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Wildlife Management

Mud Lake 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.

Mud Lake Wildlife Area

Mud Lake Wildlife Area is a 2,283-acre property located in Columbia County. Find it south of Rio 1 mile on Highway C, then west on Drake Road 1 mile. The property consists of approximately 1450 acres of wetland, 590 acres of upland and 220 acres of wooded habitat.

The Mud Lake area has long provided excellent habitat for a variety of wildlife and migratory birds. Action to acquire lands in and around the Mud Lake marsh commenced in 1948. In 1940, a ditch to drain the marsh was constructed by private landowners. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission responded to complaints of the marsh drainage and ordered that normal water levels of Mud Lake be re-established. The Wisconsin Conservation Department (now WI DNR) constructed dikes and installed water control structures to manipulate water levels in the Mud Lake basin. In 1958, through the cooperation of the Rio Conservation Club, an artesian well was re-opened on the south side of Mud Lake to allow continuous water flow into the marsh. The amount of flow appears to be dependent on ground water recharge. Three flowages (about 50, 110, and 800 acres) have been developed and maintained for waterfowl and furbearer use, as well as provide hunting, trapping, and non-consumptive recreation opportunity. Waterfowl hunting is enhanced by a 160-acre closed area in which hunting is prohibited during the waterfowl hunting season.


Historically, the primary management objective for Mud Lake Wildlife Area was to provide hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities. As lands were acquired, marginal farm fields were converted to prairie or grassland to compliment the existing native prairie and grassland communities and provide additional wildlife habitat and hunting opportunity. Numerous wetland restorations occurred to create the hemi-marsh habitat that is present today.

Current management objectives focus on managing for pre-settlement vegetation types. This includes maintaining existing prairies, grasslands and savannas and seeking opportunities to increase these cover types. The property is managed on a landscape scale to create smooth transitions between cover types.

The property is monitored for invasive species such as buckthorn and garlic mustard. Prairie and savanna areas are managed and maintained through prescribed burning, mowing, and herbicide use to limit brush encroachment and encourage vigorous grasslands. Wetlands are managed through limited disturbance to prevent the spread of reed canary grass. Woodlands are managed in a manner that limits the spread of oak wilt and encourages regeneration of oak and hickory while removing invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle.

The Columbia County master plan was completed in 2012 and guides the long term management of this property. Progress toward achieving the goals of the master plan are tracked through annual monitoring reports.


The Mud Lake Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities.

  • Birding
  • Canoeing
  • Cross country skiing (no designated trail)
  • Fishing
  • Hiking (no designated trail)
  • Hunting - especially noted for deer, waterfowl, mourning doves, pheasant (2pm closure rules apply), squirrels, rabbits, furbearers and turkeys (zone 3)
  • Trapping
  • Wild edibles/gathering
  • Wildlife viewing
Master Plan

The Natural Resources Board approved a new master plan in December 2012 for this property as well as 19 other state fish and wildlife properties and associated state natural areas. These properties are mostly within Columbia County, but portions lie within Dane, Marquette and Sauk counties.

Columbia County Planning Group Master Plan [PDF]
DNR PUB-LF-066 2013

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: Wednesday May 06 2020