Best Hikes Madison Wisconsin - 2nd Edition  by Johnny Molloy

Best Hikes Madison Wisconsin - 2nd Edition Guide Book

by Johnny Molloy (Falcon Guides)
Best Hikes Madison Wisconsin - 2nd Edition  by Johnny Molloy
Fully updated and revised, here are forty-three of the best hikes, nearly all within an hour’s drive of Madison, Wisconsin—from the Capital City State Trail to Devil’s Lake State Park. The hikes offer skyline views, a range of landscapes, and wildlife viewing opportunities. Whether you’re in the mood for an easy nature walk or a day-long hike, this guide offers plenty to choose from.

© 2018 Johnny Molloy/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Hikes Madison Wisconsin - 2nd Edition" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 43.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 43.

Aztalan State Park is arguably the most important archaeological site in Wisconsin, located in a glacial drift region along the Crawfish River east of Madison. The area is believed to have been settled around AD 900. About AD 1000 people of the Mississippian culture built a fortified village at the site, notable for its many ceremonial mounds. Walking through the park, you can imagine what it was like for the earlier residents, while you enjoy the soft breezes off the river and opportunities to spot birds and wildlife. Leashed dogs are permitted in designated areas only. The hike begins at the trailhead at the far end of the parking area, running toward the mounds on the left.
Lake Mills, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.3 miles
This hike is a rails-to-trails conversion that runs from open countryside north to the suburban fringe of Madison. The popular cycling path along an old railroad bed shoots straight alongside a highway, giving two-wheelers plenty of room to pick up speed. Still, it also makes for a nice country stroll, at one point joining up with the Ice Age Trail as it moves along through the rural landscape. While the trail goes through a well-known old railroad tunnel south of Belleville, this hike runs north from Belleville to Paoli, passing by long stretches of farm fields as the trail heads to the outskirts of Madison, crossing numerous small bridges and moving through a shaded corridor of trees that is a nice respite from the surrounding farmland.
Belleville, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 11 miles
Named after a Native American chief who led a group of followers in an unsuccessful war against federal troops in the 1830s, the Black Hawk Unit of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway is a stretch of woods and grassland that lies just east of the Wisconsin River where it flows by the twin river towns of Prairie Du Sac and Sauk City. The hike starts out with a climb up a steep ridge that takes in the view of the surrounding rolling countryside, then moves through woodland before looping up into lowland territory, with wildflowers clustered along several stretches. Plenty of wildlife inhabit the unit, and the trails see relatively little use, so it’s not difficult to spot deer and other forest creatures.
Sauk City, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Horseback Riding - Trail Length: 5 miles
Yet another fine example of driftless topography, this hike takes you around a steep hill, or mound, that is the highest point in this part of the state. Sprawling Blue Mound State Park has a large network of trails popular with both hikers and cyclists. This hike takes in several of the trails, giving visitors some challenging hikes through woods and prairie, with plenty of ascents and descents. Numerous birds and wildlife roost in the park, including wild turkeys and deer. The park also has a swimming pool and two observation towers with fine views over the sweeping countryside. The weather is a little easier to take in the summer, as cooler winds blow across the mound in the fall. However, if you do come in the cooler months, you may very well have the trails largely to yourself.
Blue Mounds, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 5.6 miles
Woods, prairie, and wetlands are highlights of this short hike in a county park on the eastern edge of Dane County. This hike follows a curvy path through several switch-backs in woods marked with oaks and maples before circling a wide prairie and then coming close to a wetland through which flows Koshkonong Creek. The creek once flowed into a dam, but the dam was removed in 2000, allowing the creek to meander through the marshy landscape at the edge of the woods. It’s a peaceful spot with opportunities to see frogs and other wildlife.
Cambridge, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 2 miles
Beginning at the trailhead by Dunn’s Marsh, at the same starting point as the Southwest Commuter Path hike, this is a pleasant stroll along a cycling trail that runs along the outskirts of Madison, passing the edges of housing developments and flitting through prairie and woods before coming to a historic fish hatchery near a busy road intersection. The hike begins just south of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, and lies entirely along the Nine Springs E-Way, a continuous network of greenbelt with lots of open countryside that is a showcase of native ecology. Some cyclists like to ride the entire trail. Several miles past the hike’s turnaround point, the trail comes to the Nine Springs E-Way Trail, as well as a county park and state recreation area, with numerous facilities for visitors. From there, the trail turns north and runs along the shore of Lake Monona and across the Isthmus to Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
Madison, WI - Hiking,Road Biking,Trail Running - Trail Length: 4.6 miles
Following the construction of another dam in 1900, hundreds of acres of wetland were lost to erosion, as large chunks of boggy soil broke away from the marsh and floated away. Conservation efforts have focused on preserving the wetlands by—among other steps—creating natural breakwaters to hold back further erosion. Despite the threats to the marsh, this section remains an excellent spot for a hike, with boardwalks and overlooks bringing hikers through the heart of the swampy lowlands and providing opportunities to spot waterfowl and other birds, including sandhill cranes. The path also winds through long stretches of woodland on the edge of the marsh, with hills climbing high above the river.
