Places We Protect

Mink River Estuary


Reeds and rocks along the wooded banks of a river
Mink River Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan combine to form this freshwater estuary, Door County, Wisconsin. © Clint Farlinger

Mink River Estuary is one of the few high quality estuaries remaining in the United States.



What is an Estuary?

An estuary is an area in which river water mixes with water from a large lake or an ocean.

As a spawning habitat and source of organic material, productive estuaries are vital to the Lake Michigan ecosystem. But they are fragile. Most estuaries along the Great Lakes have been destroyed because they cannot easily share precious shoreline with commercial and residential development.

Why You Should Visit

Waters from the Mink River and Lake Michigan combine to form this freshwater estuary. The visitor will enjoy a habitat almost identical to that witnessed by the Potawatomi Indians, who lived here more than 100 years ago.

A leisurely canoe trip from Rowley's Bay to the spring-fed headwaters of the Mink River provides a great opportunity for bird watching.

Why The Nature Conservancy Selected This Site

Mink River Estuary is a Great Lakes estuary with regionally important natural values. As a Great Lakes coastal wetland and forest landscape, it provides habitat for a number of important plants and animals including Great Lakes fish, many species of migratory and breeding birds, and many mammals representative of a northern Wisconsin mixed conifer hardwood forest.

Mink River Estuary is one of four preserves owned and managed by TNC in Door County that is home to the rare Hine's emerald dragonfly. Door County hosts the greatest abundance of this federally-endangered dragonfly in the world, and TNC is working with scientists and other partners to learn more about the dragonfly and protect its habitat.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

TNC has protected a total 2,165 acres at Mink River Estuary.  This figure includes lands owned and managed by TNC, conservation easements, government co-ops and assists.

Despite development and use, careful local conservation has helped protect the freshwater estuary in much the same condition as when it was inhabited by the Potawotami Indians more than a century ago.



This is a great place to hike, canoe and cross-country ski.


Open year round, dawn to dusk


2,013 acres

Explore our work in this region

What to See: Plants

The diverse vegetation in the estuary features communities from white cedar swamps to wild rice marshes.

Lowland forest, dominated by white cedar, surrounds the edges of the marsh.

What to See: Birds

This is a critical migration site for birds: More than 200 species may pass through the area annually. These include bitterns, black-crowned night herons, black duck, black terns, blue-winged teal, common loons, great blue herons, herring gulls, marsh hawks and wood duck.

In late summer and fall, it's possible to see double-crested cormorants and red-breasted mergansers. And evidence exists of habitation by the bald eagle and sandhill crane.


The best way to see the wetlands is via canoe or kayak; if you don’t have your own, there are local rental companies in the county.

The trail off of Newport Drive (Cnty Hwy NP) is unmarked but well-defined.

The trails off of Mink River Road are unmarked and can be confusing to follow.

In winter, watch for snowmobiles on the main trail.


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

All of our preserve maps are now georeferenced. You can download an app on your Apple or Android device, and it will allow you to view your location, record GPS tracks, add placemarks and find places.