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The Military Ridge State Trail finds the high ground as it rolls across 40 miles of idyllic farmland from the outskirts of Madison to the historic mining town of Dodgeville. It follows an American Indian footpath later used by pioneers and railroaders. Travelers will pass the base of the highest point in southern Wisconsin and find opportunities to explore small towns, state parks, and natural areas.
The trail was built on a branch of the Chicago and North Western Railway, which started service on the line in 1881 but stopped using it by 1982. Work on the trail started in 1983.
Beginning in the Madison suburb of Fitchburg, you’ll start on a paved trail that parallels the busy US 18/151 for the first few miles. Just south of McKee Road, you’ll find the junction for the Cannonball Path, which heads 3.9 miles northeast toward the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. After you cross the first of nearly 50 bridges on the route, that paved trail becomes screened limestone as you leave behind the noisy highway and enter the town of Verona. A park, coffeehouse, and brewpub are all within a block of the trail here.
The trail crosses the Sugar River Wetlands as it leaves town, and then enters farmland on its way to Riley. In a couple of miles, you’ll pass through Klevenville and notice that the grade increases on the way to Mount Horeb, which celebrates its Norwegian settlers’ heritage as the self-described “Troll Capital of the World.” Located at about the trail’s halfway point, the town offers plenty of cafés, bakeries, and brewpubs just a block or two north of the trail’s visitor center.
From Mount Horeb, the trail traverses the top of Military Ridge, whose name comes from its use by the US Army and militias during the Black Hawk War in 1832. Local militia built a fort at the nearby town of Moundville (now Blue Mounds) during that war, sparked when American Indian followers of Sauk war chief Black Hawk attempted to resettle lands lost in a disputed treaty.
The entrance road to Cave of the Mounds is about 3.8 miles past Mount Horeb. The limestone caverns are known for colorful patterns left by minerals underground. Another 1.5 miles past the road to the cave is the town of Blue Mounds and Blue Mound State Park. The trail passes the southern border of the park, but you can hike 435 feet to the summit at 1,716 feet. Observation towers provide views of the surrounding Driftless Area. Camping also is available.
The trail heads downhill as you leave Blue Mounds. Tidy dairy farms populate the views across the final 15 miles, and you’re often sheltered by tree canopies. About 9 miles past Blue Mounds you’ll enter Ridgeway, home to a restored 1913 railroad depot (and museum) that replaced an 1883 station lost in a fire that consumed most of downtown.
The trail ends in Dodgeville (settled in 1827 by the first governor of the Wisconsin Territory), an old lead mining town that has plenty for tired and hungry travelers. Nearby, Governor Dodge State Park offers camping, as well as miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback trails through the park’s prairies and forests.
Snowmobiling is permitted on the limestone section of trail but not on the paved section between Fitchburg and Verona.
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. For information, go to dnr.wi.gov /topic/parks/trailpass.html.
To reach the trailhead in Fitchburg from the intersection of US 18/US 151/Verona Road and County Road PD/McKee Road, go 0.1 mile west on McKee Road, and turn left onto Nesbitt Road. Go 0.9 mile, and turn left onto Fitchrona Road; then go 0.2 mile, and turn left into the parking area at Quarry Ridge Recreation Area. A short path from the parking lot leads north to Military Ridge State Trail—go right for 0.8 mile to the eastern endpoint, or go left to Dodgeville.
To reach the trailhead in Dodgeville from the intersection of US 18 and WI 23 N./N. Bequette St., go north 0.2 mile on SR 23, and turn right onto County Road YZ. Go 0.3 mile, and turn left on Johns Street into the DNR Dodgeville Service Center, on your left just after you cross the Military Ridge State Trail. The endpoint is 0.4 mile west.
Took a road bike from Dawley's Sanctuary on the Capital City Trail east. Took several tries to find the right path through Chicory Hills and I stumbled onto the Cannonball Path at the southeast corner of the Arboretum. Signage is indeed awful here. So many trails and offshoots and no idea where to go! But I headed west on Cannonball until I got the to hub where all the trails come together. I decided to keep going west and did the Military Ridge Trail. It's lovely and paved the first 3 miles, as noted, and the next crushed gravel part is fine for a road bike in dry weather... until about 2 miles past Verona when it becomes much more sandy at Sugar River Wetlands, where I turned around. Next time I will take a hybrid!
