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Sanctuary Woods

Centuries of Beauty

in Wauwatosa, WI

What is Sanctuary Woods?

2015-06-18 Sanctuary Woods Summer.jpeg
2016 Ravine at Sunrise by EDaniel.PNG

Sanctuary Woods is an old growth hardwood forest along with recovering woodlands and wetlands covering a portion of the Milwaukee County Grounds north of Watertown Plank Road.


The Milwaukee County Grounds were established over 150 years ago, and historically spanned over 1000 acres in all four quadrants surrounding the I45 and Watertown Plank Road interchange.  


Within that is a ~66-acre parcel called Sanctuary Woods – portions of which served as a retreat space for the 1800s mental health hospital previously adjacent to the woods.

These woods are a critical part of a connected eco-system including prairies and wetland which provide unique habitat to several species the state of Wisconsin labels as “special concern”.  Additionally, just like 150 years ago these woods and surrounding area still provide a natural sanctuary for people seeking an escape from existing urban development.  It is possible to enter these woods and quickly feel completely isolated from any modern development.  

Depending on season and the stillness of visitors, they may exceptionally see any the woods wildlife including deer, coyote, long-eared owls, hawks, and Butler’s garter snakes.

Photo Credit Eddee Daniel.

2018-12-02 Map Overview.PNG

Select the map image to open the interactive Google Map layer

in your browser (opens a new viewing tab)

  • When this map is opened on a mobile browser, the upper right corner contains an optional Google sign-in (sometimes plain white box). Selecting this will open the map in Google Maps app (if loaded) which will then show a visitor’s location relative to any of the entries.  

  • There are always multiple images for each entry which may require selecting the lead picture to reveal the rest.  

Over 150 years, the hand of humanity has touched this space, gracing it with elements like fieldstone staircases, and a split-boulder pavilion to complement the infrastructure of the formal hospital.


To enhance the enjoyment by modern-day visitors, an interactive map has been developed highlighting some of the former and current infrastructure.


It aims to answer questions from the origins of a 6-foot dolphin vase next to a former lake, to how a crumbling cement porch used to look out over sunken gardens.  Each entry uniquely connects a location with several historic photos or maps and an extended description.  Together, these assist visitors in bridging a century of history with the infrastructure and natural beauty that remains. 

Some points of interest are included beyond the Sanctuary Woods to further expand the adventure.  Since there is no formal path system, each visit can be a custom-crafted adventure to new points on the map.  

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