Cheese, beer, supper clubs, football, cows, and an old fashioned…this is what comes to mind for me when I think of Wisconsin. And I must admit – I love all of these things and these alone are things that would spur me to take a vacation in Wisconsin. However – I want to add one thing to that list that you may not have thought of before – Wisconsin bike trails.
Ok, ok, maybe you aren’t a biker – but if you are reading my blog, then you are probably someone who loves the outdoors and is active – or at least hoping to be. Thanks to electric bikes and great bike paths, you don’t need to be an expert cyclist to hop on the Wisconsin bicycle trails. But – you do need to love the outdoors and adventure. So before you poo-poo this biking Madison WI vacation idea – give me a few more paragraphs.
Close your eyes…when you visualize Wisconsin what comes to mind? Rolling hills of green, gentle rivers flowing through the countryside, cows and farms dotting the landscapes, small towns, friendly people? These are all of the ingredients to perfect cycling routes! Wisconsin has taken this landscape (urban and rural) and turned it into a biking paradise. I specifically went to explore the best bike trails in Wisconsin. But don’t worry – I’ve also included non-biking things to do around the region.
Table of Contents
Bike Madison WI
The bike culture in Madison Wisconsin is just as strong as the beer, cheese, and supper club culture! Madison is consistently ranked as a top biking city in the US – along with places like Portland, Austin, and Fort Collins. The 200 miles of bike paths in Madison, WI are impressive. Plus, they have bike share programs making it easy to hop on a bike and explore – or just use it to get around the bike-loving city. There are also rentals available at Machinery Row Bicycle Shop if you are looking for something more personalized to your needs.
In addition, Madison is literally centered around 2 beautiful lakes, and one of the most popular bike trails in Madison is the Lake Loop.
Madison Lake Loop Bike Trail
Looking for some gentle urban biking where you can stop for ice cream or a beer in the middle of your route?! I rode the 13-mile Lake Monona Loop which covers downtown, lake neighborhoods, and the lakefront. It’s all sign-marked really well – nearly impossible to get lost! It was the perfect way for me to explore more of Madison outside of the main city center. Biking is a perfect pace to get a feel for the different neighborhoods and the lake views were gorgeous!
Check out this article to give you a snapshot of what you’ll encounter on your Loop, and where to stop for ice cream!
Madison’s BCycle Program
BCycle bike share program is all e-bikes, so if you find yourself a little weary, you’ll have a nice assist from the motor. The power-assist only works when you pedal. It gives you a boost as you pedal, so you feel like the wind is always at your back. I loved getting a little ‘push’ occasionally as I slowly went through the neighborhoods.
Other Things to Do in Madison In Between Biking
Rest your legs and hop in a kayak and get out on Lake Monona. It’s a great way to relax a bit and enjoy the view.
If you are there on a Saturday, then make sure you head to the Madison Farmer’s Market around the capitol building for fresh, locally prepared food and produce.
I also suggest a tour of the capitol building as capitol tours are always fascinating and Wisconsin is no exception. Or check out one of the many Madison experiences around town…and dive deeper into quintessential Madison culture.
If you love mixology as I do, then be sure to stop by Oz by Oz and get the 4 quintessential Wisconsin cocktails.
Finally – treat yourself to a unique Wisconsin eating experience at a Wisconsin Supper Club. Here are a few of my favorite supper clubs around Madison.
Where to Stay in Madison
If you are in Wisconsin for a biking-focused trip – then of course you want to stay at the Trek-owned Mansion Hill Inn. Trek Bikes is headquartered just outside of Madison, so it’s not surprising that they own a property like this in Madison. They use it for visiting partners and employees to utilize if traveling to Madison. However – it is also open to the public.
The 10-room luxury boutique hotel is perfectly located within walking distance of Capitol Square, State Street, and the University of Wisconsin campus set in an old charming Madison neighborhood.
I stayed there and loved the boutique feel and delicious breakfast. The rooms were spacious, the staff offered impeccable service, and there’s a BCycle station at the house! I guess it pays to be owned by Trek.
Wisconsin Bike Trails Outside of Madison
Janesville Wisconsin Biking a Glacier’s Path
Only an hour’s drive from Madison is Janesville. Janesville is known as “Wisconsin’s Park Place” thanks to its 2000 acres of parks. This city is green – and the perfect place to go biking! I drove there with my bike and stayed the night – but you could also cycle there from Madison on backroads if you prefer.
Ice Age Trail
I biked a section of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail that went through Janesville. The Ice Age Trail winds through the entire state for over 1000 miles following the edge of the last continental glacier in Wisconsin. Janesville has about 20 miles of trail going through numerous parks and along the river. I spent a morning enjoying the scenic trail going through the heart of the city and then out into the rural outskirts of Janesville.
