Skip to main content

Water Recreation

Buckhorn State Park


The marked 300-foot swim area has an all-sand bottom. No lifeguards are on duty at the beach. Swim at your own risk and be sure children are supervised at all times. There is a cold-water rinse shower near the beach. A beach wheelchair is available for people with disabilities.

Boating, canoeing and kayaking

The open waters of the Castle Rock Flowage are the domain of every type of watercraft imaginable. Bass boats, sailboats, ski boats, pontoon boats, jet skis and even houseboats can be seen in constant motion.

The park and wildlife area have five boat ramps. The park has a canoe launch on the peninsula's east side in a quiet slough that leads to the main part of the flowage. Canoeists should remain near shore to avoid rough water when the wind is blowing. A self-guided 10-stop canoe interpretive trail will help you learn about Buckhorn's wetlands.

Canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available in season from the Friends of Buckhorn State Park and a specially adapted kayak is available for use by people with disabilities.

Island self-guiding canoe trail

Buckhorn's 1.8-mile canoe interpretive trail was specifically designed to help you enjoy and learn about one of nature's most productive ecosystems, wetlands. The trail begins and ends at the canoe launch on the park's east side. A large map at the launch shows a detailed layout of the trail. Ten numbered posts are along the shoreline.

The canoeing is easy and at one point, provides a view of the open part of the flowage. Paddling may become more difficult in mid to late summer due to abundant weed growth. The trip usually takes 60 to 90 minutes, but plan for more time as you may want to explore further.

You can rent canoes and kayaks from the Friends of Buckhorn State Park. For your safety, you must have a Coast Guard-approved lifesaving device for each person in your canoe. Don't overload your canoe. Please pack out all your trash.

If you are quiet and alert, you are sure to see some wildlife. Deer, herons, ducks, geese and many species of songbirds are common sights along the trail. If you are lucky, you may spot osprey, sandhill cranes, egrets or even a bald eagle.

1. Wetlands

Look around at the diversity of life found in wetlands. Water-loving plants and animals, from cattails and willows to turtles and muskrats, make their homes here. Although only a quarter of Wisconsin's original 10 million wetland acres remain, these valuable areas filter pollutants from water, store water as natural "sponges," and provide year-round recreational opportunities. Wetlands have historically been seen as places without much value. They were often filled or drained to be converted to more "useful" areas, such as farmlands, homesites or even cities. Fortunately, we know better today and now see wetlands for what they are -- natural wonderlands.

Follow the trail south along this shoreline to your next stop.

2. Frogs

In spring, these wetlands are alive with the sounds of frogs. You may recognize the high-pitched peep of the spring peeper, a small tree frog. Other tree frogs include chorus frogs, gray tree frogs and cricket frogs. All tree frogs have suction cups on their toes to help them climb trees.

Bullfrogs, green frogs and leopard frogs live at the water's edge; wood frogs and toads live on land. Frogs are important because they eat large numbers of insects and serve as food for many fish, snakes, birds and mammals.

3. Nest box

Do you see the large nest box high on the post straight ahead? Wood ducks make nests in these special boxes. The day after her 10-15 eggs hatch, the female calls the young from below, while one by one the ducklings jump from as high as 50 feet. Male wood ducks have feathers of red, yellow, white, blue and green, while females are gray and white.

4. Underwater life

Underwater lurk thousands of fierce predators! Mosquito larvae, hatched from eggs, live underwater until becoming adults. Dragonflies also deposit eggs in water. The emerging nymphs eat other insects and even small fish. Adult dragonflies eat flying insects, especially mosquitoes, which they catch in flight. Other underwater residents include crayfish, clams and snails.

5. Cattails

Would you like to stand in muddy water all the time? Cattails have adapted to their soggy lifestyle by having hollow leaves to move oxygen from air to soil. Muskrats build lodges with cattail stems, while pheasants and rabbits find winter cover among the dried stalks. Follow the trail across the river to the island's shoreline.

6. Osprey

Can you spot fish from the air? The osprey, with its five-foot wingspan and keen eyesight, spots fish as it hovers above and dives straight down to snatch the fish with its sharp claws (called talons). Look for the osprey's large stick nests in dead trees or utility poles as you travel through the park.

7. Canada geese

Canada geese -- common park visitors -- are recognized by their distinctive V-shaped flocks and loud honking. They mate for life and build nests on raised areas like small islands and muskrat houses. As the downy, yellow goslings hatch, they feed, like adults, on insects, wild rice and other aquatic plants.

8. Beaver

At 45-60 pounds, the beaver is North America's largest rodent. Beavers use their webbed hind feet for swimming and flat tails for balance, communication and fat storage. They prefer aspen, alder and willow, using branches to build dams and lodges. Dams help maintain water depths under the ice, allowing the beavers to stay active all winter.

9. Carp

Carp, the largest of the minnows, can be over three feet long and weigh more than 50 pounds. Introduced from Europe as a game fish around 1877, they have become common in many areas. Carp are bottom feeders, often uprooting aquatic plants and clouding the water with silt, resulting in declines of some native fish that need clear water to spawn.

10. Muskrat

This mound of cattails is a muskrat house. The muskrat's eyes, nose and breathing system help it adapt to life underwater. The muskrat uses its long, hairless tail like an outboard motor, swimming rapidly against the current. Mink, foxes, wolves and hawks feed on muskrats which are also commonly trapped by humans.

This is your last stop. Go back across the river to the canoe launch.