Skip to main content

Big Rock Pines

No. 691


Photo by Ryan O'Connor


Big Rock Pines features a high-quality northern dry-mesic forest along a relatively narrow stretch of the upper Sioux River. The site is notable for its topographic and ecological complexity with numerous natural community inclusions embedded within the larger dry-mesic forest matrix. Large red and white pine dominate the stands though boreal species like mountain maple and white cedar are found in the rocky ravines while shallow depressions perched on the flatter tops are dominated by black ash.

Clay seepage bluffs are found amongst the forest stands and a few forested seeps are located toward the bottom of the slopes. The relatively large block of mature, natural-origin pine forest, which is rare throughout northern Wisconsin and particularly on the Superior Coastal Plain, is nearly 120 years old, with some trees likely older. The mature forest in conjunction with the ravines, forested seeps, seepage bluffs, and river corridor creates a unique juxtaposition of high-quality communities.

The mature conifer cover also contributes to maintaining high water quality in the Sioux River by intercepting rainfall, slowing the flow of runoff, and allowing for asynchronous snowmelt and greater groundwater infiltration in the immediate river drainage. A rare mayfly and rare stonefly have been documented here, and the stream corridor may also be a foraging corridor for bats. The site hosts some uncommon birds such as the Canada warbler, and red crossbills during irruption years. Other warblers include black-throated green, pine, blackburnian, and northern parula, while brown creepers and winter wren are also noteworthy. Big Rock Pines is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2019.

Very few State Natural Areas have public facilities, but nearly all are open for a variety of recreational activities as indicated below. Generally, there are no picnic areas, restrooms, or other developments. Parking lots or designated parking areas are noted on individual SNA pages and maps. Trails, if present, are typically undesignated footpaths. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map under the Maps tab. A compass and topographic map or a GPS unit are useful tools for exploring larger, isolated SNAs.

The good majority of SNAs are isolated and have few or no facilities. Some SNAs have vehicle access lanes or parking lots, but their accessibility may vary depending on weather conditions. Parking lots and lanes are not plowed during winter. Hiking trails may be nonexistent or consist of undeveloped footpaths. A GPS unit or compass and a detailed topographic map are useful tools for exploring larger SNAs.

Entrance fees: Except for Parfrey's Glen, the Cambrian Outlook in the Dells of the Wisconsin River, SNAs within State Parks and some within State Forests, all other DNR-owned SNAs do not have any admission fees. For more information, see Wis. Admin. Code NR 45. For non-DNR-owned SNAs, we are unaware of any vehicle or admission fees. However, please contact the landowner for more information.

Allowable activities: DNR-owned land

The activities listed below are generally allowed on all DNR-owned SNA lands. Exceptions to this list of public uses, such as SNAs closed to hunting, are noted above and posted with signs on the property site.

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Cross country skiing
  • Hunting
  • Trapping
  • Scientific research (permit required)
  • Outdoor education
  • Wild edibles (What is this?)
  • Pets (Rules)
  • Wildlife viewing

Prohibited activities: all SNAs

  • Camping and campfires
  • Collecting of animals (other than legally harvested species), non-edible fungi, rocks, minerals, fossils, archaeological artifacts, soil, downed wood, or any other natural material alive or dead.
  • Collecting for scientific research requires a permit issued by the DNR
  • Collecting of plants including seeds, roots or other non-edible parts of herbaceous plants such as wildflowers or grasses
  • Geocaching
  • Horseback riding
  • Rock climbing
  • Vehicles, including bicycles, ATVs, aircraft, and snowmobiles except on trails and roadways designated for their use.

For rules governing state-owned SNAs and other state lands, please consult Chapter NR 45 Wis. Admin. Code [exit DNR].


Located within the South Shore Lake Superior Fish and Wildlife Area, Bayfield County. T49N-R4W, Sections 18, 19. T49N-R5W, Section 24. 159 acres.

Driving directions

From the intersection of Highways C and 13 in Washburn, go northwest on County C for 1.6 miles, then north on Big Rock Road for 2 miles to a DNR parking area east of the road. Walk east about 0.25 miles into the site.

The DNR's state natural areas program is comprised of lands owned by the state, private conservation organizations, municipalities, other governmental agencies, educational institutions, and private individuals. While the majority of SNAs are open to the public, access may vary according to individual ownership policies. Public use restrictions may apply due to public safety, or to protect endangered or threatened species or unique natural features. Lands may be temporarily closed due to specific management activities.

Users are encouraged to contact the landowner for more specific details. The data shown on these maps have been obtained from various sources, and are of varying age, reliability, and resolution. The data may contain errors or omissions and should not be interpreted as a legal representation of legal ownership boundaries. To create your custom map where you can zoom to a specific location, please use the DNR's Mapping Application.

Property map [PDF]


Big Rock Pines is owned by: Wisconsin DNR