8 Ways to Experience the Black River State Forest

In the vast Wisconsin wilderness, two forks of the Black River diverge into 68,000 acres of forest — and create a tranquil setting to sit back, read a book and listen to the babbling of the river as it runs through it. Located just outside the driftless region, the Black River State Forest is easily accessible from all corners of the state. Explore the ageless pine and oak trees by foot or riding on one of the many ATV trails, observe native wildlife in its natural habitat, or paddle downstream to take a selfie on the beach near the Pigeon Creek campground. Whether you’re searching for a new adventure or chasing serenity underneath a green canopy, the Black River State Forest has plenty to explore, keeping you coming back again and again.

ATVing & Snowmobiling

Feel like you’re flying through the lush greenery of the Black River State Forest, which offers 33 miles of ATV/UTV trails. Grab your favorite motorized vehicle and a friend as you soar through towering trees for an unforgettable drive. If summer is over and you didn’t get a chance to journey through the forest, worry not! Swap out your ATV for a snowmobile and hit the 48 miles of winterized trails for a thrilling winter wonderland experience. After an adventurous day, speed on into Sand Creek Brewing Co., one of Wisconsin’s largest microbreweries, to cool down (or warm up!) with a refreshing brew.

Wildlife Watching

Pack your binoculars, camera and sense of wonder as you trek on down to the Dike 17 Wildlife Area, a 3,100-acre area located within the forest. You and your crew may catch glimpses of a variety of birds, wolves and even certain endangered species — so keep your eyes peeled for the Karner blue butterfly, bald eagles and other rare creatures you may be lucky enough to see. You may even cross paths with a family of elk roaming the woods in the Black River Elk Range, a safe haven for herds ever since their 2015 reintroduction to the forest. (After an absence of 125 years!)

Hiking & Biking

One of the best things about adventuring through the forest is that there is no one way to explore.

Be it by bike, by ski or on foot, Black River State Forest has noteworthy trails that make your adventure memorable. Stop and enjoy the beauty of the woodlands at a picturesque overlook — capturing the moment with a FOMO-inspiring photo. On the way, you and your hiking buddy can refuel at one of the magnificent stops with a picnic for two. For a hike with a stunning view, make sure you add the Castle Mound nature trail to your bucket list — you won’t regret it. A path lined with interpretive signs will take you to an observation deck overlooking the driftless area — a breathtaking view you do not want to miss.

Kayaking & Canoeing

Cool off in the summertime by visiting the fork in the Black River, a great place to float in a canoe or make your way downstream in a rented kayak. Canoe enthusiasts love hitting the river from Lake Arbutus on the north bend of State Highway 54. This part of the river is ideal for canoeing in the late spring through fall — just make sure the dam gates are closed for optimal safety on your voyage. Don’t forget to make a stop along Pigeon Creek campground for a quick swim, too. This area has a sandy beach and a picnic area, so it’s the perfect spot to recharge before you get back out on the water.


No forest adventure is complete without a camping story to tell for years to come — and in this lush, dense forest there are plenty of opportunities to make memories. There are three main campgrounds available, each offering a variety of camping experiences. Castle Mound campground has a total of 35 sites, 14 of which offer electricity for a more modern experience. For a more rustic, outdoorsy visit, check out the East Fork campground located on the far north side of the forest. This campground offers a more traditional camping experience and easy canoe access to the East Fork of the Black River. Pigeon Creek campground has a swimming beach, as well as entrance access for canoes, kayaks and small boats, so there’s plenty to do with the family.

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This entry was posted in State Parks & Forests