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Big and Little Marsh

No. 391


Photo by Door County Land Trust


Big and Little Marsh features a complex of boreal-rich fen, a northern wet-mesic forest, and a large emergent aquatic marsh on marl. Located on Washington Island, off the tip of the Door County peninsula, the site harbors numerous rare species. An extensive lowland conifer swamp is dominated by white cedar with lesser amounts of balsam fir and tamarack; the ground layer is comprised of three-leaved gold-thread, Canada mayflower, starry false Solomon's-seal, and three-seeded sedge.

Soft-stem bulrush dominates the unusual aquatic marsh, which contains large expanses of seasonally dry marl and pavement of dolomite gravel and cobbles. Frequent in the shallow pools are common bog-arrow grass. Also present are false mermaid weed, northern bladderwort, pondweeds, and water smartweed.

An upland hardwood forest of white cedar and hemlock surrounds the wetlands. Included within the natural area is 200' of the Lake Michigan shoreline, which is important foraging habitat for rare dragonfly species. Many birds funnel through this area during spring and fall migrations and a diversity of neotropical migrants breed here in summer. Big and Little Marsh is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2003.

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. If a developed trail is present, it will normally be noted on the SNA map and/or 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 [exit DNR]. 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.

Prohibited activities: all SNAs

Although a handful of sites allow activities like primitive camping (e.g. Lower Chippewa River on sand bars) or horseback riding (e.g. S. Kettle Moraine), the activities listed below are generally prohibited on DNR-owned 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
  • Drones: Flying-related activities, including the use of drones, hang-gliders and model airplanes, are prohibited. Permission may be issued by the SNA Program for the use of drones for educational or research purposes
  • 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].


Door County. T33N-R30E, Sections 4, 5. 322 acres.

Driving directions

From Detroit Harbor on Washington Island, go north County W for 0.3 miles, then east on Lakeview Road for 3.1 miles, then north on Hemlock Drive for 0.2 miles. Big Marsh lies west of the road.

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 and Little Marsh is owned by: Wisconsin DNR

Management objectives and prescriptions

Read the Big and Little Marsh management plan [PDF] for details.