Weekend Backpacker: Milwaukee
Beginning in Verona, a small community on the outskirts of Madison and less than a two-hour drive from Milwaukee, the Military Ridge State Trail boasts 39.6 miles of scenic hiking along the former Chicago and Northwestern Railway line. A gentle grade of 3 to 5 percent guides hikers to the top of the Military Ridge, overlooking the Wisconsin River watershed to the north and the Pecatonica and Rock River watersheds to the south. The trail's highest point, near Blue Mounds, is about 1,300 feet above sea level, while the lowest segment is along the Sugar River between Riley and Verona at about 930 feet.
Land around the trail is largely agricultural, but also includes prairie, wetlands, woods, and small towns. Because this is not a loop trail, hikers who wish to hike the entire trail are advised to bring two vehicles. Along the trail, hikers and bikers may spot wild raspberry and blackcap bushes, wild strawberries, wildflowers, geese, ducks, beaver, and other wildlife. There are 48 bridges along the trail, which is open to hikers, bikers, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and motorized wheelchairs.
Recommended hike: Set up camp at the Blue Mound State Park, the highest elevation in southern Wisconsin (1,716 feet above sea level). While at the 1,100-acre park, climb one of the two 40-foot observation towers to capture a sweeping view of the Baraboo and Mississippi River bluffs and the Belmont and Platteville mounds. The park itself includes several easy to moderate loop trails, picnic areas, a swimming pool, and 78 wooded campsites. From the park, hike east toward Verona (19.5 miles) or west toward Dodgeville (18.7 miles). While in the area, check out Cave of the Mounds. This national natural landmark was discovered 30 years ago and is located about 2.5 miles from the Blue Mound State Park. The trail passes within a half-mile of the cave. Guided tours are given daily from March 15 through November 15 and weekends year-round. Call (608) 437-3038 for more information.
Camping: There is no camping on the trail. The Blue Mound State Park offers campsites (cost varies from $7 to $11 per night per site) and is located halfway between Verona and the trail's end. Governor Dodge Park in Dodgeville (camping fee $8 to $12 per night) has family campgrounds. Both parks accept advance reservations (call 1-888-947-2757). Brigham County Park is about one mile north of the trail in the Blue Mounds area. Contact Dane County Parks Department at (608) 246-3896 for more information.
Getting there: Take I-90 west to Madison. Get off at the Highway 12/14 Madison exit. Loop around the south side of Madison on the Beltline. Take Highway l8/151 to the west off of the Beltline. To get to the Verona trailhead, proceed west on 18/151 about 8 miles. Take the first Verona exit. Turn south on Highway PB. The trailhead parking lot is right there. To get to the Blue Mounds Park, don't take the Verona exit, but continue west on 18/151 bypassing Verona and Mount Horeb. About 5 miles west of Mount Horeb, you will turn north on Highway F (there are signs for Blue Mounds and Blue Mound State Park). You immediately come to a"T" intersection. Turn left (west) on Highway ID. Go to the bottom of the hill (about 0.75 mile) and turn right (north) on Mounds Road in the village of Blue Mounds. Follow Mounds Road north through town. The park is about one mile north of town. In Dodgeville, the trail begins on County Highway YZ, east of Highway 23. Parking is available at Highway YX, 0.2 mile east of Highway 23 near Dodgeville, and at Mount Horeb, Blue Mounds, Barneveld, and Riley.
Permits: Only bicyclists age 16 and over need trail passes (none required for hikers). The passes cost $3 per day, $10 per year. The passes are valid on all state trails. They may be purchased at Blue Mound and Governor Dodge State Parks or at local businesses in the communities through which the trail passes. A seasonal pass is valid on all state trails from April 1 through October 31. The trail is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Maps: Available at the Governor Dodge State Park office. Mileposts along the trail show distances from each end. The top number indicates the miles you have gone and the bottom number indicates miles left to go. Posts with orange numbers mark points of interest that correspond to the numbered description in the booklet entitled "The History and Guide to the Military Ridge State Park Trail." This booklet is available at the Blue Mound State Park and Governor Dodge State Park offices.
Thanks to Karl Heil, park superintendent of the Blue Mounds State Park and Military Ridge Trail.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication