Top 10 Things for Active Travelers to Do in Madison, Wisconsin
1. Spin Into the Biking Scene
Bring your own bike or rent one at one of the numerous Madison B-Cycle stations scattered around the downtown area. Then pedal one of the city's 50-ish miles of recreational trails. Handy trailside maps abound so you won't get lost, but sometimes following a path wherever it leads is part of the fun.
2. Paddle Your Way
Rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard at one of several outfitters on lakes Monona, Wingra and Mendota. Then start paddling. You've got a lot of territory to cover.
3. Explore the University of Wisconsin Arboretum
The arboretum's 1,200 acres border the southern half of Lake Wingra and contains more than 20 miles of footpaths, boardwalks and fire lanes. Another 4 miles of paved road, popular with runners and cyclists, lead past woodlands, wetlands and prairie.
4. Head Out to Picnic Point
Officially part of UW-Madison's Lakeshore Nature Preserve, Picnic Point is a nearly mile-long peninsula jutting into Lake Mendota's from the south shore. Hike out to the point on the wide, gravel path, then wander back along its winding single-track trails. PS: The San Francisco Examiner once dubbed Picnic Point one of the 10 best places to kiss in the world, saying it "may just be the kissing-est spot in North America." Smack!
5. Hike and Boat at Governor Nelson State Park
This 422-acre park sits on the northern shore of Lake Mendota and has a sand beach (although the water can be weedy and smelly in the summer), boat launch and 8 miles of trails, one looping past Native American effigy mounds.
6. Travel on the Ice Age Trail
Wisconsin is home to the 1,100-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and some 60 miles of the trail and its connecting routes clip the western edge of the Madison area via the Table Bluff (2.4 miles), Cross Plains (2.7 miles), Valley View (2 miles), Madison (3 miles) and Verona (6.9 miles) trail segments.
7. Golf Away
Duffers have plenty of courses to choose from. Some of the best options? University Ridge, home course to UW-Madison golfers; The Bergamont, designed by Andy North; and standby Lake Windsor.
8. Visit the Dane County Farmers Market
With about 150 regular vendors, this market is the largest producer-only farmers market in the nation. Vendors' stalls encircle the capitol, with additional goods at stalls and carts across the street from the official market and down some of the side streets. The market is open seasonally on Saturdays (check website for hours). One revolution around the capitol is about two-thirds a mile. But most people park a few blocks away, duck down side streets and double back a few times, so wear good walking shoes.
Related: 36 Hours in Madison, Wisconsin
9. Go Cross-Country Skiing
When the snow falls, Madisonians race to grab their skis. About 20 miles of signed, groomed trails wind through six Madison parks, with loads of additional trail miles within a half hour of the city. Three of my favorite: Governor Nelson State Park (4.5 miles, easy and intermediate), Indian Lake County Park (9 miles, intermediate and advanced) and Token Creek County Park (4 miles, easy).
10. Find Birding and More at Cherokee Marsh
The largest wetland in Dane County, the 1,121-acre marsh lies just upstream from Lake Mendota along the Yahara River and Token Creek. Its North Unit (3.4 trail miles) contains prairie, oak woodland and wetland and is popular for birding and hiking. In the winter, it's a snowshoe hotspot. The South Unit (3.4 trail miles) is open for hiking and Nordic skiing on easy and moderate trails. Watch for the abundant wildlife.