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The 53-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail between Cottage Grove and Waukesha provides a glimpse into the past when glaciers bore down on southeastern Wisconsin in the last Ice Age. Those gigantic sheets of ice created wetlands, ponds, and rivers, as well as hundreds of low, cigar-shaped hills called drumlins.
The landscape challenged the Chicago and North Western Railway’s builders as they established the rail line between Madison and Milwaukee in the 1880s. The wooden pilings that supported bridges sank in the deep muck of extensive wetlands, creating dangerous passages for trains. Declining rail traffic forced the railroad to stop using the route in 1983, and it was transformed into a rail-trail in 1986.
Those wood-planked bridges now provide popular features on the trail as viewpoints for the wetlands, where a host of wildlife thrives. You may spot large sandhill cranes, graceful birds with bright red caps on their heads, or hear spring peepers and a chorus of frogs. Deer, wild turkeys, foxes, and other critters are often seen.
Although the trail stops short of the railroad’s original destinations, plans are afoot to link with Madison via the Capital City State Trail and with Milwaukee via the New Berlin Recreation Trail. A 5-mile extension to Madison is expected to begin construction in 2019.
Beginning in Cottage Grove, you’ll head east for about 40 miles on a crushed-stone surface until you hit pavement in Dousman, one of many small towns along the trail providing rest, refreshment, and exploration. After leaving Cottage Grove, you’ll pass through miles of open country before reaching Deerfield and London. At around mile 14, you’ll sail over a 0.25-mile-long bridge that separates upper and lower Rock Lake, just before you reach Lake Mills. A restored 1895 train depot provides exhibits on local nature and railroad history, as well as other visitor services. Camping is available at Sandhill Station State Campground, 1.3 miles south of the depot on Mud Lake Road.
In the 5-mile stretch between Lake Mills and Jefferson, the trail tunnels under a thick tree canopy in the summer and crosses Crawfish River and Rock River (a fishing haven for locals). In Jefferson, at about 22 miles, signs guide you through a 1.5-mile on-road section before reconnecting with the trail. While you journey through small towns and the communities of Helenville, Sullivan, Dousman, and Wales, you’ll find nearby restaurants and grocery stores.
Before reaching Sullivan, the trail parallels US 18 for a couple of miles, and then a stream and wetland populated with yellow finches and purple thistles. Outside of Dousman, the crushed-stone surface ends, and the final 13 miles to Waukesha are smooth pavement. Even with the smoother surface, you might notice the grade increase as you pass south of the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Cushing Park Road Recreation Trail, 4 miles past Dousman, will take you there. It’s a well-deserved downhill after Wales for the last 7 miles to the Fox River and the trail’s end at the E. B. Shurts Environmental Learning Center at the Fox River Sanctuary in Waukesha.
State campgrounds are located in Lake Mills, Dousman, and Delafield.
NOTE: A State Trail Pass ($25 annually/$5 daily) is required for bicyclists and in-line skaters ages 16 and older. Snowmobilers must display either a Wisconsin registration or a snowmobile State Trail Pass. Snowmobiles are permitted on the limestone section of trail—but not the paved asphalt section—between Waukesha and Dousman. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trailpass.html.
To reach the Cottage Grove trailhead from I-94, take Exit 244 onto southbound County Road N. / N. Main St. Go 2.2 miles, and then turn left at Clark St. into the parking lot for the Glacial Drumlin State Trail.
To reach the Fox River Sanctuary trailhead in Waukesha from I-94, take Exit 293 toward Waukesha onto southbound County Road T/N. Grandview Blvd. Go 1.6 miles, and turn left onto US 18/Summit Ave.; then go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto N. Moreland Blvd., which becomes S. Moreland Blvd. Go 1.3 miles, and turn left onto W. St. Paul Ave. Go 0.5 mile, and turn right at N. Prairie Ave. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto W. College Ave. Parking is the first driveway on the right, at the E. B. Shurts Environmental Learning Center in the Fox River Sanctuary. After parking, take the Fox River Trail west 0.2 mile to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail, on the right.
