Skip to main content

Olson Oak Woods

No. 157


Photo by Thomas A. Meyer/DNR


Olson Oak Woods lies about three miles west of the Johnstown terminal moraine on a divide between branches of the upper Sugar River. The large southern dry forest features white and black oaks with black cherry, bur oak, red oak, hickory, elm, and basswood. Scattered open-grown oaks dating to the 1750s and frequent multiple-stemmed trees from the 1840s remain as evidence of the former savanna conditions and occurrence of fire. Occasional ironwood, elm, sugar maple, and basswood occur in ravines, on hills, and the remains of shaly limestone ridges.

The richer valleys and ridges of loess and shale have better soil and support red oaks. On ridges with thin, dry soils over St. Peter sandstone abundant reproduction of white, red, and black oaks occurs. Bedrock ridges and sinkholes, perhaps collapsed limestone caves, follow the ravine bottom and are scattered throughout. Nearly 300 species of vascular plants have been observed including polypody and fragile ferns on the 6-7 foot high sandstone cliffs.

Other species include blackberry, hazelnut, gray dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood, sweet cicely, wild geranium, tick-trefoil, false Solomon’s-seal, bedstraw, and lady fern. Several species of prairie plants persist on the open, sandy slopes including big blue-stem, spiderwort, shooting star, and lead plant. The site is home to over 40 species of breeding birds. Olson Oak Woods is owned by the Madison Metropolitan School District and DNR. It was designated a State Natural Area in 1980.

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.

Hunting and trapping

This SNA has multiple landowners: Opportunities for hunting and trapping depend on the landowner. In general, most DNR-owned land allows hunting and trapping. Partner-owned land may have other rules (for example, university-owned lands do not allow hunting or trapping). Please contact them directly to find out about their rules for hunting and trapping. You can find a link to other owner websites under the Resources tab.

Hunting is prohibited on the Madison School Forest lands (DNR easement land). Bow hunting only is allowed on the 20-acre DNR land located on the north edge of the property. Please see the topographic map under the "Maps" tab.

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

  • 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].


Within the Madison School Forest, Dane County. T5N-R8E, Section 5, 6. T6N-R8E, Sections 31, 32. 192 acres.

Driving directions

From the intersection of U.S. Highway 151 and State Highway 69 in Verona, go south on Highway 69 for about 1.2 miles, then west on Riverside Road for 2 miles, then south on Fritz Road for 1 mile to a parking lot east of the road. Several trails wind through 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]

Olson Oak Woods is owned by: Madison Metropolitan School District and the Wisconsin DNR