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Bike Trails in Southern Wisconsin

Updated on March 25, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie is from Madison, WI but has traveled extensively. Her family speaks 4 languages, making the world very accessible.

Cycling through Scenic Southern Wisconsin

If you are an avid cyclist, biking the trails of southern Wisconsin is a must! Wisconsin is a very scenic state, filled with wildlife, colorful foliage and plant life, and a rich history. Even though Native American tribes have lived in Wisconsin for thousands of years, Wisconsin only became a state on May 29, 1848.

Paleo-Indians were the first known inhabitants of this land, dating back to 10,000 B.C. in what was still considered the Ice Age. The first Europeans didn’t arrive until 1634, when French explorer Jean Nicolet happened upon land while seeking a route from France to China by way of North America. He had been the first European to travel on Lake Michigan and he came ashore in what is now known as Green Bay, establishing a trading outpost on land occupied by the Ho-Chunk.

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, Native Americans and settlers traveled on foot, by canoe or on horseback. Today, there are hundreds of bike trails winding through the scenic state, passing through quaint towns, bustling cities and quiet countryside. Many of the trails are paved, some are primary crushed gravel and others, more suited to mountain biking, are mulched over. In short, whatever your speed or ability, there is a trail for you. Having been a life-long resident of southern Wisconsin, I am focusing this hub on the trails of this particular region.

Wisconsin currently has sixty-four rails to trails that span over 1259 miles and have active plans to add nearly 700 more miles in the coming years. Rails to trails are those former railroad lines that have been converted into bike-friendly meccas. Most are not paved, but rather, covered in crushed rock that is thin enough to still appeal to those on road bikes. Several of our trails connect, so if you are interested in traveling 50, 100 or more miles by bike, you can do it safely and in scenic beauty right here in southern Wisconsin.

Capital City Bike Trail

This scenic trail connects to both the Military Ridge and Glacial Drumlin Trails and winds through the capitol city of Madison. Cyclists should observe good trail etiquette as the path is shared by runners, hikers, and roller bladders in and around the Madison area and can be highly traveled. It is worth the ride, though, as it cuts through the capitol area, past the lovely Frank Lloyd Wright Convention Center (Monona Terrace), and the Atwood Gardens. The trail is paved from end to end, making it an easy ride for those with small children or those on road or tri-bikes with more narrow tires. If you happen to be a member of the YMCA, there is a branch just off Cottage Grove Road, less than one mile from the trail on Madison’s east side. Stop in for a dip in the pool and to relax before heading out again. The trail also winds behind the gorgeous, free Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The gardens are open year-round and feature amazing seasonal plants, reflecting pools, an authentic Thai pavilion, which was a gift to UW Madison from the Thai government. These gardens are amazing, especially from late spring until mid-fall when the colorful blooms will literally take your breath away.

Cheese Country Trail

We’re not called “cheese heads for nothing! This 57 mile, crushed stone bike path allows cyclists to explore the heart of our cheese making state. We are truly America’s Dairyland. Take in the views of vast farmlands, livestock, and lush greenery as you wind through portions of Green, Iowa and Lafayette Counties. Be on the look out for horseback riders and ATV drivers who also use this trail.

Elroy Sparta Trail

This gorgeous 32 mile trail is fashioned from the former Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line and snakes through three historic rock tunnels. It is a smooth trail covered in limestone screening. The trail crosses several quaint bridges that are all covered in smooth planks for safety. Trail passes are required to access this path. Along this path you will find picnic areas and bike rental facilities as well as a Railroad History Museum in the trail headquarters center located in the old Kendall Depot. One unique feature of this trail is the availability of drivers that can take you to your desired starting point and then return your vehicle to the headquarters. This requires an additional fee.

Glacial Drumlin Trail

This path takes riders through the Kettle Morraine area. It is a fairly easy, flat ride through the peaceful moraine, which is normally quite hilly and challenging. This is because the Glacial Drumlin trail is fashioned from the remains of a railroad line that cut through the hills and valleys of this portion of the state. The path stretches 51 miles from Cottage Grove to Waukesha, with a short 4 mile on-road span near the town of Jefferson. Most of the path requires a daily or annual state trail pass to ride, and cyclists are fined if they are stopped and cannot present their trail pass. While there are several busier grade level highway crossings, overall, the trail is safe, quiet and full of opportunities to view wildlife, especially between Dousman and Sullivan through which the trail crosses an expanse of marshland.

Military Ridge State Park Trail

This 40 mile trail is a former railroad line that includes rolling hills and breathtaking views. The trail requires each rider to purchase a daily or annual pass. It cuts through the towns of Mt. Horeb, Blue Mounds, Barneveld and Ridgeway. Blue Mounds is an excellent place to stop and rest. Riders can tour the popular Cave of the Mounds and view the underground caverns, green pools, and the incredible stalactites and stalagmites. Be sure you bring your jacket, as the caves remain at 50 degrees year round.

Sugar River State Park Trail

Located in Green County, this 22 mile trail winds through “America’s Little Switzerland.” Stop for a stein of beer at one of the chalets in the town of New Glarus and bask in the old world European charm of this historic city. Just north of Brodhead you’ll cycle through a charming covered bridge. These romantic structures are becoming fewer and fewer so you won’t want to miss it. It is a great place to take a picture with your loved one. There is also a short on-road portion of trail in Brodhead, so use caution in this area. Daily or annual trail passes are required.

Wild Goose State Trail

This 34 mile trail is a bird-lovers paradise. An entrance to the trail is located west of the town of Hustisford on Highway 60. This trail winds through Horicon, where the internationally known marsh is located. Migratory birds, including millions of Canada geese occupy this marsh as well as herons, egrets, and countless other species. Riders will cross several busy highways and will likely encounter hikers and horseback riders, so always been aware of your surroundings. There are no fees for cycling on this trail.

The "400" Trail

This trail stretches 22 miles between the Reedburg Depot and Elroy Commons. There are several small towns that may serve as comfortable rest stops along the way. The trail is quite scenic, lined with the states signature rocky bluffs, white pines and breathtaking countryside. The trail snakes over the Baraboo River 11 times, offering spectacular, relaxing views. Daily or annual trail passes are required.

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© 2010 Jaynie2000


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