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This article is part of the Hipmunk #CityLove Project

Feature photo CC Richard Hurd

Madison, Wisconsin was recently voted America’s most walkable city. A vibrant university town with an incredible amount of outdoor recreation on offer, it’s surprising that this lively town falls into the category of cities less traveled.

With over 250 parks, Madison boasts an extensive amount of scenic hiking and biking trails, which lead through stunning glacial lakes and fascinating forests.

It is an absolute paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With so much stunning nature on offer, the many thousands of travelers who overlook a visit here are truly missing out. Madison is easily one of the most picturesque capital cities within the United States.

No Guides Necessary

Once you’ve arrived in Madison, definitely spend a day on a self-guided walking tour of the city. Between the Capitol building, the campus of the University of Wisconsin, and the Veterans Museum, as well as ball parks and the Arboretum, there is a lot to discover.


Madison Arboretum. Photo CC by Richard Hurd

Also be sure to take in Memorial Union Terrace one evening to watch the sunset across Lake Mendota while enjoying live music and a cold beverage.

Ice Age Trail

After having explored the city, allow at least three days for hikes in and around the surrounding area. Chances are you’ve probably never heard of the incredibly stunning scenic hikes in the area, but once you’ve gone, you’ll be dying to write home about your adventures.

The Ice Age Trail is an incredible trail that is broken down into several different hikes. A National Scenic Trail, in its entirety it runs for a thousand miles and cuts through terrain left by glaciers from the last ice age over 12,000 years ago.

Photo CC

Madison hiking in winter. Photo CC by Richard Hurd

There are many popular segments of the trail. The hike from Janesville to Milton is just over three miles long and runs from Monague – Kennedy Road following a converted railway sheltered by a canopy of trees.

The Arbor Ridge segment follows a wooded path for two miles before reaching the Arboretum. Storrs Lake is a beautiful wildlife area on 950-acres from Bowers Lake to Storrs Lake Road. The Devils Staircase trail, which is just under two miles long, runs along the cliffs that overlook Rock River.

Blue Mound State Park

Blue Mound State Park is 25 miles west of Madison and offers hikers 10 miles of trail with hikes and bike paths of varying difficulty.

Hiking to the highest point in Southern Wisconsin means the views are unreal and stretch as far as 50 miles, offering scenes of the Wisconsin River Valley to the north, beautiful vast forests to the south, and the glacial plains of the Ice Age Trail and Madison cityscape to the east. There are two observation towers located along the hike for views at higher vantage points.

Many Beautiful Trails

There are literally hundreds of fantastic hiking trails in and around Madison. It is a city surrounded by unbelievable nature and blessed with five dazzling lakes.

Sunset over Lake Mendota. Photo CC by

Sunset over Lake Mendota. Photo CC by Richard Hurd

While there are plenty of state parks to explore, don’t forget to make time for a leisurely stroll along the shorelines of Lake Mendota and Lake Monora for a great introduction to the city.

And, if you’re looking for ways to get a cheap hotel in Madison, go to Hipmunk’s Madison Hotel guide page.  There you’ll find out what the average price per hotel is during the season, and whether or not you should tempt fate with lodging at a hostel.

Meg Jerrard is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.


  1. I haven’t been to Wisconsin. Didn’t know it was this gorgeous.

    • It’s such a magical place and the nature out this way is amazing – highly underrated destination!! I hope you have the chance to travel here soon!

  2. Funny timing to read this article today as I camped last night at Blue Mound and posted a pic this morning from the West tower on my Instagram account.

    • It’s a very small world! Glad you’re enjoying the area – it’s an amazing spot on the map! Safe travels Ted, thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’ve been to quite a number of college towns in the Midwest & Madison is by far the most scenic town I’ve visited.

    You’re spot on about enjoying the sunset at Lake Mendota only I did it while kayaking in the lake!

    • Kayaking is for sure a great way to enjoy the sunset! Some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen are from that lake – so glad you had the opportunity to spend some time :)

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