By Candice Wagener
Planning a staycation and exploring the areas around Madison can be a fabulous adventure! We’ve paired up some fun activities along with great food spots, all within a half-hour of Madison.
While this nearby ’burb certainly makes a name for itself with its mid-May Syttende Mai festival, it deserves another look in summer. Start your day off sweet with homemade donuts from Fosdal’s, a Stoughton landmark since 1939. Get lost on the Yahara River Trail System or wander through Lake Kegonsa State Park, where you can hike, swim, fish and even boat along the 3,200-acre lake. Troll Beach, an aquatic park loaded up with fun inflatables, is another option for water babies. Your toughest decision all day will be deciding between bites at Wildwood Cafe, Wendigo or Viking Brewpub with its totally magical langskip bar featuring Hilda, the friendly dragon. You can also whet your whistle at Mershon’s with a glass of refreshing, homemade cyser.
In a town that continues to grow by leaps and bounds, entertainment options are abundant in Verona. With easy access to the Badger State Trail, Capital City State Trail, and the Wisconsin Ironman Loop, this is the place to bring your bikes or lace up your running or hiking shoes. The different trails offer diverse views and experiences, and could occupy an entire weekend if you wanted. Of course, you’ll need to fuel up, and there’s no better place than Sugar River Pizza Company. If you’re in the mood for some locally-brewed craft beer, head down the street to Wisconsin Brewing Company, which has a spacious patio and greenspace to relax and take in the summer scenery. Bring a blanket and snacks and make an evening of it!
Because it’s sort of enveloped by Verona, Mount Horeb and New Glarus, it seems Paoli often gets overlooked — but it shouldn’t. Take in the quaint downtown and discover treats at Driftless Chocolates, located right beside gorgeous Paoli Mill Park. The Sugar River is a great option for kayaking but, if water sports aren’t your thing, take a hike in the nearby Scheidegger Forest. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head back into town to the Paoli Schoolhouse, a high-end bistro with a distinctive atmosphere.
Just a stone’s throw from Middleton, you could make an easy day trip by adding Mount Horeb onto your itinerary. The Military Ridge Trail, which runs right through the heart of downtown Mount Horeb, is an excellent option for bikers of all different levels, with lots of shade and a fairly wide berth. Along the path you’ll find Brix Cider, with refreshments, snacks and plenty of outdoor seating.
Middleton is the good neighbor city next door to Madison, easily accessible via University Avenue. It’s also home to a very significant nature preserve. Pheasant Branch Conservancy offers six miles of trails that are pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Feel totally removed from city life as you walk, run or bike through gorgeous forests and trails and over several beautiful bridges that span Pheasant Branch Creek. Plus, it’s a favorite spot for birdwatchers, so bring your binoculars. Wander into downtown afterwards and make your way over to classic diners Hubbard Avenue Diner (save room for pie!) or Sofra Family Bistro.
It’s the only Waunakee in the world, and it’s a great place to enjoy the sunshine while getting in a game of golf. The Meadows of Sixmile Creek offers Dane County’s only organic golf course, providing a safe environment for everyone, which is definitely something to brag about. With five different sets of tees, golfers of all levels will find the challenge they’re looking for. Once you’ve tackled the course, head over to Drumlin Ridge Winery for happy hour. Nibble on small-plate apps and local sips, like their aptly-named Wauna Red wine. For dinner, try out El Charro Mexican Grill’s tasty fare or snag a seat on Buck & Honey’s outdoor patio.