CALS Wellness Committee tip: Places to walk in the Madison area

Spring is in the air and it is a perfect time to take a walk. The Madison area has so many opportunities to get out and enjoy nature, and still have plenty of room to move freely. Here are just several excellent options.

There are beautiful places to walk on campus, such as the Allen Centennial Garden and the Lakeshore Path. Those interested should know that Allen Centennial Garden is receiving visitors by appointment to ensure social distancing is observed. It is a teaching garden, so you can learn while you walk. A wonderful place to destress as there are many picturesque places to sit and relax.

If you choose to walk the Lakeshore path, it is always beautiful. The shore is on the one side and many lovely trees are on the other. A favorite tree is the majestic weeping willow tree, which is alongside the trail near the UW Marching Band field. Maybe you will be lucky and happen along during band training. The Lakeshore path is primarily made of a fine gravel, but it is level and easy to navigate for most people. You do need to be aware of the bicyclists.

Ah, the best place to see and smell lilacs and apple blossoms in Madison is at the UW–Madison Arboretum.  Sometime around mid-May the lilacs will bloom, and you can enjoy comparing the fragrance of the different lilac bushes. It is especially nice because the names of the trees and bushes are labeled. The lilacs are in Longnecker garden. There is a parking lot next to the garden. There are also many trails to explore and a nature center with trail maps. The trails are not paved, and the walk can be uneven at times. No dogs are allowed in the arboretum.

If you go east and just a little off campus you can enjoy Tenney Park on the corner of Johnson and Thornton. You will not find it empty of visitors, but it is rarely crowded. It can be flooded in the spring after much rain fall, but in the summer, it is a luscious lagoon paradise. In the fall, the colors of the landscape will bedazzle you. You will need to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. There is a flat trail with graceful foot bridges that meander around and over the lagoon.

On the other side of East Washington along Lake Monona, you can take a walk on Spaight Street and enjoy site seeing the neighborhood. The houses are unique and fun to look at and you can take a break at BB Clark beach. There are three very artsy benches which are interesting. You can learn about the benches at Have a seat and enjoy the view. Some days you can catch a pretty good breeze too.

A little farther east you can enjoy Olbrich Botanical Gardens. It is near where Atwood Avenue becomes Monona Drive. The outdoor gardens are free to roam as you please and you can spend a good hour walking the paths. If you want to find your breath, you can sit at one of the many scenic outlooks or nooks spotted around the gardens. It is overall a wonderful trail that is easy to navigate.

On the other side of the city, on the west side of town, is Owen Park Conservatory. You can see the city from the hilltop by the parking lot when you first arrive, or you can walk down the trail and forget you are in Madison. It is quite hilly, and the trail can be a bit uneven. No problem for some folks, but if you would like an easy hike you might want to skip this one.

If you don’t mind driving to Middleton, why not walk or bike ride the Pheasant Branch Conservatory Trail? During the summer the wild blue phlox takes over and the cotton from the cotton wood trees gently and slowly float to the ground. It is so lovely and fairy tale like. You almost wonder if you will see a unicorn. No unicorn sightings reported yet, but you might be lucky enough to spot deer or some owlets. The path is of a fine gravel that is level and easy to navigate for most people and wheel chairs.  Dogs are welcome if they are on a leash.

Not too far from Middleton is Pope Farm. It is on Old Sauk Road in Verona. Big trees, a beautiful stone fence, kitchen gardens and lovely hilltop views are just some of the best features of Pope Farm.  If you decide to walk off the trail, the ground is quite uneven, so the weak of ankle might want to avoid doing so. There is parking at the bottom and top of the hill, so you can get your heart going by walking up to the top of the hill, or if you want to take it easy, you can park at the top of the hill. No dogs are allowed.

If you don’t mind a little drive of about twenty five minutes from campus off of Highway 51 and Sigglekow Rd, McDaniel Park in McFarland can be fun. Sometimes it is breezy, and it is a wonderful place to cool off. It also seems to be a good spot for kite surfers, so you can enjoy a show too.

Going the other way, on Highway 19 about two miles south of Highway 12, is Indian Lake County Park. It is about a 20-30 minute drive from campus. This park can get quite busy on almost any day, but there is ample space for walking along the lake path or, if you are ambitions, take the steps up to the the tiny historic chapel that was built in 1857. You can take a break near the chapel and enjoy the awesome view. There are also some hilly trails for those that want to work their glutes. Dogs are welcome.

One more park that is very interesting to walk is Governor Nelson State Park. It is off Highway M near Waunakee and on the northern shore of Lake Mendota. There is a trail that loops around the big hill that can take about 20 to 40 minutes to hike. It is a good trail to take if you like hills. The uneven dirt path can be difficult for some. You can see and read about the effigy mounds along the path and learn a bit about the people who lived in the area before we came along. You can also take a path in the lovely grassy meadows. Around fourth of July, nature has its own fireworks display at Governor Nelson’s. If you walk near dusk, you can see the most awesome firefly show. You need to purchase a state park pass online to park in the park. Dogs are welcome.

We are so fortunate in Madison to have so many opportunities to get out and explore nature. These are just a sampling of the places you can go to for a walk. Please refer to the list of all the parks mentioned in this article with their website addresses to get directions and operational information. If you want to learn more about our parks, read about a new challenge that encourages Wisconsin families to visit 66 State Parks this spring and summer at

Allen Centennial Garden
The Lake Shore Path
UW Madison Arboretum
Tenney Park
BB Clark Beach
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Owen Park Conservatory
Pheasant Branch Conservatory
Pope Farm Conservancy
McDaniel Park
Indian Lake County Park
Governor Nelson State Park