at Chiwaukee Prairie, Wisconsin
Shooting stars in bloom at Chiwaukee Prairie, Wisconsin © Barbara Jean Slane

Places We Protect

Chiwaukee Prairie


Chiwaukee Prairie is part of the last unbroken stretch of prairie of its kind in Wisconsin.


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.


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.

In spring 2015, the Conservancy donated 150 acres at Chiwaukee Prairie to the State of Wisconsin for continued use as a valuable conservation area offering diverse public recreation opportunities in southeast Wisconsin. With the gift of land at Chiwaukee Prairie to the State, the Conservancy also donated a permanent endowment to supplement management costs at the preserve, with the funds to be managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. This gift of land will better enable the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to streamline management across the natural area, particularly the use of prescribed fire to restore prairie and oak savanna habitat.

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.


For more information about visiting the preserve, please follow the links below: