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Pheasant Branch Conservancy

10 Outdoor Trails To Explore During Madison’s Fall Season (2024)

No matter which season is, recreational opportunities in Madison never goes short. Especially in the Fall season, opportunities to panorama everything in this city goes wild and splendid. Wisconsin’s Falls is beautiful. It is when trees start showing off their color pallet, the weather is mild, and the crowd gets less as schools and university begins again. For anyone who wants to hike in nature’s beauty and tranquillity, it is by far the perfect time to choose.

Regardless of its title of Metropolitan and Capital city, Madison is blessed with many woodlands, forestlands, and hiking spaces. There’s the Ice Age trail, the Arboretum trails, Blue Mound trails, and multiple other well-marked pathways. You can hike, cycle or bike depending upon the location and the availability. Madison also has nearly 14 State parks within an hour of driving distance that adds to a list of more options. And narrowing down from the best of options, here we have compiled the ultimate list for you.

10 Outdoor Trails To Explore During Madison’s Fall Season

Have a look and build your own Madison hiking trail itinerary.

1. The Ice Age Trail

Well-deserving for the first position, the Ice Age Trail is Wisconsin’s most gorgeous outdoor location. A 20-minute drive west of Madison, and you are at the junction of the trail. It stretches up to 1100 miles and is known for its unique glacial features that are existing here since the Ice Age. The trail begins from Interstate State Park (Minnesota Border) and continues to Potawatomi State Park (Lake Michigan’s Shoreline). It is Wisconsin’s only State Scenic Trail that is entirely within the State’s border. An advanced-level hiker takes 7 to 12 weeks to explore the entire trail. Though it isn’t the most strenuous hiking trail, hikers are still advised to understand the land and pre-plan. Some of the standout segments here include Table Bluff, a Dolomite Ridge, and the Gibraltar rock. One does not require any fee or permit to access or stay at the trail length and surroundings.

2. Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Located in Middletown, the Pheasant Branch Conservancy is just 10 minutes away from Madison. The conservancy is home to 6 miles of multi-use trails that are meant for walking, jogging, and biking. Its mainline trail is basically a 3 miles loop that is full of paved paths with crushed stones. Walking through the trails, you pass through prairies, boardwalks, and small bridges. There are multiple small trails inside the conservancy, and one can choose them depending upon the distance they want to cover. One of the top recommendations includes the gravel trail from the Pheasant Branch Road entrance that takes hikers to freshwater springs and an observation deck. Pheasant Branch is a must for anyone looking forward to spend time in scenic and peaceful nature.

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3. Madison Arboretum at University of Wisconsin

The birthplace of ecological restoration and the oldest restored prairie in the world, Madison Arboretum, is a heaven for hikers. For anyone with a geological and ecological interest in hiking, this is one of the must explore trails. This landscape has over 17 miles of hiking trails. These pathways go through tallgrass prairies, savannas, woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. Unlike other wild trails, Madison Arboretum is indeed colorful and the most beautiful of all. Whatever hikers enjoy today, most of it is famed naturalist Aldo Leopold’s work and efforts. One can either hike miles of wild or hire a guide for a slow yet informational exploration.

4. Badger State Trail

From South-central Wisconsin, the Badger State Trail extends to the border of Illinois. It is one of the closest hiking trails to Madison and thus local’s favorite. The trail extends 40 miles through small towns, farmlands, ravines, and hills. It also connects Capital City, Military Ridge trail, Sugar River state trails, and several local state parks of the region. The highlight here is the Stewart Tunnel which stretches for 1,200-feet, and then ultimately, it curves. Hikers who want to pass through the same must carry a flashlight or torch to make it easier to go through. The entire Badger State Trail is marked as easy, and even beginners can playfully explore it.