The combination of open fields, swamps, and creeks makes this path a calm and pleasant ride.
I've biked the whole trail in various sections. For the most part the gravel is well maintained, there are a few small sections where there is larger or sandier gravel to cover some storm washouts. You'll have to watch out for the occasional chipmunk hole and bridge transitions, but otherwise it's a smooth ride.
Riding later in the day will allow you to see a wide variety of wildlife, especially around the marshes near London and Sullivan. On all 4 days I rode on the trail, I encountered at least one deer on the trail along with turkeys, woodchucks, minks, all colors of birds and more. The wildlife thins out after Dousman (when the trail is paved) but the view gets better as the trail is quite a bit higher than the surrounding area. Wales to Waukesha is downhill and fast, but not too much of a hassle pedaling the other way. Your mileage may vary.
There are also some great river and lake views as you go across Rock Lake outside of Lake Mills and over the Crawfish and Rock Rivers between there and Jefferson.
The only other issue for people who don't like hills is the road detour around Jefferson. It's a bit of a climb on either side to get over Hwy 26, and the road that takes you to the next section of the trail is hilly also.
My wife and I hit the trail on 7/09/17. Starting with the trailhead, very nice ammenities. Full bathrooms w/showers! The trail is well maintained crushed gravel. ( do watch out for the occasional chipmunk hole!) Start out with a nice canopy cover, opening a bit as you pass Rock Lake. Two miles out, the canopy gives way to wide open marsh. Mid-day ride is quite hot! The 1/4 mile bridge is no longer an option on this trail. ( Bummer: I was hoping to surprise my wife with that part of the ride) Because of the bridge closure, you ride in the open marsh a bit longer than before. But, soon you get back to a nice canopy of trees. ( Do put on bug dope! You stop in the canopy for a break and the mosquitos will eat ya alive!) All the bridges you encounter have a rubber strip in the middle and run length of bridge.(I believe for tire puncture safety) My wife and I hit our allotted time/distance ( at the moment 8miles out and 8 miles back) so we came up just shy of reaching Deerfield. Overall, a very pleasant ride! My Garmin said only 95ft of elevation. So, easy on the legs as well. We do plan on dropping in on different spots of the Glacial. We'll keep ya posted :)
We rode this trail from Waukesha to Lake Mills. There were numerous sink holes dotting the trail, some bigger than others. None of them were marked.
While we were getting our bike out of the truck at Wales we saw a fox cross the road near the visitors’ center. It didn’t seem to care that people were around. It just trotted along on its business.
This is a very scenic trail. However the day we rode it was very misty, relatively warm, and wet so the unpaved portions were starting to get quite challenging with our heavy duty tandem bike with cruiser tires and 300# of people. There were quite a few slippery spots and leaf covered potholes. We’ll probably have to give up riding the unpaved portions of this trail until the weather gets dryer or more crushed stone is put down. Last year we couldn’t ride the unpaved sections in winter because we slid around too much and sunk too deep in the mud. A bit of a terror ride for me in back where I can’t steer.
We only made it just past Sullivan to the salvage yard when the mist felt heavier and it started to smell like rain so we turned around and headed back. Large drops were hitting us sideways with the wind as we rode back through the marsh but it wasn’t wet enough to break out the rain gear.
This trail is amazing! It makes my weekend trips to Sauk City much easier because it isn't hilly. Towards the end you get a little sick of the crushed stone, but it really isn't too bad. If you are looking for a Saturday bike ride, I would recommend either biking from Waukesha to Wales(14 miles), which is paved, although it is the hilliest part and it isn't too scenic, or you could bike from Cottage Grove to Deerfield(13 miles), which, although it isn't paved, is both scenic and flat. I ride this entire trail every week if you want to see me I usually arrive in Deerfield around 12 noon every Saturday. Altogether very scenic trail and very efficient for biking!
