Caroline Lake Preserve

This lake contributes to the high water quality of the Bad River.

Why You Should Visit

This 1,044-acre preserve is a great place to experience the serenity and beauty of the wild, undeveloped lakes that epitomize Wisconsin's Northwoods, but which are becoming increasingly rare.


North Central Wisconsin: in Ashland County, near Mellen


Open year-round, dawn to dusk


There is a good, relatively flat walking trail that will take you to Twin Lakes (2 miles round trip), and another that will lead you to land owned by Ashland County (this trail is not well-marked). Visitors can canoe, cross-country ski, hunt, and fish at the preserve.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Caroline Lake forms the headwaters of the Bad River. Its clean, clear water contributes to the high water quality of the river and of the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs—16,000 acres of wild rice, grasses, sedges, trees, streams, and open water located along the southern shore of Lake Superior. The Sloughs are the largest and healthiest full-functioning estuarine system remaining in the upper Great Lakes region.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

In 1997, The Nature Conservancy purchased 1,044 acres from Georgia-Pacific Corporation. In 1999, as part of the "Great Addition," the State of Wisconsin purchased almost all of the remaining shoreline of Caroline Lake with intentions of managing the property as a dedicated State Natural Area.

The preserve is enrolled in the Managed Forest Law, and we have been managing the forests at Caroline Lake as sustainable working forest while meeting the goals of protecting natural processes, water quality, and biodiversity.

Like other Northwoods forests, however, the forests at Caroline Lake face an uncertain future due to an increasing trend toward hotter, drier summers and milder winters. In 2011, we began working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other partners to make changes to our forest management at Caroline Lake that we believe will help keep the forests healthy and productive in the uncertain climate conditions in the future

Caroline Lake is one of several lakes in Ashland and Iron counties that Northland College scientists are assessing as part of a long-term study of the freshwater resources of the Penokee Range. They want to learn more about the physical, chemical, biological and social processes that shape the lakes in the Penokee Range. Then they will work with local communities and other stakeholders to develop lake-specific management plans to protect and restore them. Finally, they will establish long-term datasets to determine baseline conditions and variability across and within different lake systems.


What to See: Wild Lakes

The last glaciation left northern Wisconsin dotted with more than 12,400 lakes. Pressure to develop this lake resource has been increasing dramatically. In 1960, there were approximately 1,200 privately-owned lakes with no development. Since that time, more than 700 of those lakes have been developed with one or more dwellings. The Conservancy's Caroline Lake Preserve protects the majority of the shoreline around Caroline Lake and Twin Lake-East and Twin Lake-West.

The surrounding forests are composed of mainly balsam fir, aspen, hemlock, yellow birch, maples and pines.

What to See: Wildlife

The wetlands surrounding the lakes provide important nesting and migratory stopover habitat for mallards, blue-winged teals, common loons, and neotropical migrants.

Please see "Preserve Visitation Guidelines"


From Mellen:

  • Travel east on State Hwy 77 for about 4 miles to Lake Drive.
  • Take a right and follow Lake Drive for 2.5 miles to Lake Caroline Road.
  • Take a left and travel 2 miles to an unmarked road on the right.
  • After one mile, this road dead ends at the mouth of the Bad River and at the Caroline Lake boat landing.
  • Park at the boat landing area, then walk 1/2 mile back down road you drove in on to start of hiking trail to Twin Lakes. It is the first wide path on left side of road; look for small trail sign.
All of our preserve maps are now georeferenced. You can download the free PDF Maps app on your Apple or Android device, and it will allow you to view your location, record GPS tracks, add placemarks and find places. 

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

Add Your Comments

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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