Guide to the best hiking trails Madison, WI has to offer, including top hikes around Madison and within the city
Are you traveling to Wisconsin but unsure what to do? Lucky for you, you can find some of the best hiking in Madison, WI.
Wisconsin is known for its lakes, forests, and historic glacial landscape making it the perfect destination for hiking for all ages and experience levels.
One of the best outdoor activities in Wisconsin is hiking – and the hiking in Madison is some of the best in the state.
Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin, and surrounding areas have several hiking and walking trails where you can take in the amazing environment.
Nestled within a chain of four lakes, the city sits on top of several hills and is home to conservation spaces maintained by the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Madison is one of the best places to vacation in Wisconsin if you love the outdoors.
It is also one of the best day trips from Milwaukee, if you just want to spend the day hiking around the area.
Get ready to get outside and check out the top trails for hiking in Madison, WI.
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Overview: 5 Best Madison Trails
- Best trail for something truly unique: Blue Mound State Park and Cave of the Mounds
- Best trail for city views: Picnic Point, Lakeshore Nature Preserve
- Best trail for lake sunsets: Indian Lake County Park
- Best trail for a leisurely stroll: Edgewood College Boardwalk
- Best trail for a challenge: The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Verona Segment
1. UW Madison Arboretum
Length: 5.3 miles
Some of the best hiking in Madison, WI, can be found right near the center of the city.
The UW Madison Arboretum is home to more than 17 miles of hiking trails, natural springs, and native plants as well as programming put on by the world-famous researchers at the University of Wisconsin.
The UW Madison Arboretum is deeply connected to the history of Madison and is part of the city’s dedication to conservation and outdoor recreation.
Born out of the civil works projects of the Great Depression, the Arboretum was preserved through donations and conservation efforts of activists and everyday citizens.
As the city has grown, the arboretum has become an idyllic haven for Madisonians seeking to get outside and experience native grasses, flowers, fish, and trees.
The several Madison hiking trails throughout the arboretum give hikers the ability to glimpse the ecological history of the state and learn more about conservation efforts.
Noe woods and Leopold pines are two hikes in Madison where you can see the arboretum’s conifer trees.
While not common in southern Wisconsin, the arboretum is one of the only places that offers hiking trails with conifers this far south in the state.
The UW Madison Arboretum also provides accessible trails in Madison for families and people of all ages, making the park home to some of the best hiking near Madison, WI.
I am most fond of the native flower nature walk near the visitor center.
While open year-round, the arboretum provides visitors new experiences each time they visit making it a great place to capture winter in Madison, WI.
Make sure to bring your sustainable boots to keep your feet warm.
No matter how far you would like to hike, whether you are more fond of grasslands or lakes, the arboretum is by far the best place for hiking in Madison Wisconsin and see all that Madison has to offer.
This is one of the best Southern Wisconsin hiking trails and shouldn’t be missed if you plan to check out the hiking trails Madison, WI has to offer.
2. Picnic Point Marsh Loop, Lakeshore Nature Preserve
Length: 2 miles (round trip)
Are you looking for some cool weekend trips in Wisconsin?
Well, hiking in Madison, Wisconsin is a great option and this trail is great for a fun day out with the family or partner.
Tucked behind the university’s hospital, Picnic Point offers some of the best hiking in Madison where you can trek past several viewpoints of the city’s skyline, and beautiful lake Mendota.
Part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, Picnic Point is one of the most popular hiking trails in Madison, WI.
Inhabited for the past 12,000 years, the peninsula swings out into the largest of the 4 lakes in Madison.
If you want to explore some of the best lakes in Wisconsin, this is a great trail for you!
At just over a mile long, and relatively flat, this trail allows all hikers to see Madison from a unique vantage point.
At the end of this hike, Madison lies right in front of you across University Bay.
The picnic point hike in Madison, WI is a popular spot for college students, families, and bird watchers alike.
At sunset, the picnic point hike can be one of the most romantic getaways in Wisconsin.
3. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Verona Segment
Length: 12.5 miles
The Ice Age Trail captures Wisconsin’s glacial history while providing access to incredible hiking trails near Madison, WI and throughout the state.
Just under 13 mikes as an out-and-back, the Verona Segment of the Ice Age Trail is a great way to get outside.
While this Southern Wisconsin hiking trail is just for hiking, the area is close to some of the many mountain bike trails in Wisconsin.
The trail tracks through several wooded areas that overlook several Wisconsin prairies and provides trekkers with information about the Upper Sugar River Valley.
The Ice Age Scenic Trail is only one of 11 National Scenic trails in the country and in total, stretches over 1000 miles.
Through the efforts of volunteers, donors, dedicated staff, and the National Park Service, the Ice Age Trail is a can’t-miss spot for those interested in hiking in Madison, WI.
4. Blue Mound State Park and Cave of the Mounds
Length: 0.5 miles
For your next cool weekend trip in Wisconsin, visit Blue Mounds State Park and Cave of the Mounds.
Explore the million-year-old caves year-round and hike up to the tallest point in Wisconsin.
