Perhaps the most stunning nature preserve in Ozaukee County is Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve in the Town of Grafton. It has become a destination for plein air painters, photographers, bird watchers and souls in search of the renewal that only nature can offer. One woman remarked in passing on a Sunday morning, ‘this is my church.’ A place of solitude and raw beauty, it invites meditation.
The heart of this place is the natural area, a state designation for a place relatively unchanged since pre-settlement times. Encompassing the larger ravines, the forest floor, now covered in ice and snow, promises to break open in an abundance wildflowers from early spring through early summer. Ozaukee County Parks has built a lovely staircase descending through the ravine, over a rippling stream and down to the endless beach. It not only makes the descent safe and easy, but protects the ravine from the erosion that would happen if it were walked and climbed over and over. Natural areas are not common and preserving them takes effort and care.
This natural area and beach has been selected as one of the Ozaukee Treasures Sites for this year’s Treasures of Oz on June 14th. At that time, docents will be available to talk not only about what makes this a “natural area,” but about the Lake Michigan Clay Bluffs that form the eastern edge of this preserve and the cut-away window they open to the glacial history of Ozaukee County.
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers, along with many dogs towing their humans, explore the trails all winter long. Winter is the prime time to see the actual topography of the ravines, partly hidden the rest of the year by the leaves. The view from the top of the Clay Bluffs offers a chance to see Lake Michigan frozen over for the first time since 1979, and perhaps catch glimpses of the water opening as the thaw begins.
Lion’s Den offers a plowed parking area, a portable restroom off the parking lot and numerous benches along the trails. As with any winter walk, appropriate dress and good boots and taking care to watch for ice matter. The preserve is located at 511 High Bluff Drive in Grafton, just east of where County Hwy. C and Lake Shore Road intersects. More information can be found at