south and eastern leg of the moraine follows the northern bank of the St. Marys River into the State of Ohio. At the north bend of the St. Marys River, the moraine arcs northeastward through Lima, continuing in a northward arc to reach north of U.S. 30 in Hancock County to pass through Upper Sandusky, again bending to the north to end 15 miles (24 km) to 20 miles (32 km) to the northeast.

The Toleston Shoreline is the third ancient shoreline of the precursor to Lake Michigan, Lake Chicago. It takes its name from the village of Tolleston, now a portion of Gary, Indiana. The shoreline formed when Lake Chicago was high enough to drain through the Chicago outlet into the Des Plaines River. The beach is 18 to 25 feet above the level of Lake Michigan. The Indiana segment and the Illinois segment, north to Evanston are still visible. North of Evanston and Michigan City, Indiana, the beach has been eroded by later ice movement or shoreline wave action.

Lake Kankakee Body of water

Lake Kankakee formed 14,000 years before present (YBP) in the valley of the Kankakee River. It developed from the outwash of the Michigan Lobe, Saginaw Lobe, and the Huron-Erie Lobe of the Wisconsin glaciation. These three ice sheets formed a basin across Northwestern Indiana. It was a time when the glaciers were receding, but had stopped for a thousand years in these locations. The lake drained about 13,000 YBP, until reaching the level of the Momence Ledge. The outcropping of limestone created an artificial base level, holding water throughout the upper basin, creating the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

Marseilles moraine

The Marseilles moraine is a terminal moraine that encircles the southern tip of Lake Michigan in North America. It begins near Elgin, Illinois, and extends south and west of Chicago metropolitan area, turning eastward 30 miles (48 km) to 40 miles (64 km) south of the lake in Kankakee and Iroqouis counties, entering Indiana. It formed during the Wisconsin glaciation. The glacier had been in retreat when it stopped for an extended period, depositing glacial till and sand creating the hills of the moraine.

Lake Border Moraine

The Lake Border Moraine is a complex group of moraines bordering the southern end of Lake Michigan. It can be traced north along the eastern shore of the lake basin and across the highlands between the northern Lake Michigan and Saginaw Bay. It continues around the Saginaw Basin into the "thumb" of Michigan, and south through southeastern Michigan on the eastern side of the "thumb." Along Lake Michigan, north to Holland the system is close to the shore. From Holland north to Oceana County it is 15 miles (24 km) to 25 miles (40 km) east of the shore. In Oceana County it forms the prominent "clay banks" along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It again bears inland from Hart, where more recent moraines reside between it and Lake Michigan. It runs north of the great interlobate moraine that exists between the Lake Michigan and Saginaw lobes of the Laurentian ice sheet. A little north of Cadillac turns to the east. A short distance from Cadillac, it splits with the southern ridge or outer member heading to the Saginaw basin. The northern ridge heads towards Lake Huron, but turns south before reaching the shore. In Newaygo and Lake counties it rest on an earlier interlobate moraine. It separates in Wexford and Missaukee counties to continue south along the west side of the Saginaw basin.

Packerton Moraine Moraine in Indiana

The Packerton Moraine in north-central Indiana has been considered by most persons who have studied it to be a large interlobate moraine between the Saginaw and the Erie lobes. The northeast-southwest direction of the eskers north of Disko, Wabash County, and the southeast-northwest trend south of there indicated that the part of the Packerton moraine south of Disko was built by the Erie lobe and the part north of Disko by the Saginaw lobe. An esker, Miami County shows a northeast-southwest alignment, providing evidence that Packerton moraine in Miami County was built by the Erie lobe. A small area in the northwestern was deposited by the Saginaw lobe. It is named the Packerton moraine from the village of Packerton in Kosciusko County. Thirteen kames and eskers complexes are mixed with sand and gravel. The till is, sandier, especially in the part deposited by the Saginaw lobe, than in the lobe passed over some source of sand, whereas the Erie lobe did not. Water-laid or wind-blown sands are found throughout the moraine. The bulk of the sand seems to have been water-deposited, but locally the sand appears to have been reworked by the wind. Few of the sand deposits exhibit dunal forms.

The Calumet Aquifer is an aquifer underlying the land at the extreme southern tip of Lake Michigan. It underlies the northern third of Lake County, Indiana and the northern tenth of Porter County, as well as small parts of LaPorte County and Cook County, Illinois. It is notable chiefly for its high levels of contamination by industrial waste from factories and toxic waste dumps in the Calumet Region. It is bordered to the south by Valparaiso Moraine Aquifer, and to the north by Lake Michigan. It is underlain by a Silurian bedrock aquifer complex.


  1. Moore, Powell A. (1959). The Calumet Region: Indiana's Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Bureau.
  2. 1 2 Hough, Jack L.; Geology of the Great Lakes; University of Illinois Press, Urbana; 1958, pg 97
  3. Moore, Powell A.; The Calumet Region, Indiana’s Last Frontier; Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XXXIX; Indiana Historical Bureau, Reprint 1977
  4. 1 2 Environmental Setting of the Upper Illinois River basin and Implications for Water Quality; Water-Resources Investigation Report (WRIR) 98-4268, Dept of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey; Urbana, Illinois, 1999
  5. Moore, Powell A.; The Calumet Region, Indiana’s Last Frontier; Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XXXIX; Indiana Historical Bureau, Reprint 1977, pg4
  6. Third Annual Report U. S. Geol. Surrey, 1881-82, pp. 322-325
  7. 1 2 3 4 The Illinois Ice Lobe; Frank Leverett; U.S. Geological Survey, Monograph, #38; Government Printing Office; Washington, D.C.; 1899, pg 339-379
  8. IDNR; brochure on the Moraine Nature Preserve; obtained 2011
  9. Chapter IX: Morainic Systems at Heads of Lake Michigan and Saginaw Basins; Frank Leverett; Kalamazoo Morainic System of Lake Michigan Lobe; The Pleistocene of Indiana and Michigan and the History of the Great Lakes, Monograph 53; Frank Leverett & Frank B. Taylor, U.S. Geological Survey; Government Printing Office, Washington; 1915, pg 167

Coordinates: 41°30′37″N87°3′29″W / 41.51028°N 87.05806°W / 41.51028; -87.05806