Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19, offerings may change unexpectedly. Please contact businesses directly for up-to-date details.

It’s a Wild Life: 6 Wisconsin Nature Preserves to Visit

When people think eco-friendly travel, the first things that come to mind are typically silent sports, recycling, eating locally produced food and staying at green-conscious properties. Yet, there’s a tenet of the Travel Green Wisconsin program that has to do with protecting the living and breathing, namely local wildlife. Here’s an interesting mix of places dedicated to just that.

Aldo Leopold Legacy Center

This list starts with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and its namesake center in Baraboo, and for good reason. It was this famous Wisconsin conservationist who recognized that no matter how sophisticated society becomes, people will always depend on the land, with “the land” being shorthand for the community that not only values people but also plants, animals, soils and waters.

It was this land ethic that guided the design of the Leopold Center and is inherent in the guided tours. On a tour, expect to see deer, cranes, osprey, eagles and red foxes.

International Crane Foundation

Just a hop, skip and jump from the Leopold Center is the only place in the world where you can see all 15 species of cranes, including the whooping crane, the rarest of them all. The setting is a sanctuary of restored tall grass prairie, colorful wildflowers and tranquil wetlands.

One of the Foundation’s most significant efforts is its Seven Rivers campaign, aimed at preserving the world’s most important waterways for cranes. Here in Wisconsin, its field researchers have been studying the recovery of the sandhill crane for more than two decades. Tour the center on your own or take in one of their events.

Kickapoo Valley Reserve

At this 8,600-acre tract located between the villages of La Farge and Ontario, visitors can venture into the back country for primitive camping, paddle the quiet waters of the Kickapoo River with its towering sandstone outcroppings, or take part in a scheduled interpretive hike.

Whatever the choice, you’ll find native birds and animals aplenty across all four seasons. Look for bald eagles, green herons, coyote, river otter, white tail deer and the state threatened Wood turtle.

Wild Rivers Interpretive Center

The word “wild” is appropriate for the name of our next pick, located in the town of Florence. The rivers are the Popple and the Pine, both designated Wisconsin “Wild Rivers,” a program to keep certain waterways undeveloped and as natural as possible. There are also seven spectacular waterfalls in the area.

Stop in the center to pick up a map to all the natural lands in Florence County, then take off in the hopes of spotting deer, moose, beaver, woodchuck and wolves. If birding is more your thing, borrow binoculars for free at the center and take the trail right outside the front door for a little eagle viewing.

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve

In contrast, the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha is a 76-acre urban nature reserve that persists despite the urbanization that continues to grow around it. The reserve is home to lots of species of reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.

The property is not fenced, and animals coming and going include a deer herd, coyotes, red foxes, river otters, five different kinds of squirrels including the flying squirrel, and the threatened Blanding’s turtle.

Some 122 species of birds have also been sighted and recorded here. This is a popular field trip destination for grade-schoolers. For the general public, try the cell phone tour.


This education center located between Rhinelander and Tomahawk offers opportunities to learn wilderness ethics by practical application with an overnight backpacking and camping adventure on their 1,400 acres. Become qualified to be a “Leave No Trace” trainer yourself.

The land here hosts an abundance of wildlife species including osprey, deer, black bear, wolf, coyote and more. The center itself rests on an ancient glacial ridge, with trails passing through examples of most Northwoods habitats.

Treehaven offers a wonderful mix of public programs, from wolf study to snowshoe making to nature photography. Or you can simply experience their trails on your own by registering at the center.

Browse Wisconsin's top scenic wonders by county, and subscribe for the inside scoop on the state's natural attractions!