Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service

Eastern Region Viewing Area


Location area map. Catwillow Monarch Area location. Larger PDF Map (2.4 KB).

Petasites frigidus. Wild Blue Phlox, Yellow Violet, Great White Trillium, Virginia Waterleaf, Wild Leek, Wild Sarsaparilla, and ferns are shown growing in the CMA's main trail near an opening (visible in the upper right corner).  Photo by Nicole Shutt, USDA Forest Service.

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. This photo, looking east from the center of two-part opening 2E1a-2E1b, shows an expansive patch of Common Milkweed with Purple Giant Hyssop in the background.  Photo by Ashley Spink, USDA Forest Service.

Agrimonia gryposepala. Two male Monarchs are shown here nectaring on Common Milkweed with a Yellow-banded Bumble Bee, a Dunn Skipper, and a partially-hidden Krautwurm's Fritillary – just some of the floral visitors you can observe at the CMA.  Photo by Susannah Rogers, USDA Forest Service.

Catwillow Monarch Area

Forest: Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

District: Lakewood-Laona Ranger District - Laona Unit

Description: The Catwillow Monarch Area, near Catwillow Creek, is a gated trail system of wildlife openings nearly surrounded by upland hardwood forest and managed specifically for native plants and their pollinators. Almost one square mile in size, the Catwillow Monarch Area includes part of a large bog and is southwest of the town of Armstrong Creek in northeastern Wisconsin.

Several habitats await your exploration within the Catwillow Monarch Area: northern mesic forest, black spruce bog/muskeg, and many openings within the forest. Sugar Maple and American Basswood with scattered Yellow Birch and Eastern Hemlock, along with a wide variety of other trees, including Black Cherry, White Birch, Quaking Aspen, and Balsam Fir, dominate the rich upland forest. On the western edge of the area is a bog that supports stunted Black Spruce and some Tamarack. Forty-one small openings (mostly under a half acre in size) exist in the forest, arranged in five east-west tiers extending from the main, gated, north-south trail, and these openings make the Catwillow Monarch Area unique. Instead of regularly mowing entire openings to prevent encroaching tree growth (as elsewhere on the National Forest), District personnel only occasionally mow the trail through Catwillow Monarch Area openings. Invading woody vegetation is allowed to slowly move openings towards savannah habitat; and then small trees and shrubs are hand-cut when it is time to reset the successional clock. This management approach allows a rich diversity of native ground flora to thrive in the openings. As a result, the Catwillow Monarch Area teems with such beautiful native wildflowers as American Figwort, Common Milkweed, Common Yarrow, Daisy Fleabane, Flat-top Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great St. John's Wort, Orange Jewelweed, Purple Giant Hyssop, Wild Basil, Wild Columbine, Wild Ginger, Wild Lettuce, and many more. There are also grasses and a wide variety of sedges and ferns (including Interrupted, Lady, Maiden-hair, Ostrich, Royal, Sensitive, and more).

As the name implies, the abundant wildflowers of Catwillow Monarch Area provide excellent habitat for Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). A diverse assemblage of native pollinators call this place home, including the West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis – a Regional Forester Sensitive Species found in only one other part of the Lakewood-Laona Ranger District), Krautwurm's Fritillary (Speyeria cybele krautwunni – an uncommon subspecies of the Great Spangled Fritillary), and the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee (Bombus terricola – a formerly common species that has recently suffered widespread population declines across the country).

Viewing Information: Although the access road is not plowed in winter, each month of the growing season provides different experiences to enjoy (from bud break to leaf fall), and two times of the year stand out for exceptional wildflower viewing opportunities. During the first three weeks of May, the rich hardwood soil of the surrounding forest hosts a number of spring ephemerals and other plants that together provide a beautiful wildflower show before the trees leaf out. These include Bloodroot, Trout Lily, Spring Beauty, Squirrel Corn, Dutchman's breeches, and many species of violets, Wild Blue Phlox, Virginia Waterleaf, Broad-Leaved Toothwort, Blue Cohosh, Great White Trillium, Nodding Trillium, and Wild Leek. This is the time to visit if you would like to see West Virginia White Butterflies and Osmia mason bees or listen to nearly constant birdsong while you explore the Catwillow Monarch Area.

Perhaps the absolute best time to visit Catwillow Monarch Area is during July when the Common Milkweed is in full bloom. During this time of year, it is not uncommon to be welcomed into the openings by a cloud of butterflies, including fritillaries, skippers, and Monarchs. You can see bumble bees and other native bees buzzing from plant to plant as they perform essential pollination services, watch colorful dragonflies zipping about overhead as they catch mosquitos, and might even be startled by a doe and her fawn bursting from their beds amongst the wildflowers. It'll be an experience you won't soon forget!

One can spend several days exploring the Catwillow Monarch Area, but if you have limited time, check out the large, two-part opening on the second tier (2E1a & 2E1b) where there is a lot of milkweed and a scenic view. Tiers 3 and 4 also offer good viewing opportunities. Take Tier 4 all the way to the west to explore the large bog. The Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis) has been seen in the westernmost openings of Tier 4, and the bog harbors interesting plants such as Labrador-tea, cranberries, Purple Pitcher-Plant, and Sphagnum mosses. On the east side of the Catwillow Monarch Area, a small drainage passes through Tiers 5, 4, and 3 and hosts Northern Blue Flag Iris, Northern Bugleweed, Spotted Joe-pye Weed, Virginia Wild Rye, and Woolgrass (plus the second opening on the east side of Tier 5 [5E2] often has a wildlife-attracting puddle). The very small openings on Tier 1 have Common Blackberry and, along with the more widely distributed American Red Raspberry, can offer berry-picking opportunities in late summer. Various aster and goldenrod species continue to flower and provide food for bumble bees while autumn paints the hardwoods in splendid colors.

Safety First: The road to Catwillow Monarch Area (FR 2372) is not plowed in winter and contains rocks and muddy spots, so a high clearance vehicle is recommended to get you to the site. When you arrive, please park carefully along the roadsides and do not block the gate. You will need to walk in from the gate as motorized vehicle use is prohibited on Catwillow Monarch Area trails (to protect the vegetation and easily compacted soil). Bring a compass and a map or aerial photo. The main trail extends about a mile, but it is possible to travel several miles in a day if you choose to explore the openings or bog. Off-trail hiking is permitted, but please tread lightly. Wear appropriate footwear with ankle support, and be sure to carry enough water. Biting insects such as deer ticks, wood ticks, and mosquitos also call this area home, so long pants and insect repellent are recommended. In addition, black bear are frequently sighted, and cellular telephone service is poor in the Catwillow Monarch Area.

Directions: The Catwillow Monarch Area is primarily in Section 17 of Township 36 North, Range 16 East in Forest County. Drive Goodman Park Road (FR 2136), then turn north onto graveled Michigan Creek Road (FR 2134). After 3.6 miles, turn left onto Peshtigo River Road (FR 2131). Drive 2 miles, and then watch for an un-gated, "two-track" gravel road to your right (FR 2372). Turn right onto FR 2372, and drive for just over a mile until you see a gated trail on your left in an open area near a bend in the road (there is a Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey marker in this open area: a brown carsonite post with a white bird sticker and white "108" number stickers). Park carefully along the roadsides (please don't block the gate), and walk up the gated trail into the Catwillow Monarch Area.

Ownership and Management: USDA Forest Service, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Lakewood-Laona Ranger District.

Closest Town: Armstrong Creek, Wisconsin.