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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Mink River Estuary (No. 218)



Door County. T32N-R28E, Sections 1, 2, 11-14, 23-26. T32N-R29E, Section 19. 1,787 acres.



The Mink River Estuary is one of the most pristine freshwater estuaries in the country. The river originates in alkaline, spring-fed wetlands in the central Door Peninsula and ends just a few miles downstream where it empties into Lake Michigan at Rowley's Bay. In between is the dynamic estuarine system, formed by the mixing and flushing of the waters of Lake Michigan and the Mink River. During periodic high water periods (seiches) the estuarine marshes are flooded, during low water the marshes are dry and many spring channels are evident. The vegetation of the natural area is diverse. Sedges, blue-joint grass, and other emergent vegetation with an overstory of willow, dogwood, and alder shrubs dominate the marshes bordering the river. Deeper areas of the marsh contain bulrush, wild rice, cat-tail and bur-reed. Water-lilies and water milfoil inhabit the deepest zone. The wetlands grade into lowland conifer swamp dominated by white cedar. The estuary is an important fish spawning and bird migration area. Mink River Estuary is owned by the Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and was designated a State Natural Area in 1988.


Driving directions

The aquatic features of the estuary are best seen by canoe or kayak. From the intersection of State Highway 42 and Mink River Road in Ellison Bay, go south on Mink River Road 2.7 miles, then east on Highway ZZ 0.8 mile to a public boat landing at Rowley's Bay. Paddle north along the shoreline about 0.8 miles to the estuary entrance. When the Lake Michigan water levels are very low, the entrance can be shallow and challenging to navigate. Hiking access for the western portion: from the intersection of Highway 42 and Mink River Road in Ellison Bay, go south on Mink River Road 1.6 miles to a parking area east of the road. For the eastern portion: from the intersection of Highway 42 and Mink River Road in Ellison Bay, go east on 42 2.3 miles, then south on County Highway NP (Newport Drive) one mile to a parking area west of the road.


Mink River Estuary 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 "Resources" 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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Other activities

Other allowable activities such as - but not limited to camping, geocaching and bicycling are determined by the landowner. Please contact them directly or visit their websites for details.

Last revised: Friday, July 06, 2018