Blue Mound State Park offers 20 miles of scenic hiking trails. Madison, WI is only a short road trip away from awesome trails and activities for all ages.
Take the Indian Marker Tree Trial to see century-old trees and discover a natural spring, or stroll through a grove of black walnut trees on the Walnut Hollow Trail.
Entrance to one of the most popular state parks in Wisconsin requires a vehicle sticker and there is an additional cost for entrance to the caves.
But it is a fairly reasonable price to enjoy some of the best hiking in Madison, Wisconsin!
5. Indian Lake County Park
Length: 4.5 miles
Indian Lake County Park, a destination for many Wisconsin road trips, is located a short distance from Madison and offers beautiful scenery and many opportunities for recreation, all year round.
The park surrounds Indian Lake which is home to several varieties of fish including trout, making the lake a popular spot.
The park also boasts an off-leash dog park on the western side of the area, however, on the 4.1 Mile hiking loop around the lake, dogs must be on a leash.
Indian Lake is a favorite of mine because it is nestled within the rolling hills west of Cross Plains, and the park showcases the state’s untouched landscape.
This geography is quite different, even from Madison, which is only a 30-minute drive from Indian Lake.
6. Morningside Loop Trail
Length: 2.2 miles
One of the best places to hike in Madison is the Morningside loop trial, which can be found in Governor Nelson State Park.
Located to the northwest of Lake Mendota, visitors can hike to the park’s sand beach, and enjoy the pristine views of Lake Mendota, as well as the flora and fauna of southern Wisconsin.
This hike near Madison WI is a 2.1-mile loop around a large prairie in the center of the park.
Pets are allowed on a leash and the loop is open in the winter for snowshoeing and skiing.
The best treat offered by the Morningside loop trail is a wonderful view of the Wisconsin State Capitol when the trail reaches the lake.
This is one of many reasons Governor Nelson State Park is home to some of the best Hiking in Madison, WI.
7. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Cross Plains Segment
Length: 4.2 miles
The best part about the Ice Age Trail is that there are 1000 miles of wonderful hiking spread across Wisconsin.
The Cross Plains Segment offers wonderful hiking near Madison.
To the northwest of the city, this 4.2-mile out-and-back offers views of forests, farmland, and prairies.
If you are looking to get some elevation, the Cross Plains Segment is one of the best hikes near Madison, as it includes a steep hill on the eastern side.
After a short but steep climb, the trail rewards its hikers by opening up to a pristine prairie with a wonderful view to the north of bluffs and rolling hills.
8. Edgewood College Boardwalk
Length: 1.0 miles
Nestled near cute Monroe street, Lake Wingra and the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Edgewood College Boardwalk is one of the best Madison walking trails.
Hike out above the lake waters and grasses on several boardwalks and piers.
This trail is accessible from Edgewood college as well as from Vilas park.
For those looking for a longer hike in Madison, WI, the Edgewood College Boardwalk is part of the path you could take around the entirety of Lake Wingra.
In the summer, try and find fish and frogs under the lily pads and native grasses, and in the fall, awe in wonder at the amazing colors of the leaf-covered walking trails.
Madison during the fall and spring semesters is flocked with college students.
On this path, you might find students walking to class or enjoying the environment that makes Edgewood college one of the most beautiful campuses in the state.
After you finish this short Madison, WI hike, check out the free Henry Vilas Zoo or, if it’s warm, the Vilas Park Beach to round out your trip.
9. Pheasant Branch Conservancy
Length: Multiple lengths (0.8 – 9.3 miles)
Overlook the Pheasant Branch spring-fed stream on this hike near Madison.
Located on the north side of Lake Mendota in the city of Middleton, the conservancy offers miles upon miles of hiking and biking trails.
The Pheasant Branch Watershed is integral to the surrounding ecosystem and is the centerpiece of the park’s conservation efforts.
The community has also been working for decades through prescribed burns to restore the area’s true prairie habitat.
For a viewpoint over the prairie and the stream, hike up to the top of Pheasant Branch Hill.
On the other side of the conservancy, there are several shorter out-and-backs for hikers only.
Otherwise, throughout the conservancy, there are shared trails for hikers, bikers, and dog walkers alike.
10. Cherokee Marsh Loop
Length: 4.4 miles
The Cherokee Marsh Loop is a 4.4-mile trail just north of the east side of Madison, WI.
Hiking the loop where one can often see wildlife including cranes and deer.
This unique restored wetland is truly one of a kind and open to hikers and skiers year-round.
Because of the habitat, this loop is relatively flat making this hike great for people of all ages and abilities.
This is also one of the few dog-friendly areas on the list and Cherokee dog park is a great place to get outside with man’s best friend!
11. Lower Yahara River Trail
Length: 4.9 miles
The Yahara River flows through and connects all of Madison’s lakes, making this trail perfect to view the south side of Madison’s unique water features.
Located on the southeast side of Madison, trek across 2.5 miles of boardwalk on this fantastic hike and the longest of its kind in North America.