5. Blue Mound Trails

Half an hour drive towards the west of Madison lies the gorgeous hiking trails within the Blue Mound State Park. These trails stretch for up to 20 miles dividing into three dedicated trails. It includes Flintrock Nature, Weeping Rock, and Indian Marker Tree hiking trails. Some of the standout elements here include the Observation towers. While you climb atop one of them, you can see commanding views of Madison city and the beautiful Wisconsin River. Hikers who crave elevation can easily encompass that of 500 feet, or a little off track will take you to 1,716 feet, the highest elevation in Wisconsin.

Along with the views, this trail system soaks its hikers into spring-fed streams and hardwood forests. Both hikers and two-wheeler enthusiasts can enjoy the park. Blue Mound Trails also open up ways to multiple tourism attractions, including the famous Cave of Mounds.

6. Glacial Drumlin State Trail

Glacial Drumlin State Trail is a multi-purpose trail that stretches for up to 52 miles. It is only 30 minutes from Madison and is a favorite amongst the locals. While the first 13 miles are asphalt roads, the remaining 39 miles are pathways with crushed limestones. The trail, though is suitable for hikers of all skill levels, it is still advisable to wear good and comfortable hiking shoes. Multiple rest stations here provide running water, shaded areas, and map displays. On the way, there are a few restroom facilities as well. Glacial Drumlin passes through Deerfield, Jefferson, Wales, Lake Mills, and nearly six other communities. Hikers always have multiple options to start from and stop at. Glacial Drumlin State Trail is free to access, and no state trail pass is required as well.

7. Sugar River State Trail

Sugar River State Trail isn’t the closest to Madison, but some efforts for a hike here are totally acceptable. The trail runs 24 miles in South-central Wisconsin following an abundant railway track. Locals of Madison can join the trail in New Glarus, 24 miles from their city. It is basically a limestone-surfaced trail that is commonly used for hiking, cycling, and snowmobiling. As one passes through the trail, you will come across glacial topography, farmland, hills, 14 train trestle bridges, and the Sugar River. Further, you will also see an 1887 railroad depot, a part of the National Register of Historic Places. Hiking enthusiasts who are just beginning with their newfound love can choose this trail.

8. Cherokee Marsh

Cherokee Marsh is one of the most underrated hiking trails near Madison. However, if you are a finder for new adventures, you are absolutely going to love this place. The entire region is spread over 2000 acres consisting of accessible broad walks and trails. Cherokee Marsh is basically a wetland complex along the Yahara River. Hiking here is not for fast-paced hikers as the area is all about slowing down and enjoying the geography. While hiking through this Wetland gem, you will get to see black-billed cuckoos, cackling geese, mallard ducks, and multiple other birds. It is also a public hunting area, so maybe a few hunting weapons can get along with your hiking gear. The primary hunting opportunities here include deer, turkey, and geese. According to hiking experts, one must wear hiking boots instead of hiking shoes.

9. Tumbled Rocks Trail

An advanced-level hiker or those who are looking for challenging pathways must choose the Tumbled Rocks Trail to explore. The name alone gives an idea of how quickly one might lose stability while exploring the site. This trail is a part of the Devil’s Lake State Park and is no more than 2.5 miles out and back. While it begins pretty easy and comfortable, as you move further, the trail goes challenging. You will have to climb boulders, make balance, and stay stable so that you can stay safe from injuries. Hikers must wear proper hiking boots with knee and elbow guards just to stay safe from any potential injury. Considering the challenges it brings, it is no way for beginners, but only intermediate and advanced hikers should choose the path.

10. Military Ridge State Trail

The Military Ridge State Trail was once a historic military route in the mid of 19th century. The trail stretches 40 miles between Madison and Dodgeville. While hiking here, you will pass the base of the highest point in southern Wisconsin. Further you will come to close multiple small towns, villages, State parks, and farmlands. Most of the trail is a pathway of crushed limestone surface where hikers of all skill levels can manage. The trail commonly comes in handy for hiking, cycling, snow skiing, and snowmobiling. Along the way, several observation areas provide a glimpse of wildlife, whereas beautiful views of prairies and wetlands. A certain segment of the trail also welcomes in-line skaters and is quite popular amongst them. Because most of the region here is forested and green, falls at Military Ridge turn colorfully beautiful.

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