I live 1.5mi from the start of the trail in Waukesha (EB Shurts). I always ride to the trail. Sometimes I just go to Wales (16mi round trip), sometimes to Dousman (29mi round trip). I hate riding the roads so this trail is absolutely perfect. I love it every time I'm on it (over 400mi on my bike this summer). Steady climb from about the 3mi marker out to Wales. It's a workout. Yesterday I rode to Dousman, when I got back to Waukesha, made a right turn coming off the trail & took the Fox River Trail. Gave me 40mi round trip. LOVE IT!!!!
Rode on this yesterday because we've been having a warm winter so thought trail would be pretty clear. It was pretty clear of snow except for several block long sections before and after Wales. The snow covered sections were covered with about 1" or so of slushy snow and if you have good balance along with wider tires it was possible to stay on the bike. However many people were walking their bikes through these sections.
We tried to ride on the unpaved, gravel section on the other side of Dousman but it didn't work very well. You could see about 1/2" deep footprints from people walking. Our bike sunk in even more than that. That was because there was about 1" of icey snow on top of 1" of water soaked mud which covered thawing, frozen ground. It was too slippery to ride. After less 2 blocks or so we carefully turned around and walked out.
Wonder what it will be like in spring.
I regularly take the Waukesha to Dousman leg. All paved and areas to really open up if you want.
I have risen this several times this summer and thoroughly enjoy it. many riders but most really courteous.
Had to kind of guess where to pick it up from the Fox River Trail in Waukesha but it was obviously a right turn after the faded sign of trail map. Plus we asked people. Quite a busy trail. A mostly slow uphill grade from Waukesha to Wales then slight downhill to Waterville road where we got off. All paved to this point.
On 30 August I rode the Glacial-Drumlin trail from Wales to Cottage Grove. The two trail heads are well marked and have all necessary facilities. The trail is in good condition except for numerous gopher holes. These are not dangerous but when you hit one unexpectedly it can rattle your fillings. Riding the trail with a road bike is not a problem. It is boringly flat except where it leaves the old railroad bed to cross Highway 26 and the last 100 yards as it enters the Cottage Grove parking lot. Those are the only places I needed to shift gears. The views from the Highway 26 overpass and the bridge over Rock River are particularly impressive.
I rode this trail in it entirety with a riding companion from Waukesha Wi.(east end) to Cottage Grove Wi.(west end). The trail is extremely flat for the entire run. Heads winds are typical from the west. I on the day we rode it was a slight west headwind. The trail has many stops along the way that you can get a refill of liquids or a snack. There are also places to have meals too. Plenty of scenery along the trail that helps pass the 50 plus miles away. In Lake Mills Wi. in the old rail station there are showers for the cyclist and campers to use for your convenience. The trail was in good condition. This was part of a journey that was a century ride from Fox Point Wi. to Madison Wi.
I have done the Waukesha to Dousman segment (12 miles, all paved) many times. It is a nice climb from Waukesha to Wales, then a quick run to Dousman. Round trip, 24 miles, for a great afternoon ride.
In spring, the trail is ready to go as soon as the snow melts, although I have done it where there was still snow in sections. In fall, you can get some really nice colors and some sections have outstanding views.
I have also done 10-12 miles further west from Dousman, which is crushed gravel, and smooth enough for a cross or hybrid bike. You usually see sand hill cranes on this section.
Give it a try!