Access this wonderful trail either in the Village of Mcfarland at McDaniel Park or from the west on the Lower Yahara River Trail parking lot near the Lussier Family Heritage Center.
12. Turville Point Conservation Park
Length: 1.4 miles
Turville Point Conservation Park offers some of the best views of downtown Madison, WI.
Hike along Lake Monona’s coast with a clear view of both the Wisconsin State Capitol and the Monona Terrace – one of Madison’s most famous buildings, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Catch a break from the summer heat in the shade of Turville’s massive oak trees and explore 2.3 miles of interconnected Madison trails.
If you are hiking with kids, Turville is located next to Olin Park where you can find a playground perfect for little ones.
13. Military Ridge State Trail
Length: 40.4 miles
For those looking to cover more distance, this hike near Madison, WI offers 40 miles of marked trails.
Sprawling two counties and plenty of diverse habitats, Military Ridge has lots to offer and is one of the most famous hiking trails in Wisconsin.
The eastern end of the trail begins on the south side of Madison, but hikers can access the trail in several other locations.
The trail follows a 100-mile geographical ridge (hence the name) that has carried travelers for 100 years.
Although open to bikers, this trail offers some of the best Hiking in Madison, WI due to its varied landscape and vast distance.
14. Capital City State Trail
Length: 13.5 miles
The Capital City State trail is one of a few hikes around Madison that connects with the Military Ridge State Trail and other features south of the city.
The Capital city State Trail links together several wonderful hikes.
If you are staying in downtown madison, pick up the trail on the south side of Lake Monona at the end of John Nolan Drive.
Converted from former railway lines, the Capital City trail connects the suburb of Fitchburg to downtown Madison, making Madison one of the best bike-friendly cities in the state.
Explore different sides of Madison, WI, hiking past lakes, neighborhoods, and farmland.
If you’re looking to stay in downtown Madison, the Capital City Trail crosses over lake Monona giving hikers stunning views of the downtown.
Check out the architecture as you walk under the glass windows of the lake Monona Terrace and consider taking a detour up to the top of this famous lookout.
15. Howard Temin Lakeshore Path
Length: 4.2 miles
Connecting Picnic Point to the famous Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin, Lakeshore path is one of the best things to do in Madison, WI.
Hike past dormitories, boat launches, and research stations on your way to the Union to grab a beer or some famous Babcock Ice Cream, made on campus.
Get a feel for what it is like to study and live at the University of Wisconsin while taking in a lovely view of picnic point and Lake Mendota.
On a nice summer day, the trail will be packed with families, students, runners, and bikers alike.
Sometimes, college students will hang a hammock on the trees along the path, enjoying the breeze off Mendota.
The colors of fall in Wisconsin makes Lakeshore Path a popular destination for college students as they walk to class under beautiful trees.
To UW students and alumni, Lakeshore path is the best of the best when it comes to hiking in Madison Wisconsin.
Lakeshore path is nice and flat, but not paved the entire way.
If you are feeling adventurous, peek out between the trees and carefully walk down to the lake.
You can reach this path either on the west side behind UW hospitals or behind the Memorial Union, at the heart of campus.
Home to several esteemed universities and a legacy of conservation, the city of Madison, WI has worked hard to preserve its landscape.
Now it offers the community numerous opportunities to get outside and enjoy some hiking.
Madison, WI has so much to offer adventurous and outdoorsy people.
Whether you want to stay in the city, take a day trip from Milwaukee, or explore the rural parts of the county, Madison WI is a lovely destination for people looking to get outside.
Come and take part in some of the best hiking in Madison, WI and explore the area’s unique landscapes and histories.
FAQs About Hiking in Madison, Wisconsin
Does Wisconsin have good hiking?
Absolutely. In fact, Wisconsin is one of the best states for hiking and outdoorsy activities.
Is there hiking in Madison Wisconsin?
Yes! There are a lot of great hiking trails in Madison and the surrounding area of varying degrees and difficulties.
Where can I walk around Madison, WI?
There are many spots for walking in Madison. If you would like a leisurely walk through the city, some of the best Madison walking trails are the UW Madison Arboretum path, Morningside Loop Trail, Howard Temin Lakeshore Path, Capital City State Trail and the Edgewood College Boardwalk.
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll snap tons of photos and I love to take my GoPro in order to shoot even in extreme situations.
- Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and hiking sandals when traveling to warm countries. Consider trying some of these eco-friendly vegan hiking boots.
- Sunscreen is key! I always take with me my eco-friendly sunscreen by Thinksport.
- I always carry a light rain jacket, just in case. Pack smart with these organic cotton clothing companies.
- Be environmentally friendly and get one of these awesome backpacks made from recycled materials.
- Get in the mindset with these amazing wilderness survival books.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel is protected against all odds with HeyMondo.
Hola! I am Paulina, a fervent travelette who crossed the Atlantic Ocean by Boat HitchHiking. On my blog, you’ll find all the tips to make the most of your holiday. Get ready to enjoy outdoor and sustainable travel like hiking, cycling or sailing. Let’s hit the road together!