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Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program East Bluff (No. 98)

East Bluff

Photo by Josh Mayer



Within Devil's Lake State Park, Sauk County. T11N-R7E, Section 19. T11N-R6E, Section 24. 254 acres.



East Bluff is a continuum of natural communities of great ecological interest grading from open talus slopes, to dry prairie and glade, to open oak woodland, and finally a closed canopy southern hardwood forest. A moist, shaded grotto is also present downslope. Deposited by glacial action, the extensive 400 foot high talus slope is composed of angular blocks of quartzite below the vertical cliffs. Perched atop the quartzite talus is a curious open woodland - a pygmy forest of stunted shagbark hickory and white ash. And along the bluff edge are among the best examples of dry prairie and bedrock glade within Wisconsin. Trees average only 4 to 6 feet in diameter and 20-30 feet in height. The groundlayer is dominated by Pennsylvania sedge with other grasses including poverty oat grass, little blue-stem, and big blue-stem. Other herbaceous plants are columbine, shooting-star, prairie coreopsis, prairie alumroot, field pussy-toes, and large-flowered yellow false foxglove. In some areas, quartzite is exposed at the surface and contains a distinctive lichen and moss flora. The southern dry forest is dominated by white and red oaks with black cherry, shagbark hickory, big-tooth aspen, red maple, and white pine. The groundlayer contains species such as black-seeded rice grass, arrow-leaved aster, marginal wood fern, shining bedstraw, round-lobed hepatica, hairy sweet cicely, and false Solomon's-seal. The Alaskan Grotto is a unique linear geological feature along the south base of East Bluff, which supports a particularly diverse assemblage of plant species characteristic of northern Wisconsin forests. East Bluff harbors several rare plants. East Bluff is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 1993.


Driving directions

From the intersection of US Highway 12 and State Highway 136 in West Baraboo, go east (south) on 12 3.8 miles, then east on Ski Hi Road 1.2 miles, then south (right) on South Shore Road to the South Shore main gate and parking/campground area. The Grottos, East Bluff, and East Bluff Woods Trails provide access to the site.


East Bluff 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 dry prairie, bedrock glade, open oak woodland and talus forest, as a significant geological site, and as an ecological reference area. Natural processes and prescribed fire will determine the structure of the natural communities of this site. Provide opportunities for research and education on the highest quality native bedrock glades and open oak woodlands.

Management approach

The ecological characteristics of the site will be primarily shaped by a fire management program. The native talus forest species are managed passively. The native prairie species are 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 native dominant oak opening tree species (primarily oaks) are managed passively. However, some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. Augmentation of the ground layer will only add species that historically would have been found on the site, using seeds or plugs from local genetic material; this usually occurs in the early stages of restoration. The native bedrock glade species (primarily oaks) are managed in a mostly passive manner. However, some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation, and shrub control via harvest, brushing or a limited application of fire may be needed to mimic natural disturbance patterns. The mostly passive canopy management and understory manipulation will determine the ecological characteristics of the oak opening and bedrock glade. Other allowable activities across the entire site include control of invasive plants and animals, maintenance of existing facilities, and access to suppress wildfires. Salvage of trees after a major wind event can occur if the volume of woody material inhibits fire prescriptions.

Site-specific considerations

  • Although removal of hazardous trees from over and near trails and field roads is an allowed activity, manipulation/removal of vegetation and soil disturbance should be minimized to the extent possible.
  • The bedrock glade is fragile (particularly the lichens that are found there). Since trampling of lichens presents a threat to this community, public use is preferably limited to researchers and small education groups. Other visitors are encouraged to observe the bedrock glade from trails only.


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
  • 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, July 06, 2018