Crooked Creek Preserve

Why You Should Visit

Crooked Creek Preserve takes its name from the winding river that runs through it. The preserve harbors a major portion of the headwaters of the Mukwonago River. 

It is a landscape of steep ridges, kettle lakes, and wetlands inhabited by sandhill cranes and other interesting plants and wildlife. It’s also a great place to see and participate in restoration of the land as Conservancy volunteers remove pine plantations and restore parts of the preserve to prairie and oak savanna.

We have volunteer opportunities at Crooked Creek Preserve, including at the former Chapman Hills Girl Scout Camp, which we purchased in September 2018. You can learn more here.


Southeastern Wisconsin: 35 minutes southwest of Milwaukee in Walworth and Waukesha counties


Open year round, dawn to dusk.


For more information about the preserve itself, contact the Conservancy's local office:

N8740 Pickeral Lake Rd.
East Troy WI 53120-1836
Tel: (262) 642-7276

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Because of the high-quality stream surrounded by wetlands and oak openings, which provides habitat for rare fish, mussels and plants.

An oak opening is dominated by clustered, open-grown bur oaks and white oaks, and shagbark hickory.  The ground is covered with prairie and forest plants.

Before agricultural settlement there were more than 5.5 million acres of oak savanna in Wisconsin.  Today only about 500 acres survive, some of which are found at the Crooked Creek Preserve.  The Conservancy is using fire and manual removal of non-native plants to restore and maintain them.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

Crooked Creek Preserve has been a sanctuary for plants, birds, and other animals since Thomas and Florence Russell of Chicago turned the land into a nature conservancy and summer retreat.

The Nature Conservancy bought the first 197-acre parcel of land from Aurora University (formerly George Williams College) in August 2000. In September 2017, we purchased the 107-acre former Chapman Hills Girl Scout Camp. This beautiful property with its wetlands, oak savanna and upland forest connects formerly-isolated parts of the preserve and creates a larger expanse of habitat for wildlife.

The Conservancy has spent nearly 10 years removing white and red pines from the preserve to prevent soil erosion into the river and to restore the oak savannas that once existed on the property. The pines don’t naturally occur in the area but have spread over the years from sites where they were planted, surrounding many of the oak trees native to the area, reducing the sunlight that reaches them, and starting to kill their lower branches.

Crooked Creek Preserve is located within the Mukwonago River Watershed project area.  The Conservancy has an office and staff in the East Troy area, and we are working cooperatively with many different public and private partners to accomplish the following:

  • Protect the water quality of and natural areas within the Mukwonago River Watershed.
  • Manage our preserves to maintain rare natural communities and provide habitat for fish, mussels, amphibians and reptiles.
  • Work with individuals and organizations concerned with the health of the watershed to help balance watershed protection with human needs and economic health.


What to See: Plants

Wetlands dominate the eastern portion of the preserve, and the Mukwonago River flows across the southeastern corner.  A kettle lake with an earthen dam spills into a tributary of the Mukwonago River, and there are oak openings north of the lake.  The northern portion of the preserve is open pasture and grassland, which will eventually be returned to prairie.

What to See: Animals
  • Fish: Of the 150 fish species native to Wisconsin, 59 can be found in the Mukwonago River and nearby Lulu Lake!  The river is home to several rare fish species, including the longear sunfish.
  • Birds: Significant species are Cooper's hawks, migrating ospreys, and nesting pairs of sandhill cranes.  Other birds you might see or hear include common yellowthroats, yellow warblers, ovenbirds, and cerulean warblers.
  • Amphibians: Spring peepers, chorus frogs, Cope's gray tree frogs, green frogs, Eastern gray tree frogs, bullfrogs, and American toads can all be seen at the preserve, some more often than others.

Please see "Preserve Visitation Guidelines"


From Milwaukee (a 35-minute drive):

  • Take I-43 south to East Troy, then take State Hwy 20 west to Cnty Hwy N.
  • Take Cnty Hwy N north to Troy Center, where it will change to Nature Rd.
  • Take Nature Rd. 0.3 miles to the intersection of Nature and Bluff roads and turn left onto Bluff Road.
  • Travel 0.6 miles to the access point, which is on the north (right) side of the road.  It is marked by a sign and there is a narrow pull-off alongside of the road for parking.

From Madison (a 75-minute drive):

  • Take US Hwy 12 about 8 miles past Whitewater to the junction of 12 and State Hwy 20.
  • Go straight onto 20.  At the intersection of 20 and Cnty Hwy J, continue straight on J to Nature Road at Troy Center.
  • Take Nature Rd. 0.3 miles to the intersection of Nature and Bluff roads and turn left onto Bluff Road.
  • Travel 0.6 miles to the access point, which is on the north (right) side of the road.  It is marked by a sign and there is a narrow pull-off alongside of the road for parking.
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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