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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 nearly 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 wildflowers—yellow 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.
There are numerous access points and trailheads in the towns along the nearly 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 along with restrooms and picnic shelters. 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.
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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