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Public access lands maps PDF maps by county

Select a county from the map or list to get a printable PDF file of public access lands by county. The companion pages include the legend, glossary and more.

The Public Access Lands (PAL) Atlas is also available in book format. You can order the Atlas [exit DNR] from the University Book Store.

Easement Access Notification

Please respect land owner rights on private lands open to public access and observe postings on private land to avoid trespassing.

DNR easements on private lands allow for public access to the land for nature based activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, etc. However not all easements are open to all activities. While DNR maps can get you to a property, it is the responsibility of the user to research property access before entering the property and obey all postings at the property.

Glossary

Glossary of Public Access Land Types

Wisconsin is home to a wide array of public access land types. An understanding of these land types will give a sense of the activities that are allowed.

Federal properties:

National Forest — The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is the one National Forest located in Northern Wisconsin. It is owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Land Management on the Chequamegon-Nicolet is focused on timber harvesting, water and wildlife conservation, livestock grazing and outdoor recreation. Although originally established in the 1930s as separate forests, the two were merged into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in 1998.

National Lakeshore — The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of four National Lakeshores in the country. This beautiful locale, located off the southern shore of Lake Superior, was championed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in the 1970s. The Lakeshore is comprised of 21 islands and a strip of land along the Bayfield Peninsula. The Lakeshore contains lighthouses, sea caves, natural animal habitats as well as primitive camping. It is administered by the National Park Service.

National Scenic Riverway — The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in northwest Wisconsin is managed by the National Park Service. It was created to conserve the scenery, historical and natural habitats located along the river corridor. The Riverway includes much of the Namekagon River as well.

National Wildlife Refuge — The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of land and water for the conservation, management and, when appropriate, the restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and habitats.

State properties:

State Forest — The management of state forests balances the sustainable harvest of wood products Wand protection of natural resources while providing a range of recreational opportunities. In addition to forest recreational activities, state forests provide opportunities along lakes, rivers and streams as many state forests were formed around watersheds in an effort to protect fragile aquatic ecosystems.

Demonstration (Demo) Forests — The purpose of Wisconsin’s demonstration forests is to present sustainable forest management and responsible land stewardship. The management concepts can be applied as educational tools for students, professional foresters and non-industrial private forest landowners.

Forest Legacy Program — These properties are funded through the Forest Legacy Program which is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Program is a cost-share program that allows the Department to place large blocks of conservation easements on private forest land that may be threatened by subdivision to residential or commercial development. Forest legacy easements open the land to public access activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing and other low-intensity recreation. The land remains under private ownership and can be sold; however, the easement will persist and perpetually allow public access.

Wildlife Areas — State wildlife areas are managed to provide high quality habitats for game and non-game species. Although the primary purpose is to provide places for hunting and trapping, and fishing where water access is available, wildlife areas are popular destinations for wildlife watching, hiking, snow-shoeing and dog walking. Trails on these properties are usually primitive with little or no maintenance.

State Park — These properties provide areas for public recreation and instruction in conservation and outdoor skills. Wisconsin’s state parks harbor many ecological and scenic gems as well as preserve state historical and archaeological sites. Camping, hiking, boating, hiking, horseback riding and swimming are among the many activities that attract over 17 million visitors each year to the state park system.

Recreation Areas — State recreation areas provide opportunities for the public to participate in a wide range of day-use outdoor activities. These properties are similar to state parks but do not include overnight camping.

Scenic Waters Areas — There are three Scenic Waters Areas in the northern portion of the state: Chippewa Flowage, Turtle-Flambeau and Willow Flowage. The flowages were created in the 1920s to reduce flooding and generate hydroelectricity. Today they provide exceptional fishing, boating and primitive camping opportunities.

Wild Rivers — The wild river designation provides conservation and public access to the state’s most scenic and pristine rivers. Like our state parks, these wild rivers attract visitors from Wisconsin and the Midwest and are important to the economic health of the tourism industry. There are three scenic rivers in northern Wisconsin: Totogatic, Pine-Popple and Pike. Water levels can vary between seasons and caution is advised when kayaking or canoeing.

