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Yellow River Oxbows

No. 361

361_YellowRiverOxbows.jpegPhoto by Josh Mayer


Yellow River Oxbows contains a floodplain forest of silver maple, green ash, swamp white oak, and river birch. Canopy associates are cottonwood, red oak, box elder, yellow bud hickory, red maple, American elm, basswood, and black ash. The low sandy ridges, slightly higher than the surrounding floodplain support white oak, bur oak, shagbark hickory, black cherry, and white pine. The presence of scattered, large, native conifers within a lowland hardwood community is unique and rare in Wisconsin. The shrub layer varies in density from sparse to impenetrable. Common species include buttonbush, gray dogwood, red-osier dogwood, prickly ash, and winterberry. Lianas of wild grape and woodbine are frequent. Poison ivy occurs sporadically, as groundcover, tall shrub, and a robust vine. Herbs typical of the floodplain include wood nettle, gray-headed coneflower, cinnamon fern, green dragon, cardinal flower, and numerous sedges. Near-level topography and sandy soils characterize the Yellow River watershed. The river meanders and turns frequently creating oxbow lakes, cut-off and running sloughs, and small ponds within the floodplain. Many rare, uncommon, and declining animal species have been documented in the Yellow River Bottoms with many being sensitive to the size, isolation, and quality of the habitat. Yellow River Oxbows is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2002.

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 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.


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.


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].


Juneau County. T17N-R4E, Sections 5, 6. T18N-R4E, Sections 31, 32. 820 acres.

Driving Directions

The area is best viewed by boat. For walk-in access, from the intersection of Highways 21 and 80 in Necedah, go east on 21 for about 1 mile, then south on G 6.5, then west on 30th Street for 2 miles, then north on 17th Avenue for 0.6 miles to hiking trail leading west into the natural area.

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]

Yellow River Oxbows is owned by: Wisconsin DNR