Seeking Refuge: Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh
At top wildlife-viewing areas like Horicon Marsh, spring arrives with throngs of migrating birds.
At Horicon Marsh, you don't have to be an expert to find the wildlife. It's everywhere.Considered one of the nation's top birding spots, Horicon Marsh sits just an hour northeast of Madison, Wisconsin. Split into state and federal wildlife refuges, the 33,000-acre preserve welcomes an estimated 300,000 birds every spring and fall. Nearly 300 species have stopped by, from the common Canada goose and tree swallow to the rare trumpeter swan and yellow-billed cuckoo.
A 50-mile loop road reveals Horicon Marsh's varied landscape: open water, cattail marsh, upland prairie and wooded wetlands. But you'll have more fun (and see more animals) when you get out of the car to stretch your legs and picnic along gentle bike and hiking trails. Two visitors centers supply maps and birding brochures, making it easy to explore on your own. demonstrations and a variety of tours.
The 3-mile gravel Dike Road pierces the marsh's interior, taking visitors past three blue pools where waterfowl and shorebirds congregate. Spiky cattails poking out of the water attract rails, wrens, sparrows and even Sandhill cranes.
The 34-mile Wild Goose State Trail bike path runs along the marsh's western edge.
Enjoy the view
In this vast landscape, it's a thrill even to spot backyard birds like chickadees.
Check out the center
The Horicon Marsh International Education Center offers maps and tips.
Take a hike
About 12 miles of flat hiking trails (including one with a boardwalk) provide easy access. Binoculars make bird-watching more rewarding, but you will spot plenty without them.
Experience misty mornings
A path at the end of Palmatory Street in the small town of Horicon leads into Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.
More about Horicon Marsh
Horicon Chamber of Commerce (920) 485-3200; horiconchamber.com
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the northern two-thirds of the marsh as Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. fws.gov/refuge/horicon
Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources manages the southern third as Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area. dnr.wi.gov
Learn more about marsh birds and tours. Horicon Marsh Bird Club on Facebook
Rock River Tap Don't miss the Friday fish fry. rockrivertap.com
Honeybee Inn Bed and Breakfast This four-bedroom inn delights with comfy beds and delectable breakfasts. honeybeeinn.com
More Midwest refuges
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio (pictured) East of Toledo, Ottawa is great for beginners, with a flashy visitors center, boardwalks and a lively chorus of birds and bullfrogs. fws.gov/refuge/ottawa Magee Marsh is more rugged, but the park offers free binoculars, and a boardwalk crosses beds of lily pads where turtles sunbathe. wildlife.ohiodnr.govNeal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa It's hard to know what's the bigger attraction here: the restored tallgrass prairie where a small herd of bison graze or the outstanding Prairie Learning Center, with its "underground" tunnel and Native American artifacts. In May, migrating songbirds join the grassland species that will stay all summer. tallgrass.orgPlatte River Valley, Nebraska Thousands of Sandhill cranes migrate through central Nebraska each March (drawing an equally impressive flock of bird-watchers). You can see the birds from public bridges, but Rowe Sanctuary offers guided dawn and dusk bird-blind tours. rowesanctuary.orgCheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Great Bend, Kansas The nation's largest inland marsh is a key stop on the Central Flyway. The excellent Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms has easy walking trails right out the door. wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu And if you've made the trip here, don't skip Quivira, where residents include a prairie dog colony. fws.gov/quiviraSeney National Wildlife Refuge, Seney, Michigan Topnotch amenities, including photography classes and free binoculars, make this huge Upper Peninsula preserve feel more like a friendly state park. Two popular driving tours have marked stops where you can see baby birds and nests. Watch for trumpeter swans. fws.gov/refuge/seney