Fort Atkinson is the centerpoint of the Glacial River Trail; you can hop on the rail-trail in downtown Fort Atkinson and head south for a longer ride or go north to Jefferson on two disconnected trail sections on opposite sides of the city. Much farther north, another short disconnected segment of trail is open in the community of Clyman in Dodge County.
Before hopping on the Glacial River Trail to see the sights, consider beginning your journey at the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson. The museum is named after the Hoard family behind the nationally distributed dairy farm magazine "Hoard's Dairyman." Exhibits of tools, textiles and Native American artifacts will get you up to speed on the area's early fort history, European settlers and American Indian culture.
Travel south a couple of blocks to the beautiful metal archway announcing the trail. A bridge crossing the Rock River will bring you to the River Walk, off the trail and under the bridge, which offers quaint shops and restaurants. The trail shoots through the city, crossing busy Janesville Avenue. A low stone wall next to the path marks the Glacial River Rotary Depot, which offers a drinking fountain and covered picnic area.
The paved trail continues through the Fort Atkinson business district and at mile 2 enters quiet woodlands. At the intersection with lightly traveled Groeler Road, the path detours from the old rail corridor for about 1.5 miles. Turn right on Groeler Road to head northwest to a long, nearly 1-mile downhill slope that brings you to a T junction with an unmarked town road. Follow the town road under the State Route 26 bridge along the Rock River.
Immediately after passing under the highway bridge, turn left onto Schwemmer Lane. Follow this quiet road south for about a half mile. The trail has left the railroad grade at this point. It rolls gently downhill between farm fields before joining an unnamed road for another short on-road section. Where the route connects with Old 26 Road, the railroad grade trail picks up again.
Take a worthwhile side trip by turning right on Old 26 Road and following it southwest for 1 mile. Here you will find Indian Mounds Park, a collection of 11 Indian mounds and an old Indian trail. The mounds, large earthworks with religious or ceremonial origins, can be seen from the trail. Look closely to see the turtle and bird shapes identified by experts. The mounds are thought to have survived about 1,500 years.
Back on the trail you travel through patches of woods and open areas, with SR 26 nearby. In the community of Koshkonong, you'll cross from Jefferson County into Rock County. Just before that crossing, you'll find a lovely covered bridge.
From there, the trail continues south through rural countryside, the community of Milton, and on to the north end of Janesville. In Janesville, connections to numerous other trails can be made, including the Ice Age Trail, a 1,200-mile pathway (primarily for hiking) that connects several state parks, forests, and wildlife areas throughout the state.
If you instead wanted to travel north from Fort Atkinson, a good place to begin your journey is at Klement Park, nestled along the shoreline of the Rock River. Cross County Road K to pick up the trail. The paved pathway unwinds along the east side of SR 26 through Wisconsin countryside. As it passes by the community of Jefferson, the trail gets more tree-lined along Crawfish River and ends at US Highway 18.
To reach the Fort Atkinson trailhead from the north, follow State Route 26 south until it turns into North High Street in Fort Atkinson. Turn left on North 4th Street and continue until Main Street. Street parking is available.
To reach a trailhead near the southern end, take SR 26 north, turn left on E County Line Road to a small parking area.