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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Bear Caves (No. 286)

Bear Caves

Photo by Thomas A. Meyer/DNR



Within Langlade County Forest. Langlade County. T32N-R14E, Section 29. 50 acres.



Bear Caves State Natural Area is an outstanding geologic feature composed of a boulder train with a complex maze of ridges that contains a diverse lichen and bryophyte community. Located between the Chippewa and Green Bay Lobes of the Wisconsin Glacier, the constant movement and jousting between these two lobes may have resulted in fierce runoff causing a concentration of material to be deposited in the maze of ridges that we see today. Formed from pitted gravel outwash and flanked by several swamps, the southern portion has steep slopes with large, very well rounded boulders of pink granitic gneiss piled up on the steep esker-like ridges. The glacial ice and runoff that transported them to the site shaped the round boulders, which average about 4-6 feet in diameter. They are the largest rocks known in Wisconsin to have been concentrated by glacial action. The northern portion is now forested with second-growth sugar maple, birch, and aspen while the southern area is covered with hemlock, sugar maple, and yellow birch. The entire area is covered with a rich blanket of ground vegetation and the boulder train along the southern edge encloses a small sphagnum-tamarack bog. The name "bear caves" stems from local legend which maintains that bears live in the small "caves" found scattered through the boulder train. Bear Caves is owned by the Langlade County and was designated a State Natural Area in 1995.


Driving directions

From the intersection of State Highways 64 and 55 in Langlade, go north on 55 3.5 miles to a town road on the east and an unimproved access road on the west. Park at the town road/highway intersection and walk west along the unimproved access road 0.2 mile. The site lies north and south of the road. Disregard any "private road" signs as this is a legal public access.


Bear Caves is owned by:

  • Langlade County


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.

To create your own custom map where you can zoom to a specific location, please use the DNR's mapping application.


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.

The good majority of SNAs are isolated and have few or no facilities. Some SNAs have vehicle access lanes or parking lots, but their accessibility may vary depending on weather conditions. Parking lots and lanes are not plowed during winter. Hiking trails may be nonexistent or consist of undeveloped footpaths. A GPS unit or compass and detailed topographic map are useful tools for exploring larger SNAs.

Non-DNR lands

Entrance fees: For non-DNR-owned SNAs, we are unaware of any vehicle or admission fees. However, please contact the landowner for more information.

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: Monday, March 27, 2023