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Public access lands maps PDF maps by county

Select a county from the map or list to get a printable PDF file of public access lands by county. The companion pages include the legend, glossary and more.

The Public Access Lands (PAL) Atlas is also available in book format. You can order the Atlas [exit DNR] from the University Book Store.

Easement Access Notification

Please respect land owner rights on private lands open to public access and observe postings on private land to avoid trespassing.

DNR easements on private lands allow for public access to the land for nature based activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, etc. However not all easements are open to all activities. While DNR maps can get you to a property, it is the responsibility of the user to research property access before entering the property and obey all postings at the property.

Glossary

Glossary of public access land types in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is home to a wide array of public access land types. An understanding of these land types will give a sense of the different types of uses that are allowed. For more information, complete a web search of each listed type.

Federal properties

National Forest—There is one national forest in Wisconsin, the Chequamegon-Nicolet, which is a large woodland area in northern Wisconsin owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Land management on Chequamegon-Nicolet is focused on timber harvesting, water and wildlife conservation, livestock grazing, and outdoor recreation. Although originally established in the 1930s as two separate forests, they were merged into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in 1998.

National Lakeshore—The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior is one of four national lakeshores in the country. The Lakeshore is made up of beaches, cliffs, water, islands and a strip of mainland at the northern-most tip of Wisconsin. It is administered by the U.S. National Park Service.

National Scenic Riverway—The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in northwest Wisconsin is managed by the U.S. National Park Service to conserve the scenery and important natural and historic objects along the river corridor. It also includes much of the Namekagon River.

National Wildlife Refuge—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's mission for the National Wildlife Refuge system is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats.

State properties

State Forest—The management of State Forests balances the sustainable harvest of wood products and protection of natural resources while providing a range of recreation opportunities. Many state forests were formed around watersheds in an effort to protect these fragile aquatic ecosystems. This provides visitors ample recreation opportunities along lakes, rivers and streams.

Demonstration (Demo) Forest (eg. Douglas Hallock Demo Forest, Wausaukee Timber Demo Forest)—The purpose of Wisconsin's Stewardship Demonstration Forests is to demonstrate sustainable forest management and responsible stewardship while also using these lands as educational tools for students, professional foresters and non-industrial private forest landowners. The forests provide an opportunity to demonstrate active timber management and sustainable forest management.

Forest Legacy Program—Congress created the Forest Legacy Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to help fund the protection of large blocks of environmentally important private forestlands threatened with conversion to non-forest uses - such as subdivision for residential or commercial development. The program provides cost-share funds that allow the DNR to purchase easements from willing sellers to keep the land in its forested state and to allow public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, and other low-intensity recreation activities. Landowners maintain ownership and retain other rights to the property, including the right to sell.

Wildlife Area—State wildlife areas are managed to provide high quality habitats for game and nongame species. Although their primary purpose is to provide places for hunting and trapping (and fishing where water is present), they are increasingly popular destinations for wildlife watching, hiking, snow shoeing and dog walking.

State Park—State parks provide areas for public recreation and for public education in conservation and nature study. Wisconsin's State park properties harbor many of the state's ecological and scenic gems. Camping, hiking, outdoor education, boating, biking, horseback riding, and swimming are among the many popular activities that attract over 17 million visitors each year to the state park system.

Recreation Area—State recreation areas provide opportunities for the public to participate in a range of outdoor activities, similar to state parks but typically not including overnight camping. They include Baraboo Hills, Chippewa Moraine, Fischer Creek, Sauk Prairie, Richard Bong and Browntown-Cadiz Springs.

Scenic Waters Area—Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area and Turtle-Flambeau Scenic Waters Area are both are located in the northern part of the state. These flowages were both established in the 1920s to maintain water flows and reduce flooding. They now provide exceptional fishing, boating, and primitive camping opportunities.

Wild River—Wild Rivers are designed to protect and provide public access along the state's most scenic, pristine rivers. Like state parks, they tend to attract visitors from throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest and are important to the economic health of the tourism industry. The DNR owns acreage along three designated wild rivers: Pine-Popple, Pike and Totogatic.

Natural Area—State Natural Areas (SNAs) provide a glimpse into what the state looked like 200 years ago and provide a baseline from which to evaluate current and future management actions. Some support rare or endangered species, while others are the best remaining occurrences of native plant communities such as fens, oak savannas or boreal forests. Many of the more than 600 SNAs are embedded within other conservation properties (e.g., Wildlife Areas, National and County Forests, and nonprofit conservation organization properties), about 100,000 acres are "free standing" SNAs.

Fishery Area—State fishery areas protect land along many of Wisconsin's highest quality streams, rivers, and lakes. They protect critical springs and spawning areas that help support these fisheries and provide exceptional angling opportunities. State fishery areas also provide opportunities for hunting, trapping, hiking, berry picking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. In addition to state fishery areas, the department has acquired fishing access easements through the Stream Bank Easement program.

State Trail—The Department of Natural Resources operates a system of state trails. Each of the trails, and in some places even segments within each trail, has different allowable uses that may include walking, biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, ATV use and more. Two state trails, the Ice Age Trail and North Country Trail, are also National Scenic Trails that have shared administration with the U.S. National Park Service.

Conservation Area—Conservation areas are designed to accomplish ecological goals over very broad areas. In most cases, these landscape-scaled projects are designed to meet ecological needs through a combination of protected lands set within a mosaic of working farmlands. The department has recently initiated two Conservation Areas, the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland & Stream Conservation Area and the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area.

