Note: Trail passes are required year-round for cyclists and inline skaters, ages 16 and up. You can buy them at self-registration stations on the trail or at select parks and private businesses. The passes are good for all state trails. Hikers can use the trail free of charge.
The humble beginning of the Military Ridge Trail, at an unadorned highway intersection in Fitchburg, doesn't hint at the beauty of this trail's 40 miles through idyllic farmland and scattered small towns in southwest Wisconsin. Though its first miles parallel the busy road, you will be cheered by summer wildflowersyellow and white moss rose, chicory, purple clover, thistles and yarrow. Moving southwest, within 2 miles the traffic clamor is overtaken by birdcalls and rustling branches. You will cross the first of 47 bridges, this one spanning a wetland lush and colorful with irises and cattails.
The first town on the trail is Verona. With a population of more than 8,000, Verona has a number of amenities, though you will have to venture north on Main Street a block or two to reach the heart of the town. As you leave Verona, the asphalt surface changes to stone dust, and nature in these lowlands takes over. The trail gently stretches through the Sugar River Valley, which is sprinkled with open cornfields, wetlands with cattails, weeping willows, birches and gnarly oak trees. Just past the 10-mile mark a boardwalk takes you out to a marsh teeming with wildlife. Look for sandhill cranes and listen for the leopard toad, which sounds like a finger rubbing across a balloon.
Bring your appetite to Mount Horeb, which has retained elements of its early settlers' Norwegian heritage and possesses a unique and charming trail station. The main street is only one block south of the trail and has convenient and delicious eateries.
From Mount Horeb the trail traverses the top of Military Ridge (a name derived from the Blackhawk Battle between the Sauk and Fox Indian nations and the U.S. Army and militia over the land in 1832). Later the well-used route became a road connecting Green Bay with Fort Crawford. The trail rises gradually to skirt the southern slope of Blue Mound, its highest point at 1,300 feet above sea level. After the village of Blue Mounds you will see a spur trail on the right to Blue Mound State Park, where the view of the ridge and countryside are exceptional. Also near here is the Cave of the Mounds, with delightful subterranean geology (follow a spur to the left just after the tunnel under Hwy Id for about 0.5 mile south.)
Shortly after Barneveld (around 25 miles), and for most of the last 15 miles, tidy dairy farms and Holstein cows pattern the sloping fields in the distance. The trail feels tranquil here and is often sheltered by a dense tree canopy that is cool and refreshing in the high summer. After curving through miles of lush farmland, you will enter the pleasant town of Ridgeway, home to the single remaining active railroad depot on this converted corridor. A nearby community park has restrooms, parking and a drinking fountain.
The trail ends in Dodgeville (settled in 1827 by the first governor of the Wisconsin Territory), but if you're not ready to wrap up this trail trip, head for Governor Dodge State Park, a couple of miles to the east of Dodgeville (mile 38). A paved access trail to the right paralleling County Highway Z leads to the park's miles of trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing.
Parking and Trail Access
There are numerous access points and trailheads in the towns along the 40-mile route. Reach the Fitchburg endpoint from Madison by taking US 18/151 South to County Highway Pd/McKee Road. The trail starts on the southeast corner of the intersection. Parking and trail access are also available at Quarry Ridge Recreation Area. Follow County Highway Pd west from US 18/151; turn left on Nesbitt Road then left on Fitchrona Road. The park is about 0.3 mile on the left. There is a paved path to the Military Ridge Trail.
For the Verona Trailhead take US l8/151 South to Exit 92 for County Highway Pb. Go north on Old Highway Pb for 1 mile. The trailhead with parking is on the left.
The Dodgeville trailhead is on County Highway Yz, 1.5 miles east of SR 23 at the Department of Natural Resources Dodgeville Service Center.
A Note About Biking to Gov. Dodge
I recently completed a ride from Verona to the end of the trail at Dodgeville and back, camping at Governor Dodge State Park. Even though we've had a lot of rain this spring, the trail was in excellent condition: no washouts in the crushed limestone roadbed ...
I biked from Verona to Blue Mounds State Park and back. Not long after you leave the trail head in Verona, there's a Free Little Library on your right. I stopped and grabbed a book to read and return. There's also a Free Little Library at the trail stop ...
A haul but worth it
Have done this trail three times: once round-trip, Madison-Dodgeville-Madison (staying overnight in Dodgeville), and once one-way on my way from Madison to Galena, Illinois. It is a strenuous workout for a guy like me in his sixties, but I I enjoyed it ...