Madison, WI - Birding,Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Snowshoeing - Trail Length: 1.8 miles
At over 5 square miles, Cherokee Marsh is the largest wetland in Dane County and is spread out over three city conservation parks. In addition to wetland, the parks also include oak savannas, glacial drumlins (small hills), and restored prairies. This hike, a short distance as the crow flies from Dane County Regional Airport, has nice views of the Yahara River, which flows south into Lake Mendota. Nearby Cherokee Lake, a wide part of the river just north of the park, was created as a result of erosion that led chunks of the boggy soil to break free and float away. The marshy terrain is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so wear long pants and have bug repellent handy.
Madison, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.2 miles
Breathtaking views atop steep ridges mark this circuit hike at Governor Dodge State Park north of Dodgeville, in the heart of the Driftless Area. The park’s sharp, steep bluffs with stone ledges overlooking Cox Hollow Lake are perfect examples of terrain untouched by the glaciers that shaped much of the rest of Wisconsin into rolling hills and prairie. This hike takes you first along the rugged Pine Cliff Trail as it winds up some of those forested bluffs above the lake, then along the easier Lakeview Trail. About three-quarters through, the hike includes a picnic area and a concession stand open in the summer, which makes a nice spot for a break during a day spent at the park.
Dodgeville, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 5 miles
Explore environmental history on this hike through the world’s first restored prairie. Start at the arboretum visitor center and skirt famed Curtis Prairie. You will then enter the Leopold Pines, named for the renowned naturalist who once worked at the University of Wisconsin. Enjoy a hardwood forest in the Noe Woods. Pass by Curtis Pond. Walk along the south edge of Curtis Prairie before nearing wetlands and returning to the arboretum visitor center, worth a visit itself. Good sturdy hiking shoes and long pants are a must on this trail.
Madison, WI - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 2.4 miles
Caution: Don’t attempt the CCC Trail part of the hike, which drops through a boulder field in a remote, isolated area of the park, unless you are looking for an extremely difficult hike that takes a great deal of agility and concentration along a twisting and rocky path. While very challenging, the hike also goes through some of the most breathtak- ingly beautiful scenery in the state, with paths winding past the park’s most stunning rock formations, like Devil’s Doorway and Balanced Rock. In addition to the bluff, the hike also runs through a bucolic stretch of woods down at ground level.
Baraboo, WI - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.6 miles
This hike takes in two paths, including the West Bluff Trail, in one of Wisconsin’s showcase state parks, which features two bluffs rising over an oval lake that covers over 350 acres. The park has a fascinating geologic hisyory, with quartzite boulders piled up at the bottom of two bluffs that rise some 500 feet over the lake, providing fantastic views. The descent on this hike is more treacherous than the climb up to the top of one of the bluffs, taking you down a very steep stone staircase through thick forest. The rocks can get slippery so make sure you have good hiking shoes here. Devil’s Lake is one of the most popular state parks in Wisconsin, and you can expect to see plenty of other hikers here. This isn’t the spot for a quiet, solitary nature walk. Boating and camping are among the other popular activities in the park, as is swimming at the beach near the visitor center.
Baraboo, WI - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.7 miles
Located in the area where rolling hills shaped by glaciers meet the more rugged terrain of the Driftless Area, Donald Park sits amidst the picturesque fields and barns of the former Donald/Woodburn farm. The Donald/Woodburn family donated the original 105 acres for the park. It has since grown to nearly 700 acres of oak woods marked by scenic vistas, rock outcroppings, and long stretches of restored prairie and savanna. The refuge is centered on three trout streams—Deer Creek, Fryes Feeder, and Mount Vernon Creek—and the hills that surround them. On this hike you will head downstream along meadow-lined Deer Creek, passing a small cave before climbing into wooded hills. Enter open terrain again at Larson Pond. After completing your first loop, hike upstream along Deer Creek in an ideal mix of field, forest, and stream.