Natural Areas — State Natural Areas (SNA) provide a glimpse into how the state appeared 200 years ago and provide a baseline from which to evaluate current and future management actions. Some SNAs support rare or endangered species while others represent prime examples of remaining occurrences of native plant communities such as fen, oak savannas and boreal forests. While many of the +600 SNAs are embedded within other state, federal and local protected areas, there are 100,000 acres of ‘free-standing’ SNAs found throughout the state. While activities can vary on SNAs, most are limited to low-impact outdoor recreation such as hiking and wildlife viewing. Fishery Areas—State fishery areas protect land along many of Wisconsin’s highest quality streams, rivers and lakes. They protect critical springs and spawning areas that help support fisheries and provide exceptional angling opportunities. Upland areas of fishery areas also provide opportunities for hunting, trapping, hiking, berry-picking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In addition to state fishery areas the department has secured public fishing access through the Stream Bank Easement program.

State Trail — The department manages a system of state trails, some through cooperation with local and federal government. Each of the trails, even small segments of a trail, have multiple uses that may include hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, ATV use or more. Two trails, the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Ice Age Trail are also national trails that share administration with the National Park Service.

Conservation Area — Conservation areas are designed to accomplish ecological goals over very broad areas. In most cases, these landscape-scale projects are designed to meet these goals through a combination of protected lands set within a mosaic of working farmlands. The Department has established two Conservation Areas: Southwest Wisconsin Grassland & Stream Conservation Area and the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area.

Hatcheries and Rearing Station — The department operates hatcheries, egg collection facilities and rearing stations which raise millions of fish to be stocked each year in lakes and rivers where there is little or no natural reproduction. These facilities provide fishing opportunities for the many anglers that visit state lakes and streams. Hatchery tours are available by appointment for classrooms, scouts and other groups wanting to learn more about fish management. Public hunting is not allowed adjacent to the facilities.

Remnant Fishery Habitat (REM) — Remnant areas protect individual tracts of land of fish habitat for cold water species. The REMs usually occur in widely scattered areas along cold-water trout streams and include the most important spawning areas and springs. Public Access—These are places to launch a boat or fish from shore or pier. These sites are displayed in the maps as “Boat Ramp” or “Carry-In Boat Ramp”. There are over 3,000 public boat access sites in Wisconsin, many provide vehicle and trailer parking areas, and some provide restroom facilities or cleaning stations.

Tree Nursery — The department operates three tree nurseries to ensure a consistent supply of high quality seedling of desirable forest species, at an economical cost, to encourage reforestation in Wisconsin. The state nurseries are fenced and gated but are open to the public for customer service during regular business hours. Tours of nursery grounds are available by appointment. Public hunting is not allowed within the fenced areas.

County and local properties:

County forest — According to s. 28.11(1), Wis. Stats., the purpose of county forests is to “...enable and encourage the planned development and management of county forests for optimum production of forest products together with recreational opportunities, wildlife, watershed protection and stabilization of stream flow, giving full recognition to the concept of multiple-use to assume maximum public benefits.” Activities on county forests may include hiking, hunting, fishing, cross-country skiing and ATV use. Respect on-ground signage for allowed activities.

Local parkland — Most Wisconsin counties and municipalities own and manage parks, green spaces and other conservation/recreation land for public use. These lands range from town/city parks to county greenways and recreation areas. The source of data representing local parks in this atlas is a compilation from an external vendor and may not contain all local parks within Wisconsin. Activities allowed on local parkland are varied, therefore respect and obey on-ground signage as dictated by the local municipality.

