Capital City State Trail

Trail Map

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NOTE: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires a trail pass for cyclists and inline skaters for the Nine Springs E-way portion of this trail (9 miles), but Dane County provides free passes for frequent commuters.

If you want to get to know Madison, Wisconsin, ride this trail! The trail-progressive metropolis renamed a collection of paths (Nine Springs E-Way, the John Nolen Lakeshore Path, Isthmus and the East Side bike paths) the Capital City Trail. The 17-mile trail meanders around and through the heart of Madison, giving you a keen understanding of the natural and urban beauty of this city.

Beginning from the southwest, the first 5 miles are lush with a heavy tree canopy lined with raspberry bushes. This opens up into marshland filled with echinacea flowers and the bright flashes of red-winged blackbirds. At Fish Hatcher Road, the trail disappears for 0.2 mile. (To find it again, turn left at Fish Hatcher Road, right on Glacial Valley and veer to the right.) At 8.5 miles the trail passes through the Capital Springs Centennial State Recreation Area, with the Monona Conservancy Wetlands, a fish hatchery and a wildlife observation area. The terrain is rolling golden hills dotted with trees and picnic benches, and includes scenic valley views.

After 12 miles of pastoral views you will reach Olin Park, with breathtaking views of downtown Madison. Here you have a choice: follow the signs for Wingra Creek Trail to the arboretum, Henry Vilas Zoo and beaches at Vilas Park. Or continue north on the Capital City Trail and you will veer into the heart of Madison over a bridge, affording exceptional views of the capitol and along Lake Monona. Turning off the trail away from the lake onto city streets will take you into the historical center of Madison. Along the lake you will pass Monona Terrace, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center, which is open for tours and noted for its exceptional lake views.

Continuing on the trail you skip back and forth over a street traveling through historical Madison neighborhoods, including Schenk-Atwood at mile 16, where the trail is flanked by community garden plots, bungalow-style homes and shops. Here you can pick up a bite to eat or a cup of joe. The northern 1 mile of the trail takes you along Olbrich Botanical Gardens, with 16 acres of plants and paths, a tropical paradise in the conservatory. You'll also see a Thai pavilion that is easily recognizable from the trail.

The trail ends at mile 17, but you can keep exploring. At the southwest end you can connect via a short on-road segment with the 40-mile Military Ridge State Park Trail. Eventually the northeast end of the Capital City Trail will link with the 52-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the Capital Springs Centennial State Recreation Area trailhead from Interstate 90, take the West Beltline (US Highway 12/18 to the South Towne Drive (Exit 264) and go south. Continue for almost 1 mile and then turn left on Moorland Road, which turns into Lake Farm Road. Look for trailhead parking on your right. The trail is generally accessible from downtown Madison.

There are numerous other access points and parking areas. Consult the map for more locations. DNR also produces a map with parking and trailhead information

Reviews

   July, 2014 by tandemriders

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A capital trail

   May, 2012 by stobmaster0001

Have ridden this trail several times. It is a great way to get around Mad-town, and it's a thrill speeding along the bike expressway outside Monona Terrance, facing Lake Monona. But the section down in Fitchburg, wending for the most part through unshaded ...read more

real nice trail

   August, 2009 by asinca

This trail is great to ride. The surface is smooth and well repaired. The trail is not your typical straight as a arrow rail trail which makes any ride more interesting. It has a nice mix of shade and sun without the tree tunnel so many trails have. There ...read more