photo of wetlands
Horicon National Wildlife Refuge WisconsinRyan Hagerty/USFWS

Wisconsin is home to 10 major National Wildlife Refuge System units.


Four of them are within a two–hour drive of Madison:


Horicon National Wildlife Refuge— The 21,000–acre refuge on the west branch of the Rock River encompasses the northern two–thirds of Horicon Marsh. The marsh, a shallow, peat–filled lakebed gouged out by the Wisconsin Glacier about 12,000 years ago, has been designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.


Necedah National Wildlife Refuge— The 43,656–acre refuge includes the Rynearson Wetlands Observation Tower and Trail, where visitors can look for ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, eagles, swans and other waterfowl; and the Lupine Loop Trail, where lupine and endangered Karner blue butterflies can be seen.


Fox River National Wildlife Refuge—1,054 acres of wetland and upland habitat along the Fox River in Marquette County.


Leopold Wetland Management District—A tribute to Aldo Leopold, the district manages more than 12,000 acres of waterfowl production areas in 17 southeastern Wisconsin counties. It also administers 45 conservation easements, totaling 3,000 acres, in 34 eastern Wisconsin counties.


The others are farther afield:


Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (about 3 hours)—The 6,226–acre refuge along the Mississippi River is an isolated backwater that provides resting and feeding areas for waterfowl and other birds.


Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (about 3 hours)—The 261–mile refuge is the longest river refuge in the Lower 48 states. It begins at the confluence of the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers near Wabasha, MN, ends near Rock Island, IL, and lies within four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.


St. Croix Wetland Management District (about 4.5 hours)—The district manages 41 waterfowl production areas totaling 7,700 acres in eight counties and is responsible for 15 conservation easements that protect wildlife habitat on private land.


Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge (about 6 hours)—The refuge was established in 1999 as part of a wetland complex on Lake Superior, and it is still being created. Its purpose is to protect, restore and manage coastal wetland and spring–fed stream habitat. Up to 540 acres of coastal wetland in the Whittlesey Creek watershed will be acquired, and up to 1,260 acres will be protected through conservation easements.


Gravel Island National Wildlife Refuge (no public use)—a 27–acre island refuge in Lake Michigan off the Door County Peninsula that is a breeding ground for native birds.


Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge (no public use)—three islands in Lake Michigan off the Door County Peninsula that are breeding grounds for native birds.