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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.

Legend

Annotated Legend

township lineTownship Line. When the land was first surveyed in Wisconsin in the 1800s, it was divided using a standard grid system known as the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). The first level of organization within the PLSS is by township (not to be confused with civil "Towns," such as the Town of Dunn). Each township grid cell represents approximately 36 square miles (6 miles by 6 miles) although the measurements were not always precise due to the instruments the surveyors were using, among other limitations. Each township's location is identified by a "township" and "range" number. The range number identifies the number of cells east or west of the central meridian line running through Wisconsin. Since the township baseline in Wisconsin is also the state's southern boundary, all townships in Wisconsin are identified by an "N", for north, after their number. The PAL maps are organized by township with four townships per map.

section lineSection Line. Each 36-square-mile township is further divided into 36 sections — each section theoretically being 1 square mile, or 640 acres. Most land ownership in Wisconsin references the townships and sections of the PLSS. Small areas of the state that were settled or granted prior to the PLSS are based on different survey systems — sometimes collectively referred to as grants of land. Generally, these lands are a result of early French settlement (such as at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien) where long narrow lots with a bit of water frontage were commonly established, or where some Indian Reservations were established (such as in western Calumet County). In order to simplify the PAL maps, grants of land and sections (plus theoretical section lines through grants of land) are shown using the same symbol.

cities and villagesCities and Villages. Cities are labeled in all capital letters and villages are only capitalized.

state trailState Trail. There are 41 designated State Trails in Wisconsin. The Ice Age Trail and North Country Trail, which have the primary designation of national scenic trail, are also State Trails. Portions of the Ice Age Trail that cross private land without a permanent easement are not shown.

federal landFederal land. Land owned by a federal government agency such as the National Park Service, U. S. Forest Service, or U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

county forest landCounty Forest land. Land owned by the local county government and enrolled in the Wisconsin County Forest Program under state statute 28.10.

state landState land. Most of these are lands were acquired by the DNR prior to advent of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program (KNSP) in 1990. Some of the lands shown are owned by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL), which is Wisconsin's oldest state agency. BCPL is comprised of Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Attorney General. BCPL uses its land base of approximately 75,000 acres to help finance public education.

state land w/stewardshipState land. Land owned by DNR and acquired under the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

state easementState Easement. These are private lands on which the DNR holds a permanent public access easement that was acquired prior to 1990 — no Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds were used to purchase them.

state easement w/stewardshipState Easement. These are private lands on which the DNR holds a permanent public access easement that was acquired under the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and that allow some form of public access.

local landLocal land. Public access land owned by a local unit of government such as a city or village that was acquired with no funds from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

local land w/stewardshipLocal land. Local parkland that was purchased with some matching funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

NCO landNCO land. Land owned by a nonprofit conservation organization (NCO) that was acquired with some matching funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

outside areasAreas shaded in light yellow are outside of Wisconsin or shown on a different map.

grant index numberThese numbers refer to the Index of Stewardship Grant Land Managers near the back of the book.

Glossary

Glossary of public access land types in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has one of the most diverse sets of public access land types in the country. Having an understanding of some of the different land types will give a sense of the different types of uses that are allowed. For more information about any one of the types, do a web search of the heading listed.

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 for administrative purposes 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. The Lakeshore 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 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.

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 recently initiated two Conservation Areas, the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland & Stream Conservation Area and the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area.

Demonstration (Demo) Forest—(e.g. Douglas Hallock Demo Forest and 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. These forests provide an opportunity to demonstrate active timber management and sustainable forest management.

Fishery Area—State Fishery Areas protect land along many of Wisconsin's highest quality streams, rivers, and lakes. These areas 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.

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, including subdivisions for residential or commercial development. This program provides cost-share funds that allow DNR to purchase easements from willing sellers in order to help keep the land in its forested state and allow public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, and other low-intensity recreation activities. Landowners maintain ownership and retain all other rights to the property, including the right to sell.

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

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 SNAs are embedded within other conservation properties (e.g., Wildlife Areas, National and County Forests, and nonprofit conservation organization properties).

Nursery—The Department of Natural Resources currently operates a nursery to help ensure a consistent supply of high quality seedlings of desirable forest species at an economical price and encourage reforestation in Wisconsin. The state nursery is fenced and gated and is 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 area.

Public Access—These sites offer a place to launch a boat, and are shown in the map legend as "Boat Ramp" and "Carry-In Boat Ramp." There are over 2,000 public boat access sites in Wisconsin shown on the maps.

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, and Browntown-Cadiz Springs.

Remnant Fishery Area (REM)—Remnant areas protect individual tracts of land for 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.

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

State Forest—The management of State Forests balances the sustainable harvest of wood products with protecting natural resources and 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. There are a dozen State Forests that in total cover over 525,000 acres.

State Riverway—The DNR owns over 45,500 acres along the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. This 92.3-mile section of the state's namesake river flows unimpeded by man-made structures from the dam at Prairie du Sac downstream to its mouth at the Mississippi River. Hunting, fishing and canoeing are popular.

State Park—State Parks provide areas for public recreation and public education in conservation and nature study. Wisconsin's State park properties harbor many ecological and scenic gems. Camping, hiking, outdoor education, boating, biking, horseback riding, and swimming are among the many popular activities that attract over 14 million visitors each year to the state park system.

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 with shared administration between DNR and U.S. National Park Service.

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 Midwest. Wild Rivers are vital to the economic health of the tourism industry. The DNR owns acres along three designated wild rivers: Pine-Popple, Pike and Totogatic.

Wildlife Area—State Wildlife Areas are managed to provide high quality habitats for game and non-game species. While their primary purpose is to provide places for hunting and trapping (and fishing where water is present), they are also popular destinations for wildlife watching, hiking, snowshoeing and dog walking.

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. These areas 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 those with a shared passion for preserving their communities' natural heritage. In Wisconsin, there are close to 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

Federal land data come from a variety of sources, including the Protected Areas Database of the U.S. (PADUS), from Conservation Biology International, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Cadastral Geodatabase, the National Park 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 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 adjacent lands.

The data for local parkland acquired with no Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds is known to be incomplete and unreliable in some places but its primary source, Streetmap 10.1, is currently the best statewide source available.

The data for roads and highways comes from a Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) GIS database. Known as "WISLR," it only includes publicly maintained roads. Although attempts were made not to show private roads, some may appear due to data errors. Some of the road data have not been finalized and should be considered "preliminary or pre-production." Only one roadway route name is shown per feature (this is the route name that WisDOT considers the "primary" route name). It should also be noted that many local governments have not yet evaluated the correctness of this database. The data have been compiled from multiple sources.

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's Bureau of Facilities and Lands.

Data about parking areas is currently available statewide only for DNR wildlife and fisheries 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.

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. The atlas and county maps are 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 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: Monday December 14 2015