Capital City State Trail


Capital City State Trail Facts

States: Wisconsin
Counties: Dane
Length: 17 miles
Trail end points: Cottage Grove Rd. at Staughton Rd. (Madison) and Williamsburg Way at Verona Rd./US 151/US 18 (Fitchburg)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6017412
Trail activites: Bike, Inline Skating, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Capital City State Trail Description

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

Capital City State Trail Reviews

I ride this trail regularly. While it is a very nice trail that takes you out of the city, the blacktop is starting to show it's age. There are cracks in many places. Some go across the path and others go down the path making it a bit of a rough ride. The good news is that they are scheduled to start replacing the trail later this year.

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 country before it connects with the Military Ridge Trail, can give you sunstroke on a hot, sunny day.


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 are some pretty good climbs on it. I would give it solid "A". It could be better marked in places. The part thats goes along the lake is really pretty. Mononah Terrace is a nice place to visit and take pictures.

This trail along with the other Madison area trails and bike lane system constitutes by far the best recreational facility in the area. On a nice weekend day thousands of people use these corridors to bike, jog, roller, blade, etc. There are quiet wooded stretches, open marsh areas and a great deal of wildlife particularly in mornings and evenings. In addition to nice recreational opportunities, these corridors provide good commuting routes for quite a few people who would like to leave their cars at home. The only real downside to this is that The Capital City Trail was handed over to the State of Wisconsin which resulted in it in being administered by the DNR as part of Wisconsin's State Trail System. This means that one is required to have a permit to bike or roller blade on it. This alone wouldn't be so bad except that it subjects the users to being stopped to prove they have a right to be there by DNR employees. This ranges from inconvenient to annoying to extremely unpleasant.
Thanks for featuring our wonderful Capital City Trail.


"On a recent business trip to Wisconsin, I stayed at the Arbor House Bed and Breakfast. They have free bicycle rental for guests, so when I had an extra hour, I hit the trail. It was great -- a nice, smooth ride; well-marked, and interesting scenery.

One of the things I absolutely love about rail trails is the feeling of being able to see a city from the perspective of the backyards (a behind-the-scenes view of what the city is like). I passed gorgeous gardens, a pumpkin patch, rode over a highway, through an industrial area, past a woodsy area with stunning fall foliage, and even got to see the what appeared to be housing projects in a poorer side of town. Taking in a city at 15 miles an hour is a perfect pace, and the view from rail trails is entertainingly diverse.

This trail connects to several others, including a 40 mile one.

I highly recommend this rail trial, and wish there were more like it.


"Madison's SW Bike Path is used by 1000's of people daily. From infant to elderly, it is a vital part of a vibrant community. It is a link to college sporting events, practice route for running squads and has upped the value of all houses along it. Rails to trails are the best use of public funds that I know! "

"Okay, I love Madison, so my review is likely biased (I don't live there). Still, this is a well marked and scenic trail, which takes you through scenic woods, marshlands, urban parks, neighborhoods, and industrial wastelands. It is certainly not a boring ride. Also, it is longer than 3 miles."

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