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.

Buy 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Madison here.

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 books: Best Tent Camping Wisconsin, 3rd Ed. and Paddling Wisconsin

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.

Also check out my Wisconsin paddling guide: Paddling Wisconsin – 40 great paddling destinations in the Badger State.

12 thoughts on “My Five Favorite Hikes Around Madison

  • April 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Since it’s only in the 30’s this morning – I’m not hiking anywhere at the moment! Spring came and left us, as is often what happens at this time of year around here (in case you forgot). :o)

  • April 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Gee am I glad you didn’t mention hike #29 from the book. I would sure hate for people to discover MY favorite hike—Indian Lake County Park and Saint Mary of the Oaks…, oops, um. Dang!

    • April 24, 2011 at 6:13 am

      That’s a good one as well. In fact, there’s a segment of the Ice Age Trail in that very park. I could just list IAT segments and feel pretty happy about that.

    • May 15, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      I’m glad to read that you like Indian Lake trail. It holds a special place in my heart because I built part of that trail as part of my Eagle project in the early 1980s. A very beautiful place.

  • October 20, 2011 at 3:07 am

    Although I don’t live in your area, you have reminded us that there are many beautiful hikes within a short distance of wherever we are. One of the best trails I have hiked is right outside Washington, DC.

    The photo of the waterfall is my favorite in this post.

    • November 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Roger. And so true! When I started writing 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Madison, I thought How on earth am I going to get up to 60?? UP to 60? More like, DOWN to 60! Our backyards so often get overlooked I guess. I bet DC is a great area in fact. (sorry for such a late reply!)

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  • April 30, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Those are some great photos from your hikes in Wisconsin. I was searching google for some information to add to my site and found yours lol.. I havent had a chance to hike the Ice Age Trail yet but hope to one day.. Thanks for some god photos.

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