As an urban city surrounded by natural beauty, Madison is filled with fun things to do. But if you're seeking even more variety, plan ahead and add a leisurely road trip to your weekend. Below are short-drive (about an hour or less) trips from our capital city that will carry you through the countryside to tiny towns loaded with cultural offerings, hidden natural gems and tons of fun.
Driving Distance: 51 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: It’s a nature-lover’s paradise.
Baraboo is steeped in stunning settings and natural places to explore. The most popular destination is Devil’s Lake State Park, where you can swim, hike, bike, boat, climb and more. Within the park area, you’ll find Pewit’s Nest — a gorge with a shallow creek running through it. But beware: Pewitt’s is an adventurous hike where the trails are not maintained and it takes you over a 30–40-foot-deep gorge. If you like a little surer footing, try Parfrey’s Glen: a deep ravine with a trail maintained by the DNR. The best part: both have waterfalls!
Baraboo is also home to the International Crane Foundation, a world-renowned conservation center — and the only one in the world to feature all 15 species of cranes. Next door, you’ll find the Aldo Leopold Foundation, dedicated to celebrating Aldo Leopold’s legacy and philosophy of fostering the stewardship of our land.
Go the extra mile: Hop aboard the train at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum. This outdoor living history museum takes you back to the late 1800s — and the train ride takes you through turn-of-the-century displays.
Driving distance: 22 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: This artistic community knows how to play!
Cambridge was founded with a flour and feed mill in 1847, and its main street pays homage to its history via quaint bricked buildings filled with shopping and dining options galore. The community’s playful vibe has encouraged an artists’ culture: Cambridge has been known for its pottery artisans for more than 40 years. It even has its own winery! The Cambridge Winery hosts everything from wine dinners to weddings, and can also accommodate walk-in tastings.
Go the extra mile: There’s enough to do here to make a weekend of it, so plan to stay at the Lake Ripley Lodge, a charming bed and breakfast located on the shore of Lake Ripley.
Learn more: Cambridge Area Chamber of Commerce
Driving distance: 25 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: Strollin’ the Trollway
Drive through downtown Mount Horeb, and you’ll find wooden trolls everywhere — for sale and for show. The streets are lined with life-sized trolls carved from the trunks of trees. But the historic downtown district also features antique shops, gourmet restaurants and museums, plus seasonal events like the Thirsty Troll Brew Fest.
Plan a stay at the Grandstay Hotel & Suites so you can also explore some of the amazing attractions in the area. Mount Horeb is home to the Duluth Trading Company but most people don’t know there’s a museum inside! And, you won’t want to miss Cave of the Mounds — this national natural landmark can offer tours year-round because it’s always 50 degrees inside.
Go the extra mile: Sip and savor the farm-to-table experience at Campo Di Bella Winery & Family Farm and Botham Vineyards & Winery. Both are family-owned and operated growers offering unique seasonal flavors.
Learn more: Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce
Driving distance: 28 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: Its authentic, Swiss heritage
This community is known as “America’s Little Switzerland” for a reason: Its Swiss founders settled there more than 150 years ago and today, chalet-style facades still dot the downtown. Explore the shops offering handmade sausages, European pastries and local cheeses. Stay to learn more about the culture at the Swiss Historical Village, an open-air museum that gives visitors a glimpse of Swiss pioneer life via 14 artifact-filled buildings.
Whether you’re staying for a day or a week, enjoy traditional Swiss hospitality and charm at the Chalet Landhaus Inn, featuring the Alpine Restaurant.
Go the extra mile: Take a self-guided tour at the New Glarus Brewing Company, best-known for its Spotted Cow variety but its seasonal offerings are spectacular, too. Afterward, pick a pint to enjoy on the outdoor courtyard overlooking picturesque New Glarus.
Learn more: New Glarus Chamber of Commerce
Driving distance: 39 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: It’s home to famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Frank Lloyd Wright spent his childhood in Spring Green, and returned when he was at the height of his international fame. Taliesin—Wright’s home, studio, theater, farm and burial site—offers five different tours from May through October. Down the road, you’ll find the Wright-inspired House on the Rock, an incredible museum featuring the world’s largest carousel and an Infinity Room where you can walk out over a scenic valley, 156 feet above the forest floor! If you need a rest after your quest, stay at the House on the Rock Resort and dine at the 400 Springs Restaurant.
Go the extra mile: Add a different kind of arts to your itinerary at American Players Theatre, one of the nation’s most popular outdoor classical theaters. On the way back, try The Old Feed Mill restaurant for historic ambiance and classic country cuisine.
Driving Distance: 56 miles
Why it’s worth the trip: Kids love it—but parents will, too.
Wisconsin Dells may be known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” but there's more to explore. By day, take the kids to Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which features 49 waterslides, two wave pools, two endless rivers and more. When you’re ready for a break from the sun, opt for the Outlets at the Dells. Parents love saving at more than 50 stores, and shopping Nike, Under Armour, Disney Store and more makes this mall a destination everyone can agree on.
Go the extra mile: Make it a long weekend and recharge at Sundara Inn & Spa, a tranquil retreat nestled in a 26-acre, fragrant pine forest. Visitors love the outdoor infinity pool that’s heated year-round and features fire pit alcoves and soothing waterfalls.
Learn more: Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau
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