Geese Galore! Hiking in the Horicon Marsh, Largest Freshwater Cattail Marsh in the US — Horicon, Wisconsin

Once upon a time I worked in the city of Beaver Dam, WI. Living in Madison, I didn’t love my 50 minute commute each way, but I did love my work. Part of my job allowed me to work in several of the local rural schools. While this meant even more driving on top of my commute, it also meant I could explore an area of the state I wouldn’t otherwise find myself in. It was these drives to the schools that brought me by and introduced me to the Horicon Marsh.

At 33,000 acres, the Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. This area was formed by glaciers and is known for its high volume of drumlins, or elongated small hills. (Fun fact, if you look up drumlins on Wikipedia, the first photo is of the Horicon Marsh.)

Where are we in the world? Northeast of Madison, Northwest of Milwaukee, near the communities of Waupun, Horicon, and Mayville.

What is there to see at the marsh? The short answer is, a lot. To specify, this means a huge number of species of birds, marsh mammals, reptiles, amphibians, along with marsh plants. The marsh is a thriving and diverse ecosystem!

What is there to do at the marsh? Also a lot! Hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing, fishing, and hunting are some of the activities popular at the marsh. Most activities have a specific area they are allowed in so make sure to check out a full list of the activities along with what to know about them on the Friends of the Marsh’s website.

Unsurprisingly (I hope,) I went to the marsh with the intent to hike. Before you head out, make sure to pick which area of the marsh you would like to visit first. There are a few locations to park which allows you to access different parts of the marsh. Unlike many locations, it’s not a quick drive from one parking lot to another, with the two most popular being an 18 mile drive from each other.

For this trip, we decided to hike the trails on the south side of the marsh, accessible just outside the town of Horicon. This can all seem a little confusing for your first visit, but luckily the Friends of the Marsh have a great, interactive map on their website. Check it out if you plan to visit for the first time. We parked at the Palmatory Street Overlook for this hike.

From this starting point, you can access the trails below. We did most of these trails in a few hours.

Horicon Marsh Southern Trails

Distance: 4-5 miles if you hike it all. We hiked 4.5ish miles.
Difficulty: Easy – other than coming back up to the parking area at the end, very limited elevation

We started with the picnic shelter and bathroom area off the parking lot. This shelter has super nice bathrooms and is a great chance to use them before heading on the hike. Behind the shelter is a flat, covered picnic area. On a warmer day, this would be a great spot for a post hike lunch. The rear of the shelter offers an amazing view of the marsh. You’re up on a hill here, but as you can see, the rest of the marsh is very flat.

We started the hike by venturing out on the narrow strips of land between the water. The first thing I noticed was the huge number of geese that time of year (spring.) As we walked, disgruntled geese reluctantly moved into the water. A vocal group, they made sure to make their grievances known.

These bird houses were alive with small birds constantly coming and going. It was more like a bird apartment complex than a bird house.

Geese galore!

I tried for an action shot of this fellow scrambling into the water. I wasn’t ready with my shutter speed, thus the blurry wings.

Like I said in the trail description, limited elevation. This means you can see for miles.

The marsh is always changing day to day, season to season. This time of year (spring, April I think,) the marsh was alive with babies! Here were two proud parents with their little floofs.

Pre-summer the marsh was pretty brown. While it doesn’t have the lush colors (and bugs) of summer or fall, there is still beauty in brown.

And it’s not all brown! This red dogwood stood out from the tan and brown plans surrounding it, complete with a small nest.

Part of the trail around Indermuehle Island is boardwalk rather than dirt. There are a few places around the marsh where the trail is boardwalk. Not super surprising I guess, as it is a marsh. If you like longer boardwalks, you’ll find plenty of them.

The telltale white and black of pelicans. One of the many species of bird we saw that day.

After 4.5ish miles, we headed back up to the parking area. This was the only hill for the day. At the top, in addition to the bathroom/picnic area, there is a wooden observation deck the offers a great view of the marsh.

What a view. I can’t wait to check it out in other seasons to see how it changes.

Friends of the Horicon Marsh
Wisconsin DNR

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