Skip to main content

Observation towers and Trumpeter Trail of Sandhill Wildlife Area

Attention Motorists: The Trumpeter Trail is now open to car traffic. Each spring, the trail reopens to motorists, allowing visitors to take in the highlands, flowages, woods and streams throughout the property, all in one visit. Visitors are invited to explore Sandhill Wildlife Area on foot year-round, even through the colder months.

The Trumpeter Trail is a 14-mile auto tour that takes about two hours to complete. A shorter route is also available. Along the trail, visitors can view and appreciate how the forces of people and nature affect wildlife and their habitat in central Wisconsin.

The trail is free to enter, although a kind donation from you is very much appreciated. A donation box is located at the chalet near the Sandhill entrance gate.

The Trumpeter Trail is open from sunrise to sunset, mid-April or May through the end of October. Please contact 715-884-2437 to verify the trail is currently open to the public prior to visiting. The trail is closed and unplowed during the winter. Just because the Trumpeter Trail is unplowed in winter and closed to auto travel doesn't mean you have to give up wildlife watching adventures in the winter. Bring your cross-country skis and experience the quiet cold of winter at Sandhill.

Sandhill Trumpeter Trail Guide [PDF]

As you travel the Trumpeter Trail, be sure to stop and climb our three observation towers, which offer unique views of Sandhill, the surrounding landscape and its wildlife. All observation tower steps are steep and can be slippery when wet. Use hand railings and take your time.

Bison Barrens Tower

The first observation tower you come to on the Trumpeter Trail overlooks our fenced, 260-acre bison range, home to a small herd of bison given as a gift from Wallace and Hazel Grange. Wildlife management staff maintain the herd at 12 to 20 animals because a larger herd would quickly outstrip their food supply of grasses and wildflowers growing in our actively managed oak barrens habitat. Throughout the growing season, the Bison Barrens is colored in hues of blue, yellow, white and orange from the blooms of various prairie wildflowers.

Check out our Bluebird Nest Box Trail at Bison Barrens. In addition to our bison and bluebirds, watch for badger, red-tailed hawks, eastern kingbirds, coyotes and deer that thrive in this oak barrens habitat.

North Bluff Tower

The second observation tower along the Trumpeter Trail offers an impressive panoramic view of several nearby bluffs and the breathtaking countryside. The trail that leads from the parking lot to the summit of North Bluff is rugged and can be slippery when wet. The trail is not recommended for people with heart conditions or those who must avoid strenuous exercise. North Bluff, a lone sentinel in an expanse of flat land, rises 200 feet above the surrounding land. Its weather-beaten brow has withstood an assault by wind and water for more than a billion years. The volcanic rock (called rhyolitic rock) was forged by the same forces that formed the Baraboo Hills to the south and Rib Mountain to the north. Its bulk gradually sank under hundreds of feet of seawater that flooded Wisconsin's landscape for 300 million years. Sandy sea sediments slowly piled up, totally burying North Bluff. Finally, the earth's crust heaved, giving rise to a land smoothed by ocean sediments.

Wind, water and glaciers attacked, liberating North Bluff from its sandstone tomb, grain by grain. North Bluff stands triumphant today surrounded by a landscape teeming with life. It serves as a beacon, guiding birds in their yearly migrations. From the observation tower, you may gaze at the sandstone escarpment to the south and west and scattered remnants of an ancient seafloor that once imprisoned the old bluff.

Thermal updrafts created almost daily by the sun-heated rock provide air currents favored by carrion-eating turkey vultures. These great blackish-colored birds, with wingspans in excess of six feet, have weak breast muscles and rely heavily on winds for soaring. They are frequently seen circling North Bluff.

Gallagher Marsh Tower

The third observation tower is tucked into a corner of the 2,200 acres Gallagher Marsh. Those wishing to view the expansive Gallagher Marsh can park at the small parking lot and take a short hike to the observation tower ,which provides an unobstructed view of Sandhill's marshlands. During spring and fall, you will see impressive flocks of Sandhill cranes, geese, ducks and many other forms of wetland wildlife. The homestead near the tower was originally settled by the Gallagher family. They were unable to afford the property taxes, so the property reverted to the county around 1930. The house was later moved to a Babcock townsite. Rare cliff break ferns now cling to the inner surface of the Gallagher house's foundation. Salamanders and other creatures seeking cool, dank environments use these old foundations to hibernate.