Mink River Estuary

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 Potawotami 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.


North East Wisconsin at Northern end of the Door Peninsula, about 4 miles southeast of the Village of Ellison Bay


Open year round, dawn to dusk


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

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.

Why the 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.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

The Conservancy has protected 2,165 acres at Mink River Estuary.  This figure includes lands owned and managed by the Conservancy, 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.


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 the following:

  • Bitterns
  • Black-crowned Night Herons
  • Black Duck
  • Black Terns
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Common Loons
  • Great Blue Herons
  • Herring Gulls
  • Marsh Hawks
  • 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.

Please see "Preserve Visitation Guidelines"


Map to Mink River

Canoe Access:
From intersection of State Hwy 57 and State Hwy 42 in Sister Bay:

  • Travel 2 miles north on 42 to County Hwy ZZ.
  • Turn east (right) on County Hwy ZZ and go to the Wagon Trail Campground on Rowley's Bay. A boat landing and canoe rental are available. 
  • Follow the shoreline north to reach the mouth of the Mink River.

Hiking Access:
From the intersection of State Hwy 57 and State Hwy 42 in Sister Bay:

  • Follow County Hwy ZZ east 3 miles, then north for 2.25 miles, then east (right) for 0.5 mile to Mink River Road.
  • Go north (left) on Mink River Road about 1.5 miles to the preserve parking area on the right (east) side of the road.

You can also access the preserve from County NP on the east side of the river:

  • From Ellison Bay, travel east on Hwy 42 about 2.25 miles to County NP.
  • Take County NP south (right) 1 mile to the Conservancy parking area on right side of road. 
  • Note: Arrows mark some trail junctions.

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.


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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