Wisconsin’s 50 state parks have nearly 156,000 acres of land for visitors to explore. Most of these parks offer camping opportunities with modern amenities, and some also have accessible cabins and trails, which allow people with physical disabilities to enjoy some of the same recreational activities pursued by able-bodied visitors.
Most state parks are near other public lands with good hunting and fishing opportunities, and some allow those activities within park boundaries. Public Access Lands maps for each county or the entire state are available for purchase in book or DVD form, as downloadable pdfs and as a free app on the DNR Web site: dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/pal/application.html
We have chosen three parks in different parts of the state that are open year ’round and located close to good hunting and fishing on public land or land leased for public recreation. In addition to regular state hunting and fishing licenses, visitors will need a daily or annual vehicle sticker to enter state parks, forests, recreation areas and natural areas. If using ATV/UTV or equestrian trails, they will also need a daily or annual trail pass. These can be purchased at DNR service centers or online at gowild.wi.gov.
Other rules and restrictions vary from park to park, so it is advisable to consult the DNR Web site and park office for details before a visit.
COPPER FALLS STATE PARK
Located just north of Mellen in central Ashland County, Copper Falls is ideally situated as a jumping-off point for fall grouse-hunting excursions. The park’s scenic beauty will make you want to spend some time just walking the trails and gawking at the Bad River. The tannic acid in the river’s headwater bogs colors its water dark brown, and then it plunges over a granite ledge and races through two miles of rugged canyon. You can understand where the park’s name came from. Downstream, Tyler Forks of the Bad River dives into the canyon at Brownstone Falls to join the main branch.
Camping is permitted in two secluded areas. There are 24 sites with electrical hookups and a dump station near the south camping area. The showers and dump station usually close by Oct. 1, but they should be open for the first two weeks of the grouse season.
There is a rustic wheelchair-accessible cabin with a paved driveway, electrical outlets and lighting, and an accessible picnic table and fire ring. An accessible flush toilet and shower building is located 200 feet from the cabin. The cabin accommodates up to four people. A tent site near the cabin can accommodate up to two more people. Campsite reservations are recommended through October, as the park attracts may visitors during the fall-color season.
Sections of the park itself are open to hunting, but you’ll find the best grouse hunting in the nearby Great Divide District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and on state and county forest land in Ashland, Bayfield, Sawyer and Price counties, all a short drive from the park. Most county, state and national forests feature trails gated to keep out motor vehicles, seeded to clover and mowed in late summer to attract grouse and make walking easier. Maps of the forests and walking trails are available online and at forest offices. In the CNNF’s Great Divide District, there are nine gated, hunter-walking trails, each with several miles of trail through aspen and conifer cover and several acres of wildlife openings.
Migrating woodcock often provide a bonus hunting opportunity. After they cross Lake Superior, timberdoodles flying south from Canada stop for a rest in the aspen and alder habitat that abounds along these walking trails. They usually head south again on the first north wind, but mild weather often keeps them in the area for a few days.
Some of these trails encompass or intersect the decommissioned U.S. Navy ELF transmission line. You may catch a glimpse of some elk from the Clam Lake herd, which roam throughout the Great Divide District and graze along the ELF line and in other forest openings. In September, you might hear bull elk bugling and sparring.
Back Forty Guide Service, a family owned operation located in nearby Phillips, offers guided hunts for grouse and woodcock, plus lodging, meals and other amenities at their Timberdoodle Inn. Contact: backfortyhuntingguideservice.com, 715-339-2823.
While you’re in the area, be sure to purchase some locally produced wild rice to complement any wild game meals. The best rice is gathered by Bad River Ojibwa tribal members in the Bad River and Kakagon sloughs, the largest natural wild rice bed on Lake Superior.
36764 Copper Falls Road – 715-274-5123
Lodging: 24 campsites with electrical hookups ($20-$35, plus $9.65 reservation fee); one accessible cabin ($20, plus $4 reservation fee)
On-site: Concession stand (weekends only, Labor Day to mid-October), pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings
Nearby: Cayuga Hotel and Saloon, Back Forty Hunting Guide Service
BUCKHORN STATE PARK
Located about 10 miles north of Mauston in Juneau County, Buckhorn State Park covers most of a large peninsula that juts into Castle Rock Lake. The park and two adjacent state wildlife areas offer good access to excellent deer, turkey and small-game hunting, and fishing for a variety of species. This is a prime destination for a spring “cast-and-blast” for walleyes and turkeys.
The park is open year ’round. There are 128 campsites at two locations, some with electrical hookups and a few that offer year-round camping. The newer 60-unit campground features drive-in and pull-through sites, seven standard electric sites, one accessible electric site, a shower/toilet building and a dump station. There is an accessible cabin that can accommodate up to six people, located next to an accessible fishing pier. There are five boat launches on the lake.
Castle Rock Lake is a flowage created in the 1940s by a power dam that backed up the Wisconsin and Yellow rivers. The flowage covers some 16,000 acres. Its deepest hole is 36 feet in the old river channel, but the average depth is 10 to 15 feet. Extensive areas of stump-filled backwaters create good structure for fish.