The trail was well-marked and in great condition. If you don’t bring your own bike, you can rent a bike from Velocity Downtown Adventures & Rentals in Janesville. Bike rentals are available including e-bikes and fat tire bikes.
Other Things to Not Miss in Janesville
Stop in at the uber-local Citrus Cafe for breakfast. This is a quintessential small town café, where everyone knows everyone and the ‘regulars’ are so well known that they walk in and just order ‘the usual’. If you are a visitor, like me, then you’ll need to ask for a menu. The portions are large and the orange juice is freshly squeezed!
Make sure you take a stroll along the Public Art Trail that winds through town.
Visit the Botanical Gardens – it’s right along the Ice Age Trail – the perfect stop for a bike break! And for a bit more exercise – hike Devil’s Staircase. This trail is in town – but you’ll feel like you are far from town as it envelopes you in trees in a rolling trail along the river bluffs. You can also easily bike to this trailhead too.
Where to Stay in Janesville Wisconsin
Cobblestone Hotel and Suites is the perfect location for anyone hoping to hop on the bike trails. The Ice Age Trail runs right by the hotel along the river. Everything is within walking distance of this well-located hotel.
New Glarus Wisconsin Biking and Beer
Before the New Glarus brewery made the town name a staple in Wisconsin culture, the little Wisconsin town was making quite a splash as the ‘Little Switzerland of America’. This region is where the Swiss settled in Wisconsin and they made themselves right at home…literally. The immigrants built Swiss-style buildings, churches, and bakeries.
I must admit, to see a Swiss alpine building in the middle of Wisconsin dairy country is quite a weird sight.
Bike the Sugar River Wisconsin State Trail
The Sugar River State Trail follows an abandoned railroad line in south central Wisconsin for 24 miles from New Glarus to Brodhead. Fourteen trestle bridges cross over the Sugar River and its tributaries, while the trail passes by farmlands, woods, rolling hills, and remnant prairies.
I biked 30 miles along the Sugar River State Trail from New Glarus to Albany going through the small town of Monticello. I ran out of time to do the entire route to Brodhead – but you could easily make a fun day out of this trail by stopping for lunch in Albany or Broadhead before turning around and heading back to New Glarus.
The rail trail is gravel/crushed stone – so you will need more rugged tires for the trail. The majority of the trail was flat or very gradual grades since it was an old rail line. In addition to the cute trestle bridges, it seemed like most of the time you were protected in the shade of a canopy of big trees. I ran into a number of other bikers along the trail too which made it fun. Just remember you will need to purchase a state trail pass for $5.
Other Things to Do in New Glarus
Take a tour of the infamous Wisconsin brewery that I always thought put New Glarus on the map. New Glarus Brewing has a number of unique things about them, but one of the most surprising things is that they only sell their beers in Wisconsin. They offer self-guided tours of the factory and a big, beautiful outdoor beer garden where you can try specialized brews you likely won’t find in other places.
Make sure you also take the time to look around and enjoy the Swiss-inspired town. And stop by Ott Hause bar for a burger and a beer (I’m a bit partial to this one!).
Where to Stay in New Glarus Wisconsin
I stayed at the Chalet Landhaus Inn while in New Glarus. This is a large hotel with a Swiss exterior and interior, restaurant, and bar. It’s within walking distance to anything you want to do in town, however, you will have to drive or bike to the New Glarus Brewery (1.5 miles away). The bike trail goes right past the back of the Inn so it’s very convenient for bikers!
Badger State Trail and Dairy Farm Stay
If you are willing to do a little more of an adventure that also includes a key piece of Wisconsin culture – then I have a fun route for you for a 2-day cycle from Madison. This will take a bit more planning on your part and a stay at a very unique Airbnb. I didn’t do this personally – but I did sections of it and know that it can pretty easily fit together in an epic Wisconsin bike trip.
Badger State Trail
This is a 40-mile rail trail that goes from Madison to Clarno. It’s asphalt as you leave Madison and then turned to crushed stone. Take the shady Badger State trail south to Monticello (about 20 miles) and then head east on backroads to Wegmueller Dairy Farm (another 4.2 miles).
Wegmueller Dairy Farm and Airbnb
Here are the facts – most of the dairy producers in Wisconsin are large mega-farms. Over the decades small family farms have been bought out by large producers going the way of most of the farming/agriculture industry. There are still a few family farms left – but they’ve been forced to think out of the box as a way to survive – and that’s exactly what Dan Wegmueller did when he bought the family farm from his father.
Experience life on an active 4th-generation Brown Swiss dairy farm in the rolling hills of Green County Wisconsin. Take as much of a hands-on approach as you like. Feed a baby calf, milk a cow, befriend a horse (they offer horse riding), or just enjoy the relaxing and peaceful serenity of rural Wisconsin farm life. This is a real working farm with 50 heads of cattle, pigs, and horses. Stay in the newly remodeled farmhouse with four bedrooms (sleeps up to 9) and two baths. The Wegmeuller Farm stay can be booked through Airbnb.
