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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Apple River Canyon (No. 145)

Apple River Canyon

Photo by Josh Mayer



St. Croix County. T31N-R19W, Sections 21, 28. 183 acres.



Apple River Canyon features a deep (100-140 feet), narrow (150 feet) gorge along the Apple River about two miles upstream from its confluence with the St. Croix River. The Apple River is a shallow stream flanked by steep high cliffs on both sides. The canyon lies a few miles south of the limits of Glacial Lake Grantsburg, and presumably the gorge was formed during the period of drainage of the lake. A cross section of the gorge reveals - from top to bottom - thin layers of glacial outwash and Oneota dolomite (Ordovician), a massive layer of Jordan sandstone (Cambrian), Lodi shale (Cambrian), Nicollet Creek dolomite (Cambrian), and Franconia sandstone (Cambrian). The vegetation is quite interesting due to the nearly east-west orientation of a segment of the gorge, creating north and south walls with contrasting sunlight, moisture, and temperature conditions. On the upland to the north is an oak forest: on the south-facing upper slope a strip of prairie grasses; on the south-facing cliffs a few lichens and mosses; on the lowest talus slope a floodplain forest; on north-facing talus a northern dry-mesic forest; on northern cliffs, cryptogams; and on the upper slope a narrow prairie. Apple River Canyon is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1978.


Driving directions

From the intersection of County Highway I and State Highway 64 in Somerset, go west on Highway I 2.4 miles, then continue west on 192nd Avenue 0.85 mile, then north on 42nd Street 0.3 mile. Walk northeast on an access lane into the natural area. Or from its intersection with 192nd Avenue, continue on Highway I another 1.7 miles, then southwest on 208th Avenue 0.6 mile. Park along the road and walk south into the site.


Apple River Canyon 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 reserve for southern dry forest, northern dry-mesic forest and dry prairie, as an aquatic reserve, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes will determine the structure of the forest and prairie. Additionally, the structure of the forest will be determined by prescribed understory manipulation, while that of the prairie by prescribed fire (see below). Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native ecosystems.

Management approach

In the dry and dry-mesic forest, the native dominant tree species (primarily oaks) are managed passively. However, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. The mostly passive canopy management and understory manipulation will determine the ecological characteristics of the site. In the prairie, vegetation is managed actively through tree/shrub control using tree harvest, brushing, and especially fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Occasional fire-tolerant oaks, hickories, and native shrubs such as hazelnut may be retained at low densities. The ecological characteristics of the site will primarily shaped by an intensive fire management program. Across the entire site, other allowable activities 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

  • Native forest species will be allowed to invade the old field, which may be augmented with planting.
  • The plantation will be thinned and harvested, and conversion to forest will be promoted.


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

  • Camping and campfires
  • 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
  • Drone use, unless authorized by a SNA research permit
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use

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: Friday, December 15, 2017