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Chiwaukee Prairie

Open to the Public


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Encompassing a narrow run of shoreline along Lake Michigan, Chiwaukee Prairie is a remnant of the past in the midst of urban and commercial development.

Chiwaukee is part of the last unbroken stretch of prairie of its kind in the state and home to more than 400 plant species, including 26 rare plants. More than 75 species of grassland and wetland birds have been observed at Chiwaukee during the breeding season.


Southeast Wisconsin: Town of Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County on Lake Michigan


Open year-round, dawn to dusk


There is an informational kiosk at the entrance to the preserve. The preserve is best viewed from the gravel road that goes through the prairie. Please stay on the trail to avoid trampling the prairie. Some parcels of land within the preserve remain in private ownership; we ask that visitors please respect these landowners' property rights.


Chiwaukee Prairie anchors the north end of the Chiwaukee Illinois Beach Lake Plain, which represents the highest quality remaining coastal area in southeast Wisconsin and in all of Illinois. The prairie encompasses many different types of habitat including wet prairies, calcareous fens, oak openings and sand dunes, which are home to more than 400 plant species and wildlife including more than 75 species of grassland and wetland birds.

In the 1920s, there was a plan to develop the area for luxury homes, a golf course and a beachside hotel with train service from both Chicago and Milwaukee. These plans were abandoned during the Depression, but the land was subdivided and sold in small parcels to hundreds of individuals.


Protection of Chiwaukee Prairie was initiated in 1965 by a dedicated group of local citizens who loved the prairie and wanted to preserve it for future generations. They contacted The Nature Conservancy for help with funding to acquire the more than 300 acres of remaining prairie.

Since that time, The Nature Conservancy has acquired 216 parcels of land at Chiwaukee Prairie, totaling 258 acres. Some of the land has been transferred to UW-Parkside for scientific study and long-term protection and management.

Local citizens continue to play a critical role in protecting Chiwaukee Prairie. They remove invasive species and help burn the prairie to keep it healthy, raise funds to protect land and spread the word to engage more people in caring for this special place. You can learn more about the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund at

Today Chiwaukee Prairie is recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, was designated a Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1967 and as a Wetland Gem by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association in 2009.


Chiwaukee Prairie is characterized as a "beach ridge complex," a landscape alternating between dry ridges and wet swales left in the lake's retreat. This combination of sand and clay soils gives Chiwaukee a rich and diverse vegetation that ranges from vast expanses of grassland, occasionally interrupted by small islands of open-grown oaks, to wet prairie plants in marshy shallows. The prairie provides habitat for several rare plants, including pink milkwort, smooth phlox, prairie Indian plantain, and sand coreopsis.

Each of the three growing seasons brings a different array of wildflowers into bloom at the prairie:

  • shooting stars, prairie violets and wood betony bloom in the spring
  • spiderwort, prairie phlox and wild bergamot brighten the summer
  • acres of goldenrod, asters and gentians in autumn

Mixed with the greens, golds, reds, and browns of big and little bluestem, Indian grass and prairie dropseed, they make Chiwaukee one of the few places in Wisconsin where you can still walk for a mile amidst the fragrance, beauty and stillness of a tallgrass prairie.


Chiwaukee Prairie is also home to a variety of wildlife. Red foxes, thirteen-lined ground squirrels and woodchucks roam the dry prairie ridges. Among more than 75 bird species recorded, the upland sandpiper, king rail, marsh wren and eastern meadowlark are protected at Chiwaukee. Numerous reptiles, amphibians and small mammals are found in abundance where lush prairie vegetation grades into swales--the shallow, wet prairie habitat that is an enduring feature of Chiwaukee.


Please see our Preserve Visitation Guidelines web page for more information on visiting Conservancy preserves.


From I-94 between Kenosha and the Illinois state line, drive east on State Hwy 165 for about 6 miles.
Turn south (right) on State Hwy 32 (Sheridan Road) for 1 mile.
Turn east (left) on 116th Street (Tobin Road) for 1 mile.
Turn south (right) on 1st Court (Marina Road).
Travel 5 blocks to 121st Street and turn right.
Travel 1 block to Second Avenue and turn right.
Park in front of the kiosk. From there, it is a pleasant hike along the gravel road with good views of the prairie.


Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

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Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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