I visited the farm and did a complete farm tour (available to all guests) with Dan and was mesmerized by the education on farming that I received. If you ever wanted to learn more about America’s farm industry – Dan is your guy.
After the optional morning farm chores and a hearty farm breakfast in the morning, take back off on your bike on the backroads towards Broadhead (14 miles) and meet up with the Sugar River State Trail riding on to Monticello. Have lunch in Montecello and from there you can catch the Badger State Trail back into Madison. This two-day adventure is perfect for someone that really wants to immerse themselves in Wisconsin!
Trek Travel Self-Guided Bike Tour from Madison
If you love biking as a way to see a city or rural area but want to leave all of the nuts, bolts, and logistics to someone else – I have the answer – Trek Travel! Trek Travel offers self-guided trips from the beautiful Mansion Hill Inn to little communities around Madison. They handle everything; a world-class bike, accommodation, route, turn-by-turn directions, and stop suggestions. All you have to do is wake up and go!
The route took me from Madison to Bellville stopping in Paoli for lunch (this is a part of their larger Trek Travel Madison Self-Guided Trips.
I adored this 50-mile ride through rolling farmland with plenty of cows and corn to keep me company! I used their GPS directions on my phone app and was able to get turn-by-turn directions for their route. It took me through the city on bike trails and out to the outskirts to meet up with the state-maintained Wisconsin Bike Trail system. And once I was all the way out of the city and surrounded by corn, my app directed me onto back country roads full of rolling hills with little traffic and lots of big views.
Get Off the Bike in Paoli Wisconsin
How can an unincorporated town have so much cool stuff? I’d like to say it’s a hidden gem – but in talking to the locals, it’s not so hidden any longer. Right along the Sugar River, this 2 block town is a great stopping point for road trippers and bikers. This unincorporated town even has a bike shop!
There are a number of options for lunch in the little town of Paoli. If you are looking for something a bit more refined and healthy (don’t worry – you can come in your bike clothes!), check out the Paoli Schoolhouse Bistro. The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1854. The Schoolhouse was last used as a school in 1972 by the Belleville School District. It now serves up delicious lunch and dinner with fresh local ingredients and inventive cocktails.
If you are looking for something a bit more laid back and quick, check out the Mill in Paoli. The historic stone Mill is home to a collection of boutiques, artisan food makers, beverage purveyors, and hospitality providers in an idyllic park setting. I suggest you pick up a burrito from Molino Taqueria.
With the hardest part of your ride already completed, I also suggest you grab a beer at the Hop Garden and sit outside by the river and enjoy a little downtime! Granted – if you are riding you can’t drink much, but Hop Garden is a really cool brewery. They grow their own hops for their delicious small-batch beer! I visited their tap room at the Mill in Paoli and I also went to visit their farm to see their entire hop-growing operation – from farm to tap! They are one of the few breweries in Wisconsin growing their own hops.
This longer ride out to Bellville and through Paoli was a highlight of my time exploring Madison by bike! This was just one day of the 4-day Trek Travel Self-Guided Madison trip. Consider the Trek Travel Self-Guided trip like the spokes of a wheel with the Mansion Hill Inn in Madison at the center, and then you take 4 different bike days out of Madison and back based on the itinerary. Eat in and enjoy Madison every evening, and go out and explore by bike during the day outside of Madison. For the bike enthusiast – this Trek Travel itinerary would be a perfect way to experience Wisconsin biking!
Trek Travel offers Self Guided Trips like this all over the world where they take care of all of the planning and all you have to do is ride.
Biking Gear to Bring With You
If you are renting a bike, it will normally come with a helmet, lock, and water bottles. However, you may want to bring your own if you have a preference.
Here are some of the essential things I bring on biking adventures that will make your travel on the Wisconsin bike trails more comfortable.
These are a great easy layer for cold mornings that roll up really small and can fit in the back of your jersey when you get hot.
My go-to hydration for biking and hiking. Box contains one tube of each flavor: Lemon Lime, Tri-Berry, Citrus Fruit, and Orange. Four tubes and 40 servings total.
Great lightwieght fully waterproof jacket for cycling and can be used for hiking or travel. The Pac-lite material is very light and breathable - perfect for outdoor adventure.
I can only wear prescription lenses and these tifosi lenses can have your prescription added. This is essential for biking when vision is essential. You can customize everything from color to mirror, to prescription with Tifosi.
No matter what type of biker you are (beginner, e-biker, independent bike traveler, touring bike traveler, urban biker, or long-distance cyclist) using Madison as your home base for your Wisconsin biking adventures is a great strategy. As you can see there are a lot of options for bike enthusiasts and other curious travelers. So pack your bags, padded shorts, and get out on the Wisconsin Bike Trails!
I was a guest of Travel Wisconsin and Destination Madison for this biking trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.