Hatcheries and Rearing Stations—The Department of Natural Resources operates hatcheries, egg collection facilities and rearing stations that raise millions of fish to be stocked every year in lakes and rivers where there is no or little natural reproduction. Hundreds of waters statewide help to provide more fishing opportunities for anglers. Tours at the hatcheries are often conducted for school groups, scouts and other groups by appointment.

Remnant Fishery Habitat (REM)—Remnant areas protect individual tracts of land of fish habitat for cold water species. These usually occur in widely scattered areas along trout streams and include the most important spawning areas and springs.

Public Access—These are places to launch a boat that are shown in the map legend as "Boat Ramp" and "Carry-In Boat Ramp". There are over 3,000 public boat access sites in Wisconsin that are shown on the maps.

Nursery—The Department of Natural Resources operates three nurseries to ensure a consistent supply of high quality seedlings of desirable forest species, at an economical price, to encourage reforestation in Wisconsin. The state nurseries are fenced and gated and are open to the public for customer service during regular business hours. Tours of nursery grounds are available by appointment. Public hunting is not allowed within the fenced areas.

County and local properties

County Forest—According to state statute, county forests exist to enable and encourage the planned development and management of the county forests for optimum production of forest products together with recreational opportunities, wildlife, watershed protection and stabilization of stream flow, giving full recognition to the concept of multiple-use to assure maximum public benefits; to protect the public rights, interests and investments in such lands; and to compensate the counties for the public uses, benefits and privileges these lands provide; all in a manner which will provide a reasonable revenue to the towns in which such lands lie.

Local Parkland—Most Wisconsin counties and municipalities manage local parks and other conservation and outdoor recreation lands for the public. They range from town and city parks to county greenways and recreation areas. Some of these areas are not shown because there is no statewide geographic database of them.

Nonprofit Conservation Organization (NCO) Land—Some nonprofit, non-governmental conservation organizations actively work to protect natural resources by acquiring land and/or conservation easements. These organizations are run by local people who have a shared passion for preserving their communities' natural heritage. In Wisconsin, there are about 50 NCOs that own and manage conservation land. Together, they have permanently protected over 280,000 acres of the state's special places with some matching funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

Data sources

Data sources and limitations

While every effort was made to accurately show public access lands in Wisconsin, the maps quickly become out of date as land is acquired or sold by various agencies. This publication is expected to be updated every two years.

No warranty, express or implied, is made regarding accuracy, completeness, or legality of the information herein. The boundaries depicted on this map may not represent the legal ownership boundaries of any property. The delineation of legal boundaries may only be conducted by a licensed surveyor.

A brief discussion of some of the data sources follows.

CFederal land data comes from a variety of sources, including U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gap Analysis Program's PADUS database, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Cadastral Geodatabase and the U. S. Forest Service Basic Ownership data.

DNR ownership and easements data are from the DNR Land Records System and 1:24,000-scale DNR Managed Lands Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database.

County forest data comes from the Wisconsin Forest Inventory & Reporting System maintained by the DNR Division of Forestry. The property boundaries in this layer are more accurate than those for most of the other public access lands types which in some cases leads to gaps appearing between county forest lands and, for instance, DNR land where in fact the lands are adjacent

The data for county and local parkland acquired with no Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds is known to be incomplete and unreliable in some places but is created from two different data sources. County Park Data was obtained by the DNR from Wisconsin Counties and Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) in 2012. County and Local parkland data is also shown using ESRI World Street Map, a data source provided by the GIS software company ESRI. There are known inaccuracies with this data, as such the parks are represented as points and used at zoomed-out scales to minimize data inaccuracies. These two datasets are the best available data to represent County and Local parkland at this time.

The data for roads and highways comes from The OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. OpenStreetMap is a project aimed at creating a free, world-wide geographic data set that focuses on transportation infrastructure. The OpenStreetMap data is mostly collected by OSM project members using GPS devices and then entered into a central database with specialized editors. As a part of this transport infrastructure, OpenStreetMap contains roads for the state of Wisconsin. DNR staff downloaded the roads data for Wisconsin through the GeoFabrik website in 2016. (GeoFabrik is a company that supports OpenStreetMap and helps make the data accessible to the public) The OpenStreetMap data is periodically updated by DNR staff as they become aware of specific issues with the data.

State trails data come from the DNR, North Country Trail Association and Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Data regarding boat access sites is maintained in a 1:24,000-scale layer by the DNR Bureau of Facilities and Lands.

Data about parking areas is currently available statewide for some properties in a 1:24,000-scale layer.

Township, Section and Grants-of-Land data are from the DNR's 1:24,000-scale Landnet database.

Data are best-available statewide and/or current as of 2017.

Feedback

The DNR plans to update this atlas in subsequent years and is interested in getting your feedback on ways to improve its content and format. We also want to better understand the different ways that readers use the atlas. If you have ideas, advice, comments or criticisms, we'd like to hear from you by setting your browser to http://dnr.wi.gov keyword search "atlas".

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

While every effort has been made to accurately show public access lands in Wisconsin, the maps quickly become out of date as land is acquired or sold by various agencies. While the county PDF maps are expected to be updated every two weeks, the atlas is required to be updated every two years.

No warranty, express or implied, is made regarding accuracy, completeness, or legality of the information herein. The boundaries depicted on these maps may not represent the legal ownership boundaries of any property. The delineation of legal boundaries may only be conducted by a licensed surveyor.

Not shown on the maps are lands that are open to public access for only a limited number of years, such as lands enrolled in the Managed Forest Law (MFL) or Voluntary Public Access (VPA) programs. For locations of these lands, see the box to the right. Also not shown are private lands that are leased by the DNR. Certain public lands, such as local school forests, are not shown because there is no statewide spatial database for them.

Last revised: Tuesday December 12 2017