As others have noted, this trail really needs some upgrading. We road our gravel bikes 50 miles from Gov. Dodge State Park to Mt. Horeb and back and the first thing I would say is NO ROAD OR COMFORT BIKES. Substrate ranges from paved (in the park) to packed gravel to areas (like outside barneveld) where the trail has been reduced to a loose sand Arroyo that is walking only. Some areas that once were paved are weeded over. This is all sad because this trail goes thru some lovely countryside and has some of the nicest scenery of all the rail trails in the state. If you start at gov. Dodge, please be aware that the path to the Military Ridge though paved, is very steep and those not in good physical shape will have to walk a ways or join the trail somewhere else. Folks with hybrids should be able to manage the shifting terrain but be careful of soft spots and deep gravel. It is well worth the ride but this is a sadly neglected resource .
As others have said, this trail can be difficult to ride in spots due to surface conditions. There are numerous spots where there is erosion and it appears they have tried to fill them with sand. There are spots where the sand is treacherous if you are riding a road or hybrid bike. We prefer to ride our fat bikes when riding this trail due to the unpredictable conditions. There are some stretches where it had been asphalt, but it is so broken up it is worse than the typical limestone trail.
Most of the bridges look like they are need of some repair. And some are extremely bumpy.
All that being said, the conditions are not bad enough to keep you from riding it. Just be aware that it is not as smooth as other area trails.
Much of the trail is beautiful scenery. There are times where it runs close to 151, but those are offset by long stretches of nature at its best. Every time we ride on the trail we see a wide variety of animals.
Trail heads along the trail offer solid services, and there are many things to see and do in the towns along the way.
Do not ride this trail if you hope to experience anything close to a relatively smooth ride, at least from the trail head east of Verona to Mt. Horeb. For the second time in four years, hikers and bikers used the trail when its surface was soft resulting in permanent and deep scarring of foot prints and wheel ruts as the trail has dried and firmed up. The scars from four years ago are still evident, so you can imagine what the damage from Spring 2016 has done. The Wisconsin DNR (Department of Neglected Resources) seems unwilling to or incapable of repairing the damage (other than filling the ruts and holes with course sand), despite raising the price of trail passes by 25% this year.
Lovely scenery, gentle grade makes it very pleasant for the occasional biker or hiker. Numerous attractions around Mt. Horeb and Verona.
However, the trail is poorly maintained by the DNR. The numerous wooden bridges crossing small streams are going to be needing serious repair in a couple of years. I would advise not leaning on the railings of some of them. Keep an eye out for nails sticking up, last year one bridge had some sticking up three inches most of the summer until somebody hammered them down.
There were some interpretive signs on observation decks near Klevenville about the wildlife and vegetation. They were just cardboard and disappeared long ago though the sign posts remain. Also, near Riley there was a small over look of a spring with a bench. That boardwalk has been removed by the DNR. However, local history groups have installed some kiosks with information that are pretty neat.
Being crushed limestone, the trail conditions can vary widely. There is a one bad soft section in the eastern side of Mt Horeb. You can spot it, the trail looks like sand box sand. Around Verona near Epic Medical the trail seems to have a lot of sand mixed in with the pebbles. During wet conditions your bike or foot will sink a couple of inches into it. No doubt the trail should be closed as this leads to some bad ruts and pits forming, but the DNR does nothing.
We rode Military Ridge from Verona to Blue Mounds State Park for a short overnighter this past July. This was our first family bike camping trip with our 9- and 11-year-old children and it was a nice, easy ride for first timers.
We parked at the Ice Age Junction Trailhead in Verona and pedaled to Blue Mounds State Park. The trail is really quite flat and well-maintained (except for a few loose boards on some of the bridges—giving me my first flat on my two-year-old commuter tires). The bike/hike-in campsites at Blue Mounds were nice, although a bit small. My biggest complaint is that the traffic noise from US-151 was very noticeable throughout the night, so it doesn't provide much of a "getting away from it all" camping experience.
Mt. Horeb is a nice little town with some local eateries. They had a town festival on Saturday on our way back toward Verona, which provided a nice break and entertainment for the kids.
Make sure to pay the trail fee at the trail head, as they were ticketing people both on our way to Blue Mound on Friday night and on our way back Saturday morning.
