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Hike Ferry Bluff State Natural Area

Sauk City, Wisconsin



0.8 miles

Elevation Gain

320 ft

Route Type



Added by Justine Marshall

Ferry Bluff Natural Area is wonderful little out of the way gem. The views of the Wisconsin River flowing through mostly undeveloped land is a rare and breath-taking sight.

Ferry Bluff is a 0.8 mile lightly trafficked, very steep out and back trail located near Sauk City, Wisconsin that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is best used from April until October. The entire northern unit, consisting of Ferry Bluff and Cactus Bluff, is closed to all entry from November 15 to April 1 to protect roosting bald eagles. The southern unit is open at all times.Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

To find the trailhead, from the intersection of Highways 60 and 12 west of Sauk City, go west on Highway 60 4.4 miles then south on Ferry Bluff Road 1.1 miles to a parking area and canoe landing at the end of the road. A trail leads to the top of Cactus Bluff. Hikers will find a well marked trail head.  A short trail (less than a half mile) will lead you around the foot of Ferry Bluff to a split.  You have the option to turn left and follow a trail down to the river bank or right to continue up a 20% grade to the top of the 300 ft. Cactus Bluff. At the top of Cactus Bluff there is an overview will a half-moon of informational boards.  It is recommended to stay behind this presentation, however the temptation is to walk around them to get a better view over the cliff’s edge and to see more of the distant horizon.  It’s certainly a risky venture and should not be taken lightly. From the over look you can see for miles in most directions.  The river valley below is simply amazing.

The lower trail that takes you to the foot of Cactus bluff will lead you through a bit of forest and along the eroded cliff base.  Here you can see how the power of the Wisconsin river has shaped the sandstone over the millennia.  Depending on the time of year, or more specifically the river’s height you may be able to walk out onto an open sandbar where you’ll have an amazing view both up and down the Wisconsin River.

The second section of the Ferry Bluff Natural Area  is just a bit further down the river but only accessible by boat since it is surrounded by private land. From the top of Cactus Bluff you can look directly west to see this second smaller section below.  Often in summer you will see tents or people fishing along the bank.

Legal access by land to the southern unit, known as Hugo's Bluff, is unresolved at this time and is accessible only by watercraft until further notice. Paddlers launch out into Honey Creek which takes you out into the Wisconsin River. The current flows to your right taking you south-west toward Spring Green.

Ferry Bluff and the adjacent Cactus Bluff tower more than 300 feet above the confluence of Honey Creek and the Wisconsin River. The sandstone bluffs, capped with dolomite harbors undisturbed open cliff vegetation, prairie remnants, and steep wooded slopes of white and red oaks with with basswood, hackberry, elm, hickory, and ironwood. Although the forest on the summit and north-facing slopes is relatively young, the groundlayer is rich, with many ferns on the slopes and a diverse spring flora throughout. Prairie species remain especially on the dry south-facing slopes. The moist shaded cliffs contain a diversity of species including many ferns such as fragile and bulbet fern. Ferry Bluff is the site of a former peregrine falcon eyrie and continues to be an important winter roosting site for the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The base of the Ferry Bluff also housed a Civil War era ferryboat landing. 

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