Sandhill Wildlife Area
Attention Visitors: Sandhill Wildlife Area vehicle access is closed for the winter season
This seasonal closure occurs annually. Vehicle access will reopen in mid-April, pending weather and road conditions. Year-round access to the property is available through two walk-in gates at the main kiosk and off Ball Road across from the campground.
The 9,150-acre State Wildlife Area was named for a series of gently rolling sandy ridges crisscrossing the property. Sandhill Wildlife Area lies within the bed of ancient Glacial Lake Wisconsin - an expansive region of flat, marshy land interspersed with forests covering parts of seven counties in central Wisconsin. The property features low, sandy uplands of oak, aspen and jack pine forests, large marshes and many flowages. A small herd of American bison, white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, Canada geese, ducks, loons, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, owls and furbearers find a great home here at Sandhill. You will find the land is a remote, quiet wildlife oasis amidst a bustling world dominated by people.
Sandhill Wildlife Management Area is managed by a team of Wisconsin DNR wildlife technicians, a wildlife biologist, a forester and the property supervisor. This unique property is surrounded by a 9' deer-proof fence, providing the perfect environment for wildlife research. Special permits and restrictions are in place within the fenced area of the property. Please visit the Hunting/Trapping tab for further information. DNR staff manages the Sandhill property, the Wood County Wildlife Area, and the Meadow Valley Wildlife Area. The Sandhill-Meadow Valley Work Unit master plan was completed in 2011 and guides the long-term management of this property.
The Friends of Sandhill [exit DNR] has been a nonprofit group supporting Sandhill Wildlife Area since 2002. All their activities and the money they raise benefit Sandhill Educational/Demonstration Area and its visitors. They are an organization of interested persons from all backgrounds dedicated to furthering Sandhill's interpretive, educational, and visitor service programs. To become a member or for more information, visit them on the web [exit DNR] or Facebook [exit DNR].
Sandhill Wildlife Area is located in southwestern Wood County, approximately 25 miles south of Marshfield and 17 miles west of Wisconsin Rapids. The property headquarters and visitor's entrance are one mile west of Babcock on County Highway X. The headquarters address is 1715 County Highway X, Babcock, WI 54413. Sandhill is just one of many state wildlife areas throughout Wisconsin owned and managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife and their habitats have endured many changes in central Wisconsin during the past 150 years. Settlers found populations of deer, grouse, bear, wolf and bobcat. Large flocks of passenger pigeons were nested in the area during the 1870s. The settlement period disrupted many forms of wildlife. The last wild passenger pigeon was shot near Sandhill in 1899. By the 1920s, very few deer remained in Wood County. One year, a local hunter walked all day in Sandhill and surrounding lands without seeing a deer track. Only 15 breeding pairs of sandhill cranes were believed to remain in Wisconsin by the 1930s; most were found in and around Sandhill. While destructive to some wildlife, the transformed landscape was beneficial to others. Farmland and adjacent wild, open spaces favored prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse and other prairie wildlife for a time. Prairie chickens were particularly plentiful in the region during the early 1900s.
The fire was a dominant force influencing plant and animal life composition and abundance. The last major fire swept through the area in 1930, burning 500 square miles of the central Wisconsin flatlands. This fire created conditions favoring sun-loving species like the aspen, jack pine, oak and grass-shrub-dominated wetlands. Prairie grouse populations disappeared as the forest cover returned. Ruffed grouse, squirrel and deer numbers increased. Other forest wildlife responded just as dramatically as the new lush forest growth increased food and cover.
Learn more about the rich history of Sandhill Wildlife Area:
Wildlife habitats, whether wetland, grassland or forest, constantly change over time. These changes affect the wildlife that lives in these habitats. Many factors either limit or enhance wildlife populations: food, water, cover, amount of wild space, contaminants and people's use of the land. If nothing were done to the land at Sandhill Wildlife Area, the existing aspen, pine and oak forests would age and eventually decay and be replaced by shade-tolerant trees, such as maples. The wetlands would be crowded out by woody shrubs and filled in with the annual accumulation of dead leaves, and the grassland prairies would disappear as the surrounding forest encroached. To counteract the inevitable changes in nature to provide for a wider variety of wildlife habitats native to Sandhill, DNR staff actively manipulate the land on behalf of wildlife. Most wildlife management activities we conduct on our property are habitat management activities. However, a few practices involve one or more types of wildlife.
Learn more about Sandhill Wildlife Area's natural history and management programs.
The lands within the fenced area of Sandhill Wildlife Area are subject to special regulations under s. NR 10.22, Wis. Adm. Code. These unique regulations aim to facilitate the collection of high-quality data concerning multiple factors of wildlife management, managing sustainable levels of wildlife populations while providing an enjoyable outdoor experience. Your cooperation with these regulations is essential to providing accurate information for managing this unique property.
Trapping is allowed by permit only and may be issued on a seasonal basis, dependent upon furbearer population levels. Permit applications, if available, will be posted publicly by August 1st of each year.
Hunting is only permitted for certain species during seasons posted at Sandhill Wildlife Area. Deer hunting is generally limited to the annual Learn to Hunt Deer event for youth (age 12-15) and first-time adult hunters (age 16+). Applications for this event will be posted by June 1. Additional deer hunts may be instituted at the discretion of the Department.
Please review the below documents for specific rules and regulations for hunting within Sandhill Wildlife Area.
Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center
The Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center is an outdoor training center offering programs on various wildlife-related educational and recreational activities. The center, located in the spacious 9,150-acre Sandhill Wildlife Area, provides a variety of wildlife-related educational ventures. Outdoor programs are enhanced by a shooting range, trails and opportunities for supervised hunting and trapping experience. Please see the link below to view the list of educational programs and workshops.
- Outdoor Skills Center Calendar – Many programs and workshops are posted and kept up-to-date on this page. Information on Registration can also be found here.
The Sandhill Wildlife Area offers many recreational opportunities.
Note: Dogs must be leashed from April 15-July 31 to protect ground-nesting birds per NR 17.04(2)(a).
- Auto tour;
- The Trumpeter Trail is a seasonal route that provides vehicular access inside Sandhill during the general period of May through October. Please call the Sandhill Office at 715-884-2437 for current information.
- The Bison Byway is a spur of the Trumpeter Trail that allows visitors to see more of the bison enclosure.
- Cross-country skiing;
- Education programs;
- Hiking and observation towers;
- *Special regulations apply within Sandhill, please consult the Hunting/Trapping tab for more information.
- Wild edibles/gathering; and
- Wildlife viewing and captive bison herd.
Download maps of this property:
Property map [PDF]
If you are interested in exploring this property further, you can access an interactive map.