I have used this trail twice with my hybrid bike, and enjoyed it very much! We parked at Dousman the first time, and took a ride east to Waukesha, which is paved. You can use a road bike on this section, which I will likely try next time. Do watch for divits in the pavement as it is not fun to hit one with your bike. (They are marked, so I assume that repairs are planned). Some of the trail is near Hwy 18, and there are some beautiful views of the countryside. The trail ends in Waukesha, but there is also a park at the trail end where you are also able to ride. Today, I rode west about 15 miles from Dousman to just outside of Jefferson and back, and the western portion of this trail is crushed gravel. There are several road intersections, most of which are not highly travelled. As mentioned in the trail description, there is a wetland which I found fascinating, but watch out for frogs on the trail! I also have seen deer and sandhill cranes during my rides thus far. Watch out for gopher and woodchuck holes, which are common on the crushed gravel trails.
I plan to ride this trail again, and hope to ride it in its entirety someday!
First trail ride and it was perfect! and it was drizzling rain and windy, did I say Perfect! although we only did 6miles.
I rode this trail yesterday from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. Low 70's and sunshine with minimal wind from the west made for the perfect ride. There was an amazing amount of wildlife along the trail ranging from 2 fawns and two sandhill cranes waiting in the center of the path, to trees filled with over a hundred great white egrets, many circling in the air. The song birds were prolific and the chipmunks a constant dodging game. The path was well groomed and the wildflowers were beautiful. Mid-July was obviously the perfect time to experience the nature of the 52 miles. The only messy part to maneuver is Jefferson on the roads when there is no trail.
A bonus during the ride was the old large wheeled bicycles riding the asphalt part of the trail and headed for Old World WI. Such fun.
I plan to do this again in the fall!
Since my girlfriend lives in Wales right near the bike trail I am biking the trail almost every weekend. I love the scenery and the trees along the trail. I have ridden West and almost made it to Sullivan before heading back to Wales. Can't wait till fall to see the changing colors of the trees. It should be a beautiful ride.
We just did a ride on May 3, 2014 riding the entire length of the trail. It was amazing!! In spite of a gusty west wind we thoroughly enjoyed the trail. The different scenery was welcome and it was so peaceful as not too many people were using it yet. We plan to repeat this ride again in the fall to see the beautiful colors and migrating birds.
Really nice wooded sections, If doing rnd. trip go east to west. Nice coast back. Land seems to peak at wales as a high point. Only went 3 miles past wales before going back.
I really love the paved portion of the trail but I'd like to see it plowed in the winter months It should be open year round and not just in Summer.
The Glacial Drumlin trail is one my favorites. It's beautiful in the spring, summer and early fall. Now, in late autumn, with most of the leaves off the trees and a threat of snow in the steely breeze, it's wonderfully melancholy. I biked from Cottage Grove to Lake Mills and camped at Sandhill Station. Although it was chilly, there were people walking, running, and biking on the trail. The surface of the trail was in fine shape, and the fallen leaves littering the trail made for very quiet biking. I stopped in the tiny community of London and had lunch in the town's only tavern. It was great!
The trail is open west of Dousman - I took it from Main St in Dousman to Sullivan and it's actually quite pretty once you get closer to Sullivan. Would like to continue west even more before the snow falls this year ...
I wanted to go past dousmann but the trail was closed due to the bridge being out. No detours were offered. The trail should be open after Aug 30 .
Loved the trail. Check out bike shop in Dousman just off the trail. They had some awesome bikes and people there were very nice.
I have been riding this trail for many years and recently daily from Jefferson to Lake Mills. I seem to be one of the few who has covered the entire trail. If you like the woodsy, natural ride travel west of Dousman where although the trail is unpaved, it's easy to ride and the scenery is superior. East of Dousman is paved and more urban; you'll hear traffic and have to cross highways and stuff you don't deal with on the west side. What I like is that you're never too far from little towns and rest stops all along the entire 52 miles of the trail. I've met a lot of really nice, friendly people along the trail but it's never what you'd call crowded. This trail is excellent, and I'm grateful for everyone who made it possible. Thank you everyone and I hope to meet you on the trail. I'm the guy who refuses to wear spandex or a helmet to bike. :)
The Glacial Drumlin State Trail is a great trail for everyone. If you enjoy hiking, biking, roller blading, skiing, or snowmobiling, this is the trail for you! I have had the opportunity to enjoy this trail multiply times and each time it has been a very pleasant experience. I especial like the area West of the Dousman area when the asphalt path turns to crushed gravel. This part of the trail becomes very rural and the traffic on this end is very light. Don’t let the crushed gravel scare you, my hybrid bike can handle it with no problems. The best part of the trail is all of the small towns you get to go through. The rest stops are cute and clean. The people that I meet on this trail are always friendly. One thing to note is the fact that this is a State owned trail so there is a fee to bike and roller blade on this trail, which is $4.00 for a daily pass or $20.00 for an annual pass.
