Backyard Explorer –  Quincy Bluff & Wetlands

Backyard Explorer – Quincy Bluff & Wetlands

Quincy Bluff and Wetlands State Natural Area is south-west of Adams-Friendship in the Central Sand Plain of Wisconsin and is just a 50 minute drive north of Devil’s Lake State Park. Quincy offers sweeping landscapes with sandstone mesas and buttes rising 100-200 feet above flat savannas, dry forests and wetlands. The view from some areas leaves one feeling as if they had been dropped somewhere in north-eastern Wyoming.

Quincy Bluff and Wetlands is not normally on anyone’s list of “Must See” destinations. You can expect to be the only ones there on any given day. The 3,792 acres of oak-pine barrens, sedge meadows and shrubby wetlands is a bit out-of-the-way and doesn’t fit our classic definition of a “beauty spot”. Still once you arrive and start walking past the old red gate, you soon realize how amazing it all really is.  First of course is the scenery. Beginning in a small wetland, you can follow a sandy old road through a variety of landscapes. Early on we saw hundreds of wild roses among a mix of other wildflowers. With each step a smattering of bees, butterflies and dragonflies would scatter in all directions. Slowly the sandy lowland turned to forest (A great place for a picnic lunch!) and was quickly climbing up the sandy side of the central bluff.  As you gain elevation an amazing vista opens up to the north. (See the photo above.) We kept expecting to see a big brown bear lumbering through the meadows below us, even though only black bear make their homes here in Wisconsin. Even an elk or two wouldn’t have felt out of place. There were certainly plenty of blueberries to keep the critters well fed!

The top of the bluff is decorated with a tall fire tower and is mostly overgrown or private. The vistas described on official guides seem long gone. We followed a small animal path through some dense scrub and eventually were greeted with open views to the west and we could make out Castle Rock Lake to the north.  The best views however, were the ones we had passed on the way up.


Dragonfly lands in front of a wild rose.

Wildlife, or the signs of wildlife, were everywhere at Quincy Bluff. We found large deer tracks, coyote tracks and deep dens dug into the sand. Families of chipmunks darted across the trails back and forth in front and behind us, seemingly unaware of our presence.  We spent some time watching a red-headed woodpecker moving from tree to tree looking for breakfast and while down in the meadows, two sandhill cranes rose into the air and flew off, cursing us the whole way!

As we made our way back to the car, we knew we wanted to come back another day and explore further into the meadows. We’d just need to remember to bring a compass!

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes near Quincy Bluff State Natural Area

From the road, a hike up Quincy’s only easily identifiable trail and back may take an hour or so. You can certainly spend the day if you feel like exploring the open lands. If you go, you should realize that Quincy bluff is a bit more “off-the-beaten-path” than some of our “Backyard” destinations as you’ll see in the map below.  This means, you probably want to fill your gas tank and have a few supplies along including snacks and drinking water. Also bring bug spray with deet. The tick population is thick. Without spray we were covered with ticks in the first 5 minutes. After spraying down, we rarely saw a tick for the rest of the day.  You’ll also want sunscreen, sunglasses and a large-brimmed hat for a summer visit. Even with the wetlands, most of the area is dry, sandy, bright and it gets very hot. We choose to visit early in the day, when it was still cloudy and cool (At least when we started out!).

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