Mount Horeb, WI - Hiking,Horseback Riding,Snowshoeing - Trail Length: 4 miles
This 56-acre conservation park is laid out along a glacial drumlin, or small hill, not far from the eastern shore of Lake Monona. It is a wonderful spot for a quick escape from the noise and distraction of the surrounding urban environment, with paths leading through woodland, savanna, and, most notably, ponds and marshes that are home to a wide variety of waterfowl. Algae grows thick and green in two large ponds, and grasses and cattail sprout from the muck. Purple aster bloom alongside the path as well. Canada geese, cranes, ducks, and herons have all been spotted on the waters.This is a nice spot to pause and reflect.
Madison, WI - Birding,Hiking,Snowshoeing - Trail Length: 1.7 miles
This hike along numerous interlocking trails in Kettle Moraine State Forest takes you over numerous hills formed 10,000 years ago by the Wisconsin Glacier Episode. The Kettle Moraine State Forest is a showcase of largely unspoiled glacial landscapes, which extends for some 30 miles across southeast Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Madison. There are over 150 miles of trails, including the 33-mile Moraine Ridge Trail. The Ice Age Trail comes through the forest as well. At about the hike’s halfway point, there’s a scenic overlook with some nice views of the surrounding countryside and nearby Spring Lake. The trail is very popular with mountain bikers, so stay alert as you hike through the woods. Hikers and cyclists move in opposite directions along the paths, since hikers are asked to walk clockwise while mountain bikers travel counterclockwise.
Eagle, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Mountain Biking - Trail Length: 4.4 miles
This hike explores the northern parcel of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, near Lake Wingra. Leave the hiker trailhead, then explore some Indian mounds. After that, take off in hilly woods, dropping to visit Big Spring and wetlands along the south shore of Lake Wingra. There are excellent bird-watching opportunities in the woods. Next, head into the forest of Gallistel Woods and the Lost City Forest. Visit Teal Pond, a watery wetland with a boardwalk. Just for contrast, the final part of the hike bisects Longenecker Gardens, where trees are planted by species and type. Mosquitoes can be troublesome on this hike.
Madison, WI - Birding,Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Trail Running - Trail Length: 2.7 miles
Like its namesake in Europe, the site of this hike is a stunning enormous rock set amid breathtaking scenery, although here in Wisconsin the vistas are open countryside stretching to the horizon rather than Mediterranean waters. Don’t be fooled by the hike’s relatively short length. It is a workout for your legs and lungs, with a very steep climb that follows a path to the top of a high butte, then a winding walk along the edge of a sheer rock face. However, you will be rewarded with striking views of the Wisconsin River Valley. Rock climbing is not permitted; no restrooms or water are available at trailhead; area is open during hunting seasons; check with the trail contact for more details.
Lodi, WI - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.4 miles
Named for the low hills left behind by the glaciers that shaped the landscape in southeastern Wisconsin, this is one of the best hikes in the book for bird watching, with a plethora of species that roost in the trees that line the path as it moves through farm country. This trail is very popular year-round, with snowshoers and snowmobilers taking advantage of its long, straight stretches. Spring brings cyclists who zip along the trail’s 52 miles beginning on the eastern edge of Madison and running all the way to the town of Waukesha.
Jefferson, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking,Mountain Biking,Snowshoeing - Trail Length: 12 miles
This hike travels the gentle hills, green forests, and open prairie landscapes of Governor Nelson State Park, situated on the northwest shore of Lake Mendota. The hike is a reflection of greater Madison, with the Indian history of Panther Mound, regal oaks, and restored prairies with extensive views of neighboring farms and forests, all within proximity of a scenic body of water. Unlike most state parks, camping is not allowed here, but in addition to hiking, visitors can picnic, visit the beach, and launch their boats from the ramp near the starting point of this hike. There is also a pier for shore anglers.
Waunakee, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 2 miles
One of the largest parks in Dane County, Indian Lake has nearly 500 acres of rugged countryside with trails winding up steep hills to give impressive views over the park’s small lake. This kettle lake was formed when a depression created by a receding glacier filled with water. This hike traces the Ice Age Trail through Indian Lake County Park and around Indian Lake, an attractive tarn bordered by hill and prairie, wood and field. It rolls through meadows and restored prairie, before crossing Halfway Prairie Creek and reaching the park boat ramp. From there the hike joins a connector trail, skirting the north shore of Indian Lake. Complete the circuit with a short walk along the park entrance road.
Cross Plains, WI - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 3.6 miles