The Black River State Forest offers many recreational opportunities, including camping, hunting, hiking, skiing and ATV riding. But the Department of Natural Resources also manages this property to meet a host of other objectives, including maintenance of wildlife habitat, native biological diversity, soil and water quality, aesthetics and timber production.
Historic return of elk to the Black River State Forest
After a 125+ year absence from the landscape, elk are roaming free again in the Black River State Forest. Elk were released from their quarantine pen in late August.
While we understand visitors will be anxious to see elk we ask that they maintain their distance. It is important to give these elk space and not pressure them during their first year in a new environment. Avoiding any disruptions to breeding activities will help provide for the herd’s growth.
Activities and recreation
The Black River State Forest provides recreational opportunities that are compatible with the forest's natural resources. Our recreational facilities and policies are designed to give visitors the best experiences possible while protecting safety as well as the health of the environment.
ATVs, UTVs and motorcycles
The Black River State Forest has 34 miles of ATV, UTV and motorcycle trails that link directly with the Jackson County trail system. Depending on weather conditions, trails are open from May 15 to October 15 and from December 15 to March 15. When riding in the forest, you must stay on designated trails.
There are 29 miles of biking trails, five of which are located at the Pigeon Creek campground. This segment links to the remaining 24 miles of hiking, biking and ski trails. Riders should note that bike trail surfaces vary and include sand, gravel and grass.
Bikers will delight in the scenic views of the Ridge, Norway Pine and Wildcat trails. For safety reasons, it is not recommended to use these trails during the gun deer hunting season.
The Black River State Forest offers several types of camping including family tent and RV, backpack camping and group camping. During the gun deer season, hunter off-site camping is also permitted.
Campgrounds come in a number of different categories. On one end of the spectrum, the campground is very developed with paved walking paths and modern plumbing. On the other end it could merely be a previously cleared tent pad with no bathroom or drinking water amenities.
Modern campgrounds provide showers, flush toilets and running tap water.
Rustic campgrounds provide only vault toilets and hand-pump wells for drinking water.
Primitive or remote campsites are a diverse group that can include any combination of the following amenities:
open air toilets;
hand-pump drinking water wells; and/or
no drinking water access.
Castle Mound campground
This modern family campground is open year-round and has a total of 35 sites (21 non-electric and 14 electric). There is one electric ADA designated site.
Campground includes an accessible shower building, accessible flush and vault toilet buildings, firewood sales, indoor picnic shelter, garbage and recycling station and sanitary dump station.
Castle Mound is reservable from May 1 through early October. Outside of these dates, all sites are available on a first come, first served basis. A limited number of sites are plowed open in the winter.
East Fork campground
This rustic family campground is open from mid-April to the end of the deer gun season in November. There are a total of 24 sites; all are non-electric and there are no ADA designated sites.
Campground includes two vault toilet buildings, hand pump water, firewood sales, garbage and recycling station and canoe access to the East Fork of the Black River.
Twenty-one of the sites are reservable from the Thursday before Memorial weekend through Labor Day weekend. After Labor Day weekend, all sites are available on a first come, first served basis where self-registration is required.
This campground is closed from December 1 through April 14.
Pigeon Creek campground
This rustic family campground is open year-round with a total of 38 sites; all are non-electric and there is one non-electric ADA designated site.
The campground includes three vault toilet buildings, hand pump water, firewood sales, garbage and recycling center, canoe launch, swimming beach and access to interpretive and off-road bike trails.
19 of the sites are reservable from the Thursday before Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. After Labor Day weekend all sites are available on a first come, first served basis where self-registration is required. There are five sites kept plowed open during the winter.
Hiking and nature trails
There are many opportunities for hiking in the forest. Nature trails with interpretive signs can be found at Pigeon Creek and Castle Mound campgrounds. There are also nature trails at the Perry Creek day use area and at the East Fork campground. These trails do not have interpretive information and the East Fork trail is less developed. Pets are not allowed on the Castle Mound, Pigeon Creek and East Fork nature trails.