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 and few gopher holes. The woods and farmland bordering the trail are a green so deep that it make you woozy, but beware the mosquitoes, ticks, and gnats, as the wet weather has made them plentiful.
If you plan to camp at Governor Dodge, be aware that the short-cut bike path that goes into park from the southeast will, after a very steep descent into the deep hollow of the park, deposit you several miles from the main entrance and the registration office. You will have to pedal up a seemingly endless incline to get to the office and purchase a camp permit. I was pulling a trailer and this climb at the end of a long day of riding was almost too much to take. To avoid this torture, you can take the trail into Dodgeville. The trail ends at the intersection of Co Hwy Yz and Hwy 23. Turn north (right) onto 23 and head to the entrance of Gov. Dodge. The shoulder is wide and smooth and there are no hills to climb. This route is longer than the "short cut," but it's worth it if you are hauling gear. It also allows you to get supplies in Dodgeville before you head to the park. Once you register at the park headquarters, it's a long downhill glide to the camp grounds. BTW Governor Dodge is a magnificent state park and well worth a visit.
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 in Reily. Going west on the trail, there's a three mile section just outside of Verona that goes through a marsh area. Not a lot shade, but the herons and egrets are fun to see. After you leave the marsh land, there's plenty of shade. Leaving Reily, you begin going up a long gentle incline that basically continues all the way to Blue Mounds. West of little town of Blue Mounds, there's a side pathto Blue Mounds State Park, where they have about a dozen tent sites just off the trail that are set aside for bikers. I came on a Thursday night and was the only person there. The sites are nice, but rather far away from the main part of the Park. The Park has a swimming pool!
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 a great deal. The trail is shaded for, oh, about 60-70% of the way, and there are interesting stops in Mt. Horeb, Blue Mound, and Barneveld (this last notable for the tornado that destoyed it in 1984, though a good part of the town has now been rebuild). At the west end is pretty little Dodgeville, home of Land's End and the usual array of fast food restaurants. Four or five miles up Rt. 23 is the freaky House on the Rock, and in another dozen or so -- though a very hilly dozen -- is Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, The American Players Theater (one of the best professional repertory theaters in the country), and the cozy town of Spring Green. The trail is not quite remote enough for my taste but is a pleasure nonetheless.
This is a favorite of many who live around Madison. My favorite ride is the 6+ miles from Riley to Mt. Horeb. The final three miles are up a 3-degree grade which is a 300-foot increase in elevation. It's a workout, but with a number of rewards that make the effort worthwhile. There's the micro-brewed beer and great burgers at the Grumpy Troll in Mt. Horeb, and the 3-miles 'coast' at a comfortable 8 to 10 miles an hour back toward Riley. The Riley Tavern (at the trailhead in Riley) sports an amazing pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings and a relaxing veranda porch that overlooks the Trail and surrounding farm land.
"We cycled west from Verona to Dodgeville on a perfect autumn Saturday; motelled it in D'ville; then returned the next day. Round trip: about 80 miles.
Good trail conditions and amble restrooms at park shelter houses along the way. One short stretch west of Ridgeway was somewhat hilly with enough loose gravel to skid on--careful of that.
Otherwise, the ride has some of the most enjoyable features: lovely, postcard-like views of farm country, splendid vistas, especially near Blue Mound; camping opportunity there, as well.
Restaurants, taverns and pubs at regular intervals, too. And not very crowded, surprisingly."
We rode this trail from Dodgewille to Madison the first week of September 2006.
We stayed the first night in Blue Mounds state park.
The ride was a beautiful and pleasant way to spend a vacation.
We stopped in Blue Mounds and bought a print at an artists studio.
We spend three hours in the interesting community of Mt. Horeb.
The trail head in Verona is great.
The trail then connects to the Capitol City Trail in Madison which is another nice way to spend a day (riding around the city on trails).
Not a lot of people riding this trail (compared to the Elroy Sparta trail or the volume of bike traffic on the Capitol City trail).
I usually start my ride at the new trailhead in Verona and ride through Mt Horeb and to Blue Mounds area. The trail surface is hard packed and generally smooth riding. Scenery is great along the way. Grumpy Troll brewpub in Mt Horeb is worth the stop. I ride this trail 3-4 times a year and highly recommend the trail.
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