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Exploring Horicon Marsh

Updated on March 5, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie is from Madison, WI but has traveled extensively. Her family speaks 4 languages, making the world very accessible.

If you're looking for a wonderful family day trip this spring and you happen to be from Wisconsin, you're in luck! Horicon Marsh is an internationally known wildlife sanctuary located in south central Wisconsin. It is an easy hour and a half drive from both Milwaukee and Madison and only three hours from Chicago, making this a wonderful location for a day trip. The marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the northern 2/3 of the refuge, which is referred to as the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. The lower 1/3 is managed by the Wisconsin DNR and is referred to as the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.

The marsh occupies over 32,000 idyllic acres and is home to migrating birds such as Canada Geese, and a variety of ducks. You'll also find the snowy egret, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, pheasant, and partridge roosting here in addition to white tail deer, turkey, great horned and other owls and a variety of small mammals.

Spring is a perfect time to visit the marsh. Migrating birds are returning to Wisconsin and the marsh is a popular nesting ground. Sightings of baby animals such as white tail deer and bunnies are also common. Hiking is pleasant as warm weather is returning but the mosquitos have not yet arrived. Horicon boasts miles of comfortable hiking on a variety of terrains including gravel, mulch, grass and wooden planks. Trails wind through open prairie, dense wooded areas, and into the marsh itself. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended and remember that in spring, the hiking can be a bit wet and muddy, so having more than one pair of shoes and plastic bags for soiled shoes is a good idea.

There are a number of activities to enjoy in the marsh including cycling, hiking, canoeing or kayaking, photography and bird watching. The visitor centers offer literature that includes the various species of birds and mammals that make the marsh their home. Be sure to pick one up and see how many species you can identify.

The marsh also offers formal educational series which will introduce visitors to local geology, wildlife management and history of the marsh. Some of the topics include: Black Bear of Wisconsin; Dodge County Effigy Mounds; Improving Habitat for Black-Capped Chickadees; and Wetland Habitats. In May, families can enjoy the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival which includes boat and bus tours, activities for kids, demonstrations on bird banding, guided bird hikes and live birds of prey exhibits.

While hiking and canoeing are among the most popular activities, some families prefer to see the sights from the comfort of their vehicles, especially if they have infants or elderly traveling companions. Highway 49 is the only public road that actually crosses the marsh. As such, it provides ample opportunity to pull over and observe wildlife from the car.

Though this is a wildlife refuge, there are opportunities for hunting, fishing and trapping through the DNR and information about licenses, fees and applicable seasons are available through the website at

When planning your day trip, consider bringing the following items:


Picnic lunch (be sure to clean up after yourself)

Bug spray (depending on the season)

Extra pair of shoes


Sunglasses and/ or wide brimmed hat

Wear clothing with pockets or carry a small backpack in case you have small trash to dispose of. We must all do our part to keep the marsh clean. You can also use them to carry trail maps and brochures, snacks, water bottles, and other items from the above list.

It is important for visitors to stay on marked trails and not to venture into areas that are clearly marked as off limits. This is meant to protect the nesting and reproductive habits of the various species that roost here and to promote the highest level of safety for the guests as well. Certain areas are open to the public only during limited periods throughout the year, so if you've visited before, do not assume that all areas remain open to the public. If you are uncertain about which areas are off limits, please inquire with the nearest visitor center and be aware of posted signs.

Have a wonderful time in Horicon Marsh!

© 2011 Jaynie2000


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    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 6 years ago

      Michigan is lovely. I've had wonderful trips to the UP to enjoy waterfalls, lighthouses and beautiful hiking.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      A wonderful place for to spend a day with the fam, makes me wish I was from Wisconsin...almost...hee...we have coolstuff here in Michigan too, but I truly don't know where there's a marshland sanctuary

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 6 years ago

      Thanks. I agree. It would be nice to recapture those days, wouldn't it?

    • flameater profile image

      flameater 6 years ago

      I really like that picture of a small kid running on a wooden bridge. Reminds me of happy and carefree days. Thank you!

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 6 years ago

      Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Thank you for this great hub. I love anything that is to do with animals/wildlife /nature etc So this one was a treat.