I rode this trail (paved portion) almost daily during my time living in Waukesha. Well maintained, with some mild elevation changes. Seemed to be sparsely used, but people always friendly.
My 11 year old and I just finished our 2 day, 62 mile trek. We started at the Trail Head in Cottage Grove on Saturday Morning. The first day of the ride was AWESOME! Great scenery, she took 35 photos, we saw turkey, got within 10 feet of a young deer and plenty of chipmunks, cranes, hawks and other wildlife. We did get a little discombobulated on the Jefferson street section. (it could be marked a little better, hence 4 out of 5 stars) That night we camped just outside of Sullivan and then continued on our journey Sunday morn. The ride from Dousman on was really easy on the "bike-butt" thanks to the pavement. We connected to the New Berlin Trail after finishing the Glacial Drumlin and that took us home. There were plenty of places to stop and rest, restrooms and picnic sites. It was a great 62 mile adventure for my daughter and I, not only did we get some good Mom and Me time, but she knows she can accomplish almost anything she sets her mind to!
I rode the Glacial Drumlin from the Waukesha trail head west to Hwy 83 in Dousman and back (25 mi round trip). I found the trail very enjoyable with plenty of rural splendor and nice pavement in the section I rode. I started out at 9AM on a Sunday morning, so there were few other cyclists or walkers/joggers until my return trip. The return was more crowded but everyone enjoying the trail was polite and considerate. The grade to the west was a very gradual rise which wasn't a hindrance. I was looking forward to having gravity as my friend on the return but had a moderate east wind to contend with. You'll find a nice trail head stop with shelter, bathrooms, and water in Whales. There's also a coffee shop which I'd love to patronize on my next trip. You can purchase a trail pass at multiple boxes along the way. Please make sure you do as there was a ranger checking along the way. $4 is well worth the price of admission for this enjoyable experience!
My husband and I were visiting this area and chose to ride the paved portion of the trail from Waukesha to Dousman. It is in good shape with both shady and open areas. Enjoyed talking with the owner of the bike shop and followed her advice to have a beverage and cookie at the local coffee shop (used to be a small bank). There were a couple of restaurants available. We also had a good cookie/bread stop at Wales (it is behind the white building on the south side of the path). Also at the start of the trail in Waukesha, one can veer off to the left to ride the Fox River Trail - about 8 mile loop which is paved. Although we did not ride on it, I think it would be nice. There is a map/sign of the trail along with the Glacial Drumlin State Trail at the shared trailhead.
I live near Dousman and ride this trail about once a week. The paved 13-mile section is in perfect shape, with a very gentle incline as you go from Waukesha to Wales. It's popular on weekends but not too crowded, and even the fastest riders are usually considerate of other users; something that's becoming quite unusual in urban settings these days.
The trail levels off and the crowds thin out as you proceed west to Dousman. You have now left the suburban sprawl (not that it was often visible from the trail anyway) and are riding from small town to small town. There's a good bike shop right on the trail here and restaurants within a couple blocks.
The unpaved part of the trail from Dousman to the on-road connector is showing its age, with some washouts and holes to dodge, and a few bridges in need of replacement. Still, I have no trouble riding a road bike with 700x28 tires; a hybrid with 35s would be more than sufficient for anyone. Portions of the trail are improved every year, including regrading a section near the short tunnel just west of Highway D which used to get flooded every spring and some resurfacing and bridge replacement near Sullivan.
