Happy (Bike) Trails

By Kevin Revolinski | Pictured: Frank Lloyd Wright, Monona Terrace Monona Terrace and Bike Path 2; photo courtesy Travel Wisconsin

From its green painted bike boxes and bicycle lanes to its bike repair stations and a constantly developing trail system, Madison is a cyclist’s city. If you haven’t given our trails a go yet, or if you’re looking for new ones to explore, here are a few options to consider.


Stretching more than 20 miles, the Capital City Trail is the backbone of a citywide system which often parallels (or even takes over) railroad lines. Starting from Cottage Grove Road near the Pinney Library, the path runs between Olbrich Gardens and the historic Garver Feed Mill, skirts the Atwood and Willy Street neighborhoods, and then heads south along Lake Monona past the Monona Terrace. Crossing under the Beltline, the trail enters the Nine Springs E-way inside the Capital Springs State Recreation Area, where it becomes a state trail and requires a pass.


Busy intersections call for roundabouts to keep traffic moving. And so it goes at the Velo Underround
where the Capital City, the Cannonball and Southwest Commuter Paths meet the much longer Badger and Military Ridge State Trails. Five arrows and a map board show you your way, ramps lead up to a bike overpass and a self-pay kiosk offers state trail passes.


From the Capital City Trail, cross John Nolen Drive on Brittingham Park Path to reach the start of this rail trail along the southern edge of the UW Campus. Once past Camp Randall it enters a long greenway, with several off ramps for access to shops and eateries along Monroe Street. The path runs along Odana Hills Golf Course, then crosses over the Beltline before it reaches the Velo Underround a mile later.


The Yahara River Parkway Path begins at the locks at Tenney Park and crosses the isthmus to the Capital City Trail near Mickey’s Tavern. (Hint: good Sunday brunch.)

Wingra Creek Path follows its namesake to connect Lake Wingra to Olin Park and the Cap City Trail.

Also connected into the mother trail is Starkweather Creek Path, a surprising greenway passing five small parks on its way north to Madison College. Spiraling ramps take cyclists up onto bridges over busy East Washington and Aberg avenues.

A one-mile scenic boardwalk bridge is the centerpiece of the Lower Yahara River Trail. This 2.5-mile segment of a longer planned trail links to the Cap City at the entrance to Lussier Family Heritage Center then crosses Lake Waubesa to McDaniel Park in McFarland. The bridge offers places to pull over and stop for lake views.


While it’s hikers-only for Picnic Point, bicycles are otherwise allowed on UW’s Howard Temin Lakeshore Path, all the way out to its western end along University Bay Drive. An out-and-back ride totals 4.2 miles and leaves you at the Memorial Union Terrace, never a bad place to stop when you’re thirsty.


Much like when you’re hiking, don’t you love a good loop? Here are a couple options:


This 13-mile ride includes the Capital City Trail segment along John Nolen Drive, but then follows rider-friendly residential roads in east-side Madison and Monona (with a recommended stop at Monona Bait & Ice Cream) until the route comes back west to return to the Capital City Trail just south of Olin Park.


This 8.2-mile route includes the bike-friendly Arboretum Drive through the heart of the park, connects to Seminole Highway with its dedicated bike lanes, then follows the Cannonball Path 2.8 miles — along the southern edges of the Arboretum — up to Fish Hatchery Road. From there either use the bike lane or the sidewalk path along Fish Hatchery to connect to the Wingra Creek Path for a return to the Arboretum entrance.


Need to rent a bike? BCycle has 45 docking stations throughout Madison, stocked with Trek electric-assist bicycles. You still pedal, but a boost is available for hills and speeds up to 17 mph with a range of about 30 to 40 miles. You can rent at one docking station and return the bike to a different station.

An online and in-app interactive station map shows real-time data for available bikes and vacant docks for returns. Rental options range from $5 for 30 minutes up to $15 for a day pass (unlimited 60-minute rides for 24 hours). Purchase passes at dock kiosks, on their app, or via their website at madison.bcycle.com. Bring your own helmet!

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