The walleye and sauger season is open year ’round. The minimum length is 15 inches, but walleyes, sauger and hybrids from 20 to 28 inches can’t be kept. One fish over 28 inches is allowed, and the daily bag limit is 5 fish.
In March and April, walleyes make a spawning run up the Wisconsin River to the Petenwell Dam at Necedah and up the Yellow River as well. After spawning, they drift back to the main flowage. You’ll find them along the brushy banks of both rivers, in the river channels and in the flowage itself.
Juneau County lies within Turkey Zone 1. If you do not draw a permit for that zone, there are always leftover permits available for at least the last three spring periods, which run well into May. You can buy as many as you want, at the rate of one per day, as long as permits are available.
Buckhorn Wildlife Area (1,643 acres) fills out the peninsula to the south of the park, and Yellow River (2,188 acres) Wildlife Area lies just to the north and west of the park. Buckhorn Wildlife Area is open to turkey hunting for the two-day youth hunt, and for the first three periods of the spring season. Yellow River is open for the youth hunt and all spring hunting periods. Both areas have extensive wetlands, sandy shrub plains, and second-growth mixed hardwood and conifer forest. Turkeys are abundant there, and hunting is good throughout the season.
Both wildlife areas and the park itself are open to deer hunters, and Yellow River is open to small-game hunters. Open dates and weapon restrictions for deer hunting are listed at dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/hunt/.
Jesse Quale, of Green Water Walleyes Guides Service, offers guided fishing on both Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages and on the Wisconsin River, and guided turkey and waterfowl hunts. Contact: greenwaterwalleyes.com, 608-547-3022.
W8450 Buckhorn Park Ave. – Necedah, WI – 608-565-2789
Campground: 128 campsites ($18-$23, plus $9.65 reservation fee)
One accessible cabin ($30, plus $4 registration fee, phone reservations only)
On-site: Park office, canoe, kayak and bike rentals
Nearby: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Castle Rock Dam Bait Shop, Papa’s Live Bait & Tackle, Petenwell Landing Bait & Tackle
WILDCAT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Located two miles east of Ontario in Vernon County, rugged Wildcat Mountain State Park covers 3,463 acres in the heart of the unglaciated Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin. The Kickapoo River winds through the entire park, passing towering sandstone bluffs and brushy lowlands on its crooked southward course. Immediately to the south and adjacent to the park, lies the 8,600-acre Kickapoo Valley Reserve, a property jointly managed by the state and the Ho-Chunk Indian Nation. State Highway 131 follows the river through the park and reserve, crossing it a total of 11 times. The park offers breathtaking overlooks, a nature center, challenging hiking trails and access to hundreds of miles of some of Wisconsin’s best trout fishing. A separate daily or annual permit is required to enter the reserve.
The park has 25 drive-up campsites and 20 cart-in campsites, none with electrical hookups. The family campground at the top of Wildcat Mountain has flush toilets, showers and a dump station. Drinking water and a vault toilet are nearby, and the shower building is a short walk away. An equestrian campground offers 24 campsites, fire rings, vault toilets, drinking water, a corral, hitching posts, parking pads, loading ramps and a large parking lot. Three group-camping sites can accommodate 25 to 50 people. A primitive canoe-access campsite is located on the river southwest of the landing. Several businesses in Ontario and Rockton offer canoe and kayak rentals and dropoff and pickup service for trips ranging from two hours to several days.
The Kickapoo River itself holds some big brown trout, but a number of smaller tributaries offer better fishing for both brown and brook trout. Billings Creek joins the river in the park, and Weister and Warner creeks join it in the reserve. South of the village of LaFarge, Otter Creek enters the river from the west and Bear Creek from the east. These and dozens more creeks within a half-hour drive harbor plenty of wild trout.
A catch-and-release, artificials-only season runs from January 1 to the Friday before the regular inland season begins on the first Saturday in May. From the May opener, the season runs through Oct. 15. Most area streams allow some harvest of trout, but size restrictions and bag limits vary. Consult the DNR Trout Regulations booklet.
Anglers make good catches of trout on flies, spinners and live bait throughout the season. Easements on private land provide additional access. All are listed in “Map Guide to Improved Trout Waters of Wisconsin” by Todd Hanson, available at The Driftless Angler fly shop in nearby Viroqua. Streams in this area are subject to flash flooding during heavy rain events. Call ahead.
The Driftless Angler also offers fly-fishing gear and tackle, along with guide services. Contact: driftlessangler.com/, 608-637-8779. P.J. Smith also offers guided fly-fishing trips: email@example.com, 630-441-3645.
E13660 State Highway 33 – 608-337-4775
Campground: 25 drive-up sites, 20 cart-in sites ($18-$33, plus $9.65 registration fee)
On-site: Nature center, hiking trails, dogs allowed on leash
Nearby: Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Driftless Angler Fly Shop, Drifty’s Canoe Rental