The Wildcat and Smrekar trailheads provide parking access to the 24 miles of multi-use trail. Hiking is allowed on ski trails during the summer and in winter whenever the trails are not groomed for cross-country skiing.
Visitors must have a vehicle admissions sticker on their vehicle when parked in the picnic area lots next to Castle Mound, Pigeon Creek and East Fork campgrounds. However, admission stickers are not required at either the Wildcat or Smrekar parking lots.
For your safety, please note that conditions differ along the trails. Not all trails are surfaced and may become slippery when wet or if covered with leaves or loose gravel. There are also several difficulty levels ranging from easy to difficult depending on the trail. The trails at Castle Mound in particular include stairways and steep climbs.
In addition, all trails are open during small game and deer hunting seasons. To ensure your safety during these times, avoid brown or white clothing. Instead, wear blaze orange or bright colors including a blaze orange hat.
Excellent hunting opportunities exist on the Black River State Forest. Common species that can be found on the forest include the following.
The forest is open to public hunting during designated seasons with the appropriate license. Areas where hunting is not allowed include:
State forest campgrounds (Castle Mound, Pigeon Creek and East Fork)
Day use areas (Oxbow Pond and Perry Creek)
There are picnic facilities at all three campgrounds (Castle Mound, East Fork and Pigeon Creek). All have hand pumps for water, picnic tables, grills and pit toilets. Castle Mound and Pigeon Creek have playground equipment and are ADA accessible. Perry Creek and Oxbow Pond provide limited picnic facilities such as picnic tables and grills.
A log cabin shelter is available at the Castle Mound campground which includes a stone fireplace, electricity, tables and an outdoor cooking grill.
Any areas signed as closed to hunting
Private land within the forest boundary*
*Exception: Unless permission is given to the hunter by the landowner or the land is open to hunting through the private tax law lands designation.
There are many locations where you can access the forest’s lakes, flowages and the Black River for fishing. Primarily this access is provided by boat landings and fishing piers. You can find a list of canoe and boat landings under Paddling below.
Fish species include:
Brook and brown trout
Halls and Hay creeks
A vehicle admission sticker is no longer required when parking in the Robinson Creek parking lot. Visitors must obtain the proper fishing licenses. Also, do not forget to review the DNR fishing regulations when planning your trip.
The Black River and East Fork of the Black River offer excellent canoeing and kayaking opportunities. East Fork is scenic with some mild rapids and moderately rocky areas. Paddling on the East Fork is not recommended when water levels are low.
The Black River from Lake Arbutus to North Bend on state highway 54 is an excellent canoeing river from late spring through fall. The river provides a scenic trip through sparsely populated areas and great opportunities for fishing.
Because there is a dam on the Black River within the city of Black River Falls, canoeing is considered safe only when all gates are closed. It is not recommended when three or more dam gates are open and requires average or better skills when only two gates are open.
Motorized boat and canoe access
Teal Flowage - provides American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible fishing pier and boat launch
Canoe access only
East Fork campground
Two canoe campsites are available south of Black River Falls.
Pigeon Creek campground has a picnic area with a sandy beach, drinking water and toilets. Swimmers should exercise caution as lifeguards are not on duty. Parking at Pigeon Creek does require a vehicle admission sticker.
This is the only designated swimming area on the property. However, swimming is allowed elsewhere unless "closed to swimming" signs are posted.
Cross county skiing
The Black River State Forest has 24 miles of cross-country ski trails. Trails are groomed for skaters and traditional skiers and provide a variety of skill levels from beginning to expert. A day use or annual trail pass is required for all skiers 16 years of age and older.
Snowmobiling and ATVing
The Black River State Forest contains 48 miles of snowmobile trails which link with the Jackson County Forestry and Parks trail system. Snowmobilers can travel on state forest trails between Millston and Lake Arbutus and between Black River Falls and City Point.