Time and time again, Madison tops lists of the best bike-friendly cities in the nation. And it’s no wonder, with a whopping 200 miles of paths and trails available. Whether you bike, run, rollerblade, picnic or if you simply want to walk and take in the gorgeous scenery (and transition from quarantining at home to the great outdoors), we have a trail for you.

Some of those paths are famous, like the Lake Monona Loop or any of the trails that populate the Arboretum. But what about ones that are off the beaten path?

Maybe you’re a resident who’s never traversed these trails. Or, perhaps you’re a visitor looking for something under-the-radar. Either way, we’ve got you covered with these five paths.

For unbeatable water views…

Lower Yahara River Trail

Comprised of a mile-long bridge linking McFarland’s McDaniel Park and the Capital City Trail, the Lower Yahara River Trail offers sweeping views of one of Madison’s lesser-known bodies of water — Lake Waubesa. The boardwalk-style bridge, with lakeside sights on one side and an active train corridor on the other, leads to a paved path.

For a rail-trail experience…

Sugar River State Trail

Abandoned railroad lines across the country have been wisely transformed into trails, and our Sugar River State Trail is one of them. With 24 miles and 14 trestle bridges that allow for social distancing, the trail extends from New Glarus to Brodhead and provides plenty of pretty nature scenes along the way. Favorite recreation spots include the Davidson Unit, the Basco Unit and the Falk Wells Unit.  

For tons of wildlife sightings…

Cherokee Marsh North Loop

Located near the Dane County Regional Airport, you might be surprised to discover the largest wetland in Dane County. With waters from Lake Mendota and the Yahara River, the 4.4-mile Cherokee Marsh North Loop invites visitors to walk on boardwalks through the marsh, where you’ll spot frogs, herons and turtles. 

For the quieter side of campus…

Edgewood College Nature Trail

Did you know that the Edgewood College campus has a mile-long path right next to Lake Wingra? Extending the length of the campus, it’s a combination of a traditional tree-lined trail and a boardwalk that heads right into a wetland. It’s also just a hop, skip and a jump from Henry Vilas Zoo and waterfront favorite, Wingra Boats

For a slice of history…

Indian Lake County Park

If you drive to the far west side of Madison, you’ll be well on your way to Cross Plains’ Indian Lake County Park. At 483 acres, it’s a biggie with several loops for you to choose from. To see the historic side of the park, all of the trails, including the 3.1-mile “Blue Loop,” connect with an overlook where you’ll see a charming little chapel built in 1857. Also, don’t miss the eerily-fascinating brick farmhouse ruins that stand near the main entrance of the park.


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