There's a rest area in Sullivan which seems to open very late in the spring and closes early in the fall, but that's about it west of Dousman. There's also a nice rest stop on the trail in Wales, but nothing at the eastern end of the trail in Waukesha.
I have not ridden the section west of Jefferson in a few years; it always seemed to be a bit rougher than the eastern half. I do recall a parking area with rest rooms at the Cottage Grove end.
I rode from the Trailhead in Waukesha to Dousman. The trail has great scenery. The golf coarse just before Wales is quite the scene, and the wildlife around you makes you forget where you are. The trail is reletively flat until just before Dousman, when the trail is parallel to Hwy. 18. After you cross Hwy. 67, it's about a half mile to Dousman. That town is pretty cool. There's a bikeshop, gas station, ice cream joint, and other various businesses. From what I've heard , after Dousman, there's not a lot of civilization around for quite a while.
I rode this trail from Cottage Grove to Lake Mills. It was fantastic. Lake Mills view from the trail is beautiful.Next year I'll ride the whole trail.
Traveled to this trail from Chicago, not disappointed!! Went west from Waukesha, very well maintained, nice ride. Lots of wildlife, interesting birds, cranes, snapping turtles, tons of frogs etc, quite fun. Went 35 mi first day, very lightly trafficked, great treat from Chicago area trails! Enjoy
It's well cared for by Wisconsin DNR, and has frequent wooden bridges and lots of wildlife. One spring I watched a bedraggled fox chase a flock of pheasants in a barren field. The birds weren't even respectful enough of the poor skinny fox to fly away - the one he chased would briefly take to the air, but only fly a few feet, during which the fox's attention turned to another potential meal. I rode on after 20 minutes, and the fox was still making half-hearted attempts to catch a pheasant meal.
I live in Deerfield WI and ride the trail all summer long. I ride almost every night from Deerfield to Lake Mills and back and it is just awesome! I am also fortunate enough to work close to the trail head in Cottage Grove and even started riding my bike to work in the morning on the trail from Deerfield to Cottage Grove - another great ride. Everyone is very courteous on the trail and it is never really crowded. I also began snowshoeing on it this winter a couple of times, where the scenery and time spent on the trail was very peaceful and serene. I love this trail and for the price for the yearly pass is very affordable!
Wonderful trail. I rode it from Lake Mills to Cottage Grove last summer, and then east a ways from Lake Mills. Good condition, nice scenery. As a visitor from Michigan, I was happy to pay the day use fee.
"On the last day of our cross-state tour we rode this trail as part of our day's ride from Madison to Milwaukee. I was surprised by the variation in scenery, especially the marshlands near Lake Mills. (Saw a red-tailed hawk on a signpost!) The easternmost section from Wales to Waukeshaw is a nice downgrade; we held 19 mi/hr despite a light headwind (fully loaded bikes)."
" Having twice biked the stretch from Waukesha to Wales, I can highly recommend this trail. While it is certainly likely the most heavily travelled part (being closest to the Milwaukee/Waukesha population centers), I have not found it to be overly crowded.
The trail starts quite flat and straight (westerly) out of Waukesha, but soon begins a barely perceptable, but steady climb to reach the high point of the entire trail in the town of Wales.
You will alternate between views of rolling fields and subdivisions with beautiful homes, before entering a more secluded stretch of trail as you encounter gentle curves and a few areas of 'walled in' rock cuts to reach the town of Wales.
A fine city park with drinking fountain ('bubbler' to native Wisconsinites) and 'facilities' will greet you at this trailhead area.
We definitely plan to 'explore' some of the remainder of this trail further west from Wales, as (so far) we have only turned around at this point to enjoy the easier ('downhill') return to Waukesha."
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