Welcome, adventure traveler, to the great wilderness of Central Wisconsin, a unique and diverse landscape rich in wild areas and wildlife. Over 550,000 acres of publicly-owned lands and waterways provide innumerable opportunities for low-impact recreation, be it hiking, biking, birdwatching, camping, canoeing, kayaking or cross-country skiing. From the spectacular Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to state forests and wildlife areas, to county parks and forests, to unique educational destinations like the International Crane Foundation and Aldo Leopold Center, to cultural destinations like the Warrens Cranberry Discovery Center and the Portage Canal, there is something for everybody in the region.
The Central Sand Plains, as it is referred to by ecologists, is a landscape of extensive wetlands, woodlands, lakes, wild rivers and dramatic bluffs. The region is home to some of the most spectacular—and rarest—of Wisconsin’s wildlife:whooping and sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse, bald eagles, wolves, black bear, Karner blue butterflies and Kirtland’s warblers(both nationally endangered species). Despite the abundant wild areas and wildlife, the region is relatively little known to Wisconsin and area citizens. Yet these wild lands lie only a few hours from major Midwest metropolitan areas of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities!
The Central Sands Region that encompasses portions of eleven counties is what remains of a vast ancient lake, Glacial Lake Wisconsin, that formed in front of the advancing glacier approximately 19,000 years ago. The glacier blocked drainage of the region to the south, damming a large body of water to form the lake. As the glacier melted approximately 14,000 years ago, a drainage way opened to the south along the east side of the Baraboo Hills, and the expansive glacial lake drained rapidly (geologists suggest it took only several days to drain the whole lake), carving out of the soft sandstone what are now known as the Wisconsin Dells and the bluffs along the Lower Wisconsin River.
The region provides unique cultural and historical opportunities, as well. Diverse cultural destinations are highlighted, from Native American sites, museums and historic buildings to special attractions. This region is also the land of renowned conservation leaders Aldo Leopold and John Muir. A traveler can visit the historic “Leopold Shack” along the Wisconsin River and the nearby John Muir County Park, childhood home of John Muir. Segments of the National Ice Age Trail lie within the region.
The vast wetlands of the ancient Glacial Lake Wisconsin now produce the largest cranberry yields of the country; the cranberry “bogs” of today provide important wildlife habitat where water is impounded. Visitors have the opportunity to tour a working cranberry farm or enjoy the annual Warrens Cranberry Festival. The western part of the region has a long history of forestry activities, and the extensive state and county forestlands are open to hiking, biking, camping, hunting and fishing.
Make the Ancient Glacial Lake Wisconsin your next destination, naturally!