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For information on the wildlife areas, contact:
Wildlife Management

Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area

Namekagon Wildlife Area

The Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (NBWA) is a 6,446-acre (all leased from Burnett County) property located in the northeast corner of Burnett County, consisting of a north and south unit. The north unit lies 7 miles east of Highway 35 on the St. Croix Trail road or 11 miles west of Minong. The south unit is 2 miles to the south and west of the north unit on the Namekagon and Springbrook Trail roads. The St. Croix River flows within one mile west of the barrens and the Namekagon River lies between the north and south units - both wild and scenic designated rivers.

The NBWA is part of the Northwest Sands Area of northwest Wisconsin, containing mainly pine barrens community habitat. This community type is globally rare and includes rich and diverse prairie flora and fauna. Beaver and Clemens Creek trout streams originate from springs on the north unit and flow to the nearby St. Croix River. The surrounding lands are mainly Burnett, Washburn and Douglas County Forest and industrial forests owned by Lyme Timber Company, containing mostly jack pine, scrub oak and red pine plantation forests.

Sharp-tailed grouse viewing opportunity

Sharp-tailed grouse, a native prairie bird, are currently found only in suitable habitat in isolated areas of the state. Namekagon Barrens wildlife area is home to the largest population of sharp-tailed grouse in the state. Similar to greater prairie chickens, sharp-tails gather at grassy openings called dancing grounds or leks during the early morning hours of spring. At the dancing grounds males court the females by spreading their wings, rapidly stomping their feet and rattling their upturned tails as they coo and gobble with the aid of beautiful purple air sacks inflated on their necks. Viewing sharp-tails dancing is an experience you will never forget.

Dancing activity peaks from about April 15 to May 15, depending on the year. Wildlife management staff put up blinds on the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area to aid in viewing and surveying the spring population of sharp-tailed grouse.

To learn more and/or reserve a spot in one of the sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground viewing blinds contact the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area [exit DNR].


The land in the barrens area was settled in the early 1900s, but went tax delinquent and reverted to Burnett County in the 1930s due to the dry sandy soils, drought and the depression. The NBWA was established in the mid 1950s through a lease with Burnett County out of concern for the rapidly declining prairie grouse species in Wisconsin.

Today, the NBWA is divided into 30 burn units and is managed through a 5 to 8 year rotation of prescribed burning. The burning maintains this critical pine barrens habitat type for a wide variety of plant and animal species that depend on this habitat community for survival, including the sharp-tailed grouse. Several sharp-tailed grouse habitat and population research projects have been conducted on the barrens over the years. Sharp-tailed grouse dancing ground blinds are available by reservation in the spring for public viewing of the male's spring mating dance ritual. A scenic view parking lot can be found on the Springbrook Trail on the south unit overlooking beautiful, rolling topography of pine barrens and wetlands.

The Northwest Barrens Properties Master Plan [PDF] was completed in 2017 and guides the long term management of this property.


The following recreational opportunities exist at Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area:

  • ATV trail (on marked trails only in winter)
  • biking (no designated trail)
  • birding (sharp-tailed grouse viewing opportunities)
  • camping (by permit on adjoining Burnett County Forest)
  • canoeing
  • cross country skiing (no designated trail)
  • dog trialing (by permit only)
  • fishing
  • hiking (no designated trail)
  • hunting (sharp-tailed grouse hunting by permit only in years permits are available)
  • snowmobiling trail (restricted to trails)
  • trapping
  • wild edibles/gathering
  • wildlife viewing

Download [PDF] a map of this property.

If you are interested in exploring this property further, you can access an interactive map.

Useful links
Last revised: Monday July 03 2017