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The Capital City State Trail contributes to the impression that you’re never far from a bike path in the Madison area. The paved trail meanders for 17 miles from the suburb of Fitchburg in the southwest, through downtown Madison, to the eastern neighborhoods. It demonstrates why this area always ranks among the top bicycle-friendly communities.
Less than half the trail is on former rail lines: the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad along western Lake Monona, and the Chicago and North Western Railway in the east. Most of the trail comprises a collection of paths (the Nine Springs E-Way, the John Nolen Lakeshore Path, and the Isthmus and East Side Bike Paths) that were renamed into a single trail.
Beginning in Fitchburg, you’ll take a tunnel beneath US 18/US 151 (Verona Road) and, in less than a mile, arrive at a “bike trail interchange” where you’ll cross the Southwest Commuter Path (heads north to Madison), the Badger State Trail (heads south to Illinois), and the Cannonball Path (connects with Military Ridge State Trail). You’ll pass through a forest and enter a prairie planted by Fitchburg’s Dawley Conservancy, where you’ll find restrooms, parking, and a bike-repair station.
You’ll alternate in and out of wooded park settings for the next 2 miles to a pedestrian crossing over Fish Hatchery Road and a trail interruption at Glacier Valley Road (turn right on this street, and look for the trail on the left in 0.4 mile). For roughly the next 6 miles, you’ll pass through the 2,500-acre Capital Springs State Park and Recreation Area, which features marshes, creeks, and lakes across a rolling golden terrain sparsely dotted with trees. You can learn about local American Indian culture and pioneer settlement patterns at the Lussier Family Heritage Center at mile 8.3, next to a campground. You can also pick up the Lower Yahara River Trail here and head east to cross a floating bridge over Lake Waubesa.
Look for Olin Park at mile 12 for breathtaking views of downtown Madison across Lake Monona. The Wingra Creek Bike Path on the left goes 2.2 miles to Henry Vilas Zoo, beaches at Vilas Park, and, farther on, a shady ride through the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. Continuing north, the Capital City State Trail runs alongside John Nolen Drive on a causeway that crosses the lake with exceptional views of the State Capitol dome.
The trail hugs the shoreline for a few blocks, and you’ll pass the visually striking Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Farther on, the trail travels through historical Madison neighborhoods, including Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara 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 trail takes a southeasterly tack where you’ll pass Olbrich Botanical Gardens, with 16 acres of plants, paths, and a tropical paradise in the conservatory. You’ll also see a Thai pavilion easily recognizable from the trail.
The trail ends 1.4 miles past the gardens, but there are plans to connect with the 53-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail (Trail 41), which begins about 6 miles away in Cottage Grove.
NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists and in-line skaters ages 16 and older for the 9 miles between Verona Road and Nob Hill Road near Industrial Drive. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks /trailpass.html. Regular commuters can get a fee-waiver sticker by filling out a form supplied by the Dane County Department of Land & Water Resources/Parks Division; download a printable form at parks-lwrd.countyofdane.com/documents/pdf /capitalstatetrail-380-162.pdf.
Parking near the western endpoint is available at Dawley Conservancy in Fitchburg. To reach the Fitchburg trailhead from the intersection of US 18/US 151/Verona Road and County Road PD/McKee Road, take McKee Road east. Go 0.9 mile to S. Seminole Hwy., turn left, and then go 0.4 mile and turn left into the parking lot for Dawley Conservancy. Take the short path in back of the parking lot north for 0.1 mile to the Capital City State Trail. Left goes to the western endpoint in 1 mile, while right goes to Madison.
To reach the parking near the eastern endpoint in Madison from SR 30/Aberg Ave., take the Fair Oaks Ave. exit, heading south. Go 0.5 mile, and turn left at Milwaukee St.; then, in 0.3 mile, turn right onto Walter St. Go 0.6 mile to parking for Olbrich Playfields on the right (Johns St. is on the left). To get on the trail, head back to Walter St., and walk north (left) about 500 feet to the street, crossing for Capital City State Trail. Right goes 1 mile to the endpoint at Cottage Grove Road, and left goes toward downtown Madison.
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