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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Port Wing Boreal Forest (No. 154)

Port Wing Boreal Forest

Photo by E. Epstein



Bayfield County. T50N-R8W, Sections 20, 21, 28. 233 acres.



Port Wing Boreal Forest encompasses two areas of northern dry-mesic forest on sand spits inland from the present Lake Superior shoreline. The forest has distinct boreal characteristics. Large white and red pines (to 30” diameter) form a canopy over white spruce, balsam fir, red maple, white birch, mountain maple, yellow birch, and white cedar. The ground layer contains blueberries, twinflower, yellow blue-bead-lily, large-leaved aster, three-leaved gold-thread, and several club-mosses. Resident birds in the forest are very diverse and include veery, solitary vireo, northern parula, blackburnian warbler, redstart, purple finch, and white-throated sparrow. Between the forested sand spit and the beach to the north is a wetland complex of northern sedge meadow, shrub swamp and bog containing typical bog species such as pitcher plant, sundews, bladderworts, and sedges. Alder thickets are found around the bog. The wetlands are an extension of the estuary of the Flag River, the watercourse that separates the two natural area units. Two rare plants and two rare invertebrates inhabit the wetlands: leafy white orchis (Platanthera dilatata), common bog arrow-grass (Triglochin maritima), black meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum danae) and bog copper butterfly (Lycaena epixanthe). The 20-acre beach and dune complex along the Lake Superior shoreline is dominated by marram grass, blue-joint, Canada wild rye, beach pea, and sand cherry. The beach is used extensively by shorebirds and waterfowl. Port Wing Boreal Forest is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1979.


Driving directions

For the east unit: from the intersection of County Highway A and State Highway 13 in Port Wing, go east on 13 about 1.6 miles, then west on Lakeview Road 0.2 miles, then north on Big Pete Road about 0.5 miles to Lake Superior. For the west unit: from the intersection of Washington Avenue and 13 in Port Wing, go north on Washington Avenue 0.6 miles, then west on Quarry Road about 1 mile, then north on Point Road 0.25 miles to a parking area.


Port Wing Boreal Forest is owned by:

  • WDNR


The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities. Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details.

The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries.


Site objectives

Manage the site as a preserve for old-growth boreal forest, northern dry-mesic forest, open bog, and Great Lakes dunes/beach, as a wetland protection site and aquatic preserve, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the forest, wetlands and dunes/beach. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native ecosystems.

Management approach

The native species are managed mostly passively, which allows nature to determine the ecological characteristics of the site. Exceptions include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress fires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event is not considered compatible with management objectives.

Site-specific considerations

  • Roadside easement area may be managed sporadically by county and township.
  • Barriers are maintained at parking lots to prevent off-road vehicle access to beach and dune areas.


Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or under the "Access" tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

Allowable activities

In general, the activities listed below are allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted under the "Access" tab above and posted with signs on site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping

Prohibited activities

  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material, alive or dead. Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Camping and campfires
  • Geocaching

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR]

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Last revised: Tuesday, October 04, 2016