Non-governmental Conservation Organization (NCO) — Non-governmental conservation organizations actively work to protect natural resources by acquiring land and/or conservation easements. These organizations are run by local people who have a shared passion for preserving their communities’ natural heritage. In Wisconsin there are about 50 NCOs that own and manage conservation land and include land trusts, such as Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and Dane County Land Trust, and non-profits such as The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Society. Together NCOs have permanently protected over 280,000 acres of the state’s special places with matched funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Most are open to public access however some may protect sensitive plant and animal communities and limit access and activities. Contact the NCO for access information and respect and obey on-ground signage.

Data sources

Data sources and limitations

While every effort was made to accurately show public access lands in Wisconsin, the maps quickly become out of date as land is acquired or sold by various agencies. This publication is expected to be updated every two years.

No warranty, express or implied, is made regarding accuracy, completeness, or legality of the information herein. The boundaries depicted on this map may not represent the legal ownership boundaries of any property. The delineation of legal boundaries may only be conducted by a licensed surveyor. A brief discussion of some of the data sources follows.

Federal land data comes from a variety of sources, including U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gap Analysis Program's PADUS database, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Cadastral Geodatabase and the U. S. Forest Service Basic Ownership data.

DNR ownership and easements data are from the DNR Land Records System and 1:24,000-scale DNR Managed Lands Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database.

County forest data comes from the Wisconsin Forest Inventory & Reporting System maintained by the DNR Division of Forestry. The property boundaries in this layer are more accurate than those for most of the other public access lands types which in some cases leads to gaps appearing between county forest lands and, for instance, DNR land where in fact the lands are adjacent

The data for county and local parkland acquired with no Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds is known to be incomplete and unreliable in some places but is created from two different data sources. County Park Data was obtained by the DNR from Wisconsin Counties and Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) in 2012. County and Local parkland data is also shown using ESRI World Street Map, a data source provided by the GIS software company ESRI. There are known inaccuracies with this data, as such the parks are represented as points and used at zoomed-out scales to minimize data inaccuracies. These two datasets are the best available data to represent County and Local parkland at this time.

The data for roads and highways comes from The OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. OpenStreetMap is a project aimed at creating a free, world-wide geographic data set that focuses on transportation infrastructure. The OpenStreetMap data is mostly collected by OSM project members using GPS devices and then entered into a central database with specialized editors. As a part of this transport infrastructure, OpenStreetMap contains roads for the state of Wisconsin. DNR staff downloaded the roads data for Wisconsin through the GeoFabrik website in 2016. (GeoFabrik is a company that supports OpenStreetMap and helps make the data accessible to the public) The OpenStreetMap data is periodically updated by DNR staff as they become aware of specific issues with the data.

State trails data come from the DNR, North Country Trail Association and Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Data regarding boat access sites is maintained in a 1:24,000-scale layer by the DNR Bureau of Facilities and Lands.

Data about parking areas is currently available statewide for some properties in a 1:24,000-scale layer.

Township, Section and Grants-of-Land data are from the DNR's 1:24,000-scale Landnet database.

Data are best-available statewide and/or current as of 2019.

Feedback

The DNR plans to update this atlas in subsequent years and is interested in getting your feedback on ways to improve its content and format. We also want to better understand the different ways that readers use the atlas. If you have ideas, advice, comments or criticisms, we'd like to hear from you by setting your browser to http://dnr.wi.gov keyword search "atlas".

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

While every effort has been made to accurately show public access lands in Wisconsin, the maps quickly become out of date as land is acquired or sold by various agencies. While the county PDF maps are expected to be updated every two weeks, the atlas is required to be updated every two years.

No warranty, express or implied, is made regarding accuracy, completeness, or legality of the information herein. The boundaries depicted on these maps may not represent the legal ownership boundaries of any property. The delineation of legal boundaries may only be conducted by a licensed surveyor.

Not shown on the maps are lands that are open to public access for only a limited number of years, such as lands enrolled in the Managed Forest Law (MFL) or Voluntary Public Access (VPA) programs. For locations of these lands, see the box to the right. Also not shown are private lands that are leased by the DNR. Certain public lands, such as local school forests, are not shown because there is no statewide spatial database for them.

Last revised: Tuesday February 11 2020