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For information on State Natural Areas, contact:
Thomas Meyer
Natural areas conservation biologist

Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Border Lakes (No. 411)

Lower Aimer Lake

Photo by Gerald H. Emmerich, Jr



Vilas County. T43N-R7E, Sections 4-8, 17, 20. T44N-R7E, Section 31. 2,383 acres.



Border Lakes, also known as the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area, features a natural mosaic of forest habitats interspersed with 15 undeveloped lakes and large ponds. Of significance are the lakes, both named and unnamed, which all have unaltered shorelines, an increasingly uncommon condition in northern Wisconsin. In addition, the lakes have seen relatively little human activity over the last 60 years, allowing the biological structure of the lake communities to develop naturally. This has resulted in an unparalleled, representative group of aquatic ecosystems that are both functionally intact and remarkably similar within this ecoregion. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that no non-native plant or animal species have yet been found in any of the lakes. The pristine quality of the lakes along with their unique biological attributes make them highly valuable as benchmarks for comparative research between managed and unmanaged lakes. As such, fishing is prohibited on some lakes as part of a long-term research project. Although logging has occurred throughout the site, the area still retains contiguous forest cover. Vegetation is varied and ranges from patches of very young aspen to near-mature stands of sugar maple, yellow birch, and hemlock. Low, poorly drained soils support both open and forested wetland assemblages including open bog, white cedar swamp, black ash swamp, northern wet forest dominated by black spruce and tamarack, and alder thickets. Numerous birds are known to nest here including yellow-bellied sapsucker, great crested flycatcher, hermit thrush, ovenbird, and rose-breasted grosbeak. Rare and uncommon species include yellow-bellied flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris), evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus), and osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Border Lakes State Natural Area is owned by the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and was designated a State Natural Area in 2004.


Driving directions

From the intersection of County Highways K and M (Cut Off Rd) in Boulder Junction, go north on County M 5 miles, the northwest on County B approximately 7 miles, then northeast on East Bay Road about 0.5 mile to a small parking area and trail head on the east side of the road. Two hiking/skiing trails loop through the site. Motors are not allowed on any of the lakes.

For available hunting opportunities, visit The Nature Conservancy's website: The Nature Conservancy [exit DNR].


Border Lakes is owned by:

  • The Nature Conservancy


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.


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.

Non-DNR lands

Hunting and trapping

This is a non-DNR owned SNA: Opportunities for hunting and trapping depend on the land owner. Please contact them directly to find out about their rules for hunting and trapping. You can find a link to other owner websites under the "Resource links" heading above. More details regarding allowable uses of this non-DNR owned SNA may be posted, if available, under the "Access" tab above.

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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, 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]

Last revised: Thursday, March 26, 2015