By Brian D’Ambrosio
Spanning more than 32, 000 acres, Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater Cattail Marsh in the U.S. It is one of the most popular wetlands viewing destinations for Wisconsin and Midwestern birders. The low-lying hills of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge offer great views of prairie and wetlands, fine nature walks, and a floating boardwalk allows access to the marsh and its bounty of wildlife.
Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
The Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is the federally maintained section of the marsh; there is no park fee. It is the largest freshwater Cattail Marsh in the country and birders revere this area as an attractive destination during the migration periods when more than 250 species pass through. Geese, herons, teals, grebes, and even pelicans arrive in droves to wander its habitat, search for sustenance, nest, and create more than a bit of truly remarkable sound. This birding hot spot is best to visit in the spring or fall during migration season, when the refuge is rife with significant voyaging waterfowl.
The scenic park road is a 3-mile loop of prairie and marsh, and flora and fauna. It offers three connected loops of no difficulty and 4.3 miles combined miles of trails. If you are looking for a short visit to the marsh, head to the Egret Trail and floating boardwalk right near the trailhead. If you are looking for a longer hike, start from the Red Fox Hiking Trail across the road from the lot entrance. Maps are posted here. About 200 feet into the prairie, the trail forks after a short boardwalk over a low-level area and wends through open prairie showing a profusion of wildflowers.
Wildlife at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
If you are lucky you may spot some of the elusive and wary creatures teeming in the marsh, including Forster’s Terns, Muskrats, Northern Leopard Frogs, White Pelicans, Great Egrets, American Coots, Tree Swallows, and Pied-Billed Grebes.
Early mornings and late afternoons are generally the most likely times of the day to see wildlife. A pair of binoculars is helpful, but not essential. Even if you do not see an animal, you may see signs of its presence, such as tracks, scat, or feathers. Listen and you will hear a symphony of eclectic and unique sounds.
Across the highway from the park entrance is the privately owned and volunteer-operated Marsh Haven Nature Center, which offers a short trail, a small museum, and 30-foot observation tower. Admission to the museum is $1.