My Five Favorite Hikes Around Madison


When I wrote 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Madison, my first thought was: How am I going to get up to 60 here? But it didn’t take long to round up such a list of the best hikes near Madison I knew and hikes others recommended to realize that I’d have a chore getting the list down to 60.

Winter is finally letting go (it is, right??) and if you haven’t gone out on the trails yet, it’s high time to do so. Here are just five of the best Madison hikes (from a much longer list).

My newest book: Best Tent Camping Wisconsin, 3rd Ed.

Ice Age Trail – Table Bluff Segment

I am a huge fan of the IAT. What’s not to like? The trails are rugged and rarely busy. Plus they are cut through some very fine terrain left behind by the glaciers. This nearly 1,200-mile National Scenic Trail is not quite completely off road yet, but many spectacular segments are. This one just west of Madison skirts a ridge in the forest but also cuts through a colorful prairie restoration with more wildflowers than you can imagine.

Blue Mound State Park

The trail system at this park includes a couple of lookout towers for views as far-reaching as 50 miles, plus a challenging mountain-bike path. Do a round-up loop of the park for about 5.6 miles. The northernmost section is my favorite, with a trickling stream and some exposed rock all tucked into the forest and typically far away from fellow hikers.

Governor Dodge State Park

Dodgeville isn’t so far from Madison and this park has waterfalls, springs, lakes, and miles of trails. The Lost Canyon section is my favorite, with the carved sandstone from eons ago. Scenic any time of year but really tops in fall when the colors are on. In fact, come out here in winter to see the sculpted ice from a spring-fed waterfall.

New Glarus Woods State Park

This was once oak savannah and prairie that has since grown in with thick forest. The park brought back some of the prairie portions which are now blooming with native Wisconsin wildflowers. A loop of the park is almost 4 miles and nearby New Glarus with its brewery and fondue offerings is a great place to end the day.

Ice Age Trail – Devil’s Lake Segment

Yes, another Ice Age Trail segment, but don’t think that this “Devil’s Lake” hike is just the usual climbs up the two hefty cliffs in the state park overlooking the water. This is the big kahuna. Coming in at 18 miles, it is the longest hike in 60 Hikes Madison and definitely the one I’d take with me on a desert island (if that even made sense). Both bluffs are in there of course, but this trek starts east over in Merrimac, a few miles from the park. It comes up to the East Bluff from behind, skirts the lake’s south shore, crosses the West Bluff and exits Devil’s Lake State Park over a moraine as it meanders through woods and ridges all the way to Parfrey’s Glen. It can be done in a day, or you can camp at the state park halfway through.


For more information on any of these hikes plus 55 more, pick up a copy of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Madison. Order it here or watch for the author’s next appearance at a farmer’s market or Wisconsin brewpub near you.

Coming in 2014: Paddling Wisconsin – 40 great paddling destinations in the Badger State.