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Van Loon Wildlife Area

COVID-19 Update

On Friday, May 1 and at the direction of Gov. Evers, the department reopened state parks, forests and sites within the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway with special conditions. Four State Natural Areas remain closed: Parfrey's Glen, Pewits Nest, Gibraltar Rock and Dells of the Wisconsin River. All Wildlife Areas and Fisheries Areas are open. For more information, please visit the DNR's COVID-19 information webpage for the full list of conditions, including hours of operation, admission fees and more.

Vanloon Wildlife Area

Van Loon Wildlife Area is a 3,918-acre property located in La Crosse County. It is located in the northwest corner of La Crosse County around 3 and 1/2 miles northwest of the Village of Holmen. The property extends 5 miles south of the Black River from Hwy 53/93 "Hunter's Bridge" to the community of New Amsterdam on County Trunk XX.

The wildlife area originated as a lease project in 1948 (known as McGilvary Bottoms). Fee acquisition began in 1957 with the purchase of 758 acres from the William Van Loon estate. The property contains six historic McGilvray arch truss bridges [exit DNR] over the Black River built circa 1892.

Habitat on the property consists primarily of flood plain forest, sand prairies and oak savanna. Situated on sand and gravel deposits of the Black River, it features groves of scattered oak forest with green ash. The sparse canopy of the savanna has permitted the development of prairie grasses and forbs and the exceptionally rich groundlayer has over 100 species documented. The mature floodplain forest situated between channels of the Black River contains canopy dominants of large silver maple, swamp white oak and green ash. Associated species include river birch, cottonwood, yellowbud hickory, American elm, basswood and black ash. Swamp white oak is reproducing well and there is good distribution of both size and age classes for most tree species, although very large individuals are relatively infrequent. The site is dissected by several flood channels and topography is nearly level. The shrub layer is moderately dense composed of prickly ash, elderberry, buttonbush, common winterberry and nannyberry.

Van Loon is a WBCI Important Bird Area [exit DNR] noted for Yellow-crowned night-herons, Acadian flycatchers, cerulean warblers and prothonotary warblers that breed there. The site also supports red-headed woodpeckers, blue-winged warblers and field sparrows. Waterbirds congregate in late summer and thousands of landbirds migrate through, particularly in the spring. Van Loon is also featured in the Mississippi - Chippewa River Region of the Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail [exit DNR].

The Van Loon Floodplain Forest State Natural Area and the Van Loon Floodplain Savanna State Natural Area are found within the wildlife area.


The Black River (including Van Loon WA) is identified as Conservation Opportunity Area [PDF] for Large River Corridors of Continental Significance within the Western Coulee and Ridges Ecological Landscape according to Wisconsin's Wildlife Action Plan. The wildlife area is managed to provide opportunities for public hunting, fishing, trapping, and other outdoor recreation while protecting the qualities of the unique native communities and associated species found on the property. The state natural areas are primarily managed passively, with some thinning of the canopy, understory manipulation and shrub control via harvest, brushing or fire to mimic natural disturbance patterns in the savanna. Management efforts are designed to protect the ecological river corridor gradients from lowlands to uplands, along with protection of the floodplain corridor. This will enlarge the amount of habitat available, allow for the movement of species upslope and downslope as environmental conditions change over time, provide migratory bird stopover habitat and provide suitable habitat for species that require large areas or are dependent upon a mosaic of interconnected habitats, including a full range of seral stages, for their long-term survival. Populations of invasive species are controlled or eliminated by cutting, pulling, burning, herbicide treatment and/or bio-control.

Rapid Ecological Assessment for Lower Black and Trempealeau Rivers Planning Group


The Van Loon Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities.

  • Birding
  • Camping (primitive) | Canoe camping allowed at the head of the New Channel where it meets the main channel of the Black River
  • Canoeing
  • Cross country skiing (no designated trail)
  • Fishing
  • Hiking (no designated trail)
  • Hunting
  • 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: Tuesday May 12 2020