Offering a medley of some of Wisconsin’s best scenery and wildlife, Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge allows visitors and their dogs to explore rivers, wetlands, and rolling prairie.
Growing up in Wisconsin gave me a deep appreciation for the diversity of this great state. From the majestic Mississippi River bluffs to idyllic Door County to the rugged shore of Lake Michigan. But few places bring so many aspects of Wisconsin’s beauty together like Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
Wisconsin’s Pet Friendly Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the time, the 707-acre preserve served as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.
For years, efforts were made to expand the refuge, but attempts to purchase additional land were unsuccessful. Years passes with the Mississippi flooding the refuge with the spring melt, and turning the backwaters into mudflats during droughts – cycles necessary for plants to thrive in a river habitat.
In 1975, Dairyland Power Cooperative acquired a large property adjacent to the refuge to construct a rail loop near their power generating plant in Alma, Wisconsin. To complete their project, they’d need to pass through part of the established refuge, so a land exchange was organized. The result was nearly 5,000 additional acres becoming part of the refuge.
Development Enhances the Refuge
Construction of the railroad levy (the brown line at the top of the model photographed below) separated the refuge from the currents of the Mississippi River. This gave plants like burr-reed, bulrush, sago pondweed, and wild celery the perfect slow-moving water habitat they needed to flourish.
These aquatic plants feed ducks, geese, swans, and Sandhill cranes as they pass through on their annual migrations. In fact, about 40% of all waterfowl and shorebirds in North America migrate along the Mississippi Flyway. And the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is their version of a “bed and breakfast.”
Visiting the Refuge
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is located about 35 miles northwest of La Crosse, Wisconsin, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River. The drive here gives you the opportunity to enjoy part of the The Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway that follows the course of this mighty river for 3,000 miles through 10 states.
Pets at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
Pets are welcome to enjoy the park grounds and trails with you, as long as they are on leash and cleaned up after.
Pet Rules at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge
- Pets must be leashed
- Pet waste must be picked up and disposed of properly
- Pets are not allowed inside park buildings, including the visitor center
Visitors Center and Observation Deck
The visitors center, which is open from 7:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday, is a good place to begin your visit. You’ll get an overview of the park, and you can pick up trail maps and a self-guided tour booklet for the Prairie’s Edge Tour Loop.
From there it’s a short walk down to the observation deck. Check out the spotting scopes for up-close-and-personal views of wildlife in the area.
Your next stop will depend on what interests you most, because there’s more to do here than you can cover in a day!
Prairie’s Edge Loop
The first time we visited here with Buster and Ty, we walked part of the Prairie’s Edge Loop Road. This two-track gravel course is open to vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, and provides fantastic views of the marshes, woodlands, and prairie that share this unique landscape.
If you’re a fan of wildflowers, you’ll love this trail. The stunning display was truly breathtaking.
Prairie View Trail
Prairies once covered 10% of southern Wisconsin. And discovering that this restored prairie grows over sand dunes formed from deposits left by the Trempealeau River was a surprise. When the river changed routes, the grit left behind blew into these rolling dunes, which were eventually overtaken by prairie grass and oak trees.
The short Prairie View Trail offers some lovely vantages to admire the rolling hills and distant river bluffs.
Kiep’s Island Dike
Walking out Kiep’s Island Dike to the railroad levy offers some of the best birdwatching in the refuge. And, with water on both side of the trail, the scenery doesn’t disappoint. Follow signs to the boat launch and park in the lot for this incredible experience.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll see different species of birds. We saw osprey, egrets, a heron, ducks, and lots of songbirds. But our favorites were the juvenile bald eagle and the the pelicans!
We spotted the young eagle sitting in a tree along the path.
And then we saw the magnificent American White Pelicans – among North America’s largest birds – floating regally past with their heads held high.
If you’re serious about getting shots of the waterfowl, check out the photographer’s blind installed by the North American Nature Photography Association. With 10 viewing portals, you’re sure to get some great photos!
Both of our visits to Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge have left us looking forward to going back. During our next visit, I’d love to explore some of the refuge by canoe or kayak!
Walking out Dike Road to Lower Diversion Dike would also be a fun way to see more of the preserve. No matter what you choose, you’re sure to have a great time with your furry travel buddy! You can find more information on the refuge’s website.