Midwest Living Review
Sprawling more than 32,000 acres, the Horicon Marsh in central Wisconsin is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States and one of the largest in the world. Every spring and fall, 500,000 migratory birds stop in for food and rest before continuing their trek north or south. During the summer, many species of birds stay to raise their young. The marsh is so large, and its habitat so varied, 291 species of birds have been sighted here, including the rare common loon, trumpeter swan, peregrine falcon and both the black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos. In 1991, it was named a Wetland of International Importance. The marsh's northern two-thirds is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, while its southern one-third is under the management of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources as Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area. The eastern edge of the marsh features the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Office & Visitor Center, which offers maps, a small number of educational displays and a gift shop. At the Horicon Marsh International Education Center, located on the marsh's southeastern end, you'll find additional educational displays, maps, and access to several hiking trails and viewing spots. The marsh is quite stunning, featuring a variety of landscape such as open water, cattail marsh upland prairie and wooded wetlands. Although you can take a 50-mile auto tour encircling the entire marsh, the best way to experience it is au naturel: hiking, biking or on the water. Several areas of the marsh are open to hiking, with about a dozen miles of trail. The trails are either grass or gravel and relatively flat. A popular trail on the marsh's northwestern edge features a floating boardwalk. Biking is another way to see the marsh. In addition to cycling on roads and marsh trails, you can ride along the Wild Goose State Trail, a 34-mile crushed-limestone path from Juneau to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; its middle section runs along the marsh's western edge. For the most intimate view of the marsh, you can rent a kayak or canoe at Blue Heron Landing in Horicon. The business also runs pontoon boat tours and sunset marsh cruises. Every May, the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival is a four-day blowout event featuring guided birding tours, boat rides, lectures and more.