Biking on the Military Ridge Trail

military Ridge state trai

Military Ridge State Trail

Biking the Military Ridge State Trail between Mount Horeb and Verona is an outdoors treat just a few miles from the west side of Madison. It’s become my favorite morning bike route. When I have the extra time I put the bike on the roof of the car I drive the short distance to take advantage of this peaceful ride. It takes you through the woods and the marshland that make up the headwaters of the Sugar River. It doesn’t follow any roads either so you escape traffic and it’s noise.

The Military Ridge State Trail is on an old railroad bed so it’s a flat easy enjoyable ride. It’s also fairly grown up along the trail providing lots of shade and protection from any wind.

The sugar river along the Military Ridge State Trail
The sugar River along the Military Ridge bike trail.

The best way to experience the trail is to park in Riley, halfway between Mount Horeb and Verona. There’s a large parking lot right next to the trail and you can then choose to ride 6.5 miles into Mount Horeb or 6 miles into Verona for about a 12 mile round trip.

Both directions are equally scenic. Going into Mount Horeb is up a gradual hill and more wooded. Biking to Verona is flatter and more open marshland along the way. So from one parking lot you have the choice of two varied trips.

Of course there is no such thing as a free lunch, these trails cost money to build and maintain. A permit to ride on them is only $25 a year (or $5 a day). That’s a bargain for use of all the state trails in Wisconsin for a year. There is a self pay station in the parking lot in Riley, or you can buy them at the Grumpy Troll or Miller and Son’s Grocery store in Verona.

A bridge on the Military Ridge State Trail.
Pinhole photograph of the Military Ridge bike trail taken just below the Epic campus in Verona.

This is also only a portion of the Military Ridge Trail. It goes from Madison all the way to Governor Dodge State Park. I’ve ridden from Verona east into Madison and in my opinion it’s not as pretty as the Mount Horeb to Verona section. But it was cool to ride all the way into the Capitol building from Mount Horeb with only the last 4 blocks riding on a street.

In the near future I want to ride from Mount Horeb to Governor Dodge State Park. I’ll update the blog when I do.

The Military Ridge Trail
The marsh which is the headwaters of the Sugar River along the Military Ridge bike trail.

*After the Ride*

Coffee

I often go in the morning and stop for coffee and a scone in Schubert’s Restaurant in Mount Horeb or Tuvalu Coffee House if I head to Verona. Both have lots of character and charm.

schuberts restauraunt in Mount Horeb and Tuvalu Coffee House in Verona
Schubert’s Restaurant on the left and Tuvalu Coffee House on the right are both great destinations for your morning coffee or lunch.

Beers

For an afternoon trip there is great beer to top off your ride on booth ends of the trail as well. The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb and the Hop Haus in Verona are both excellent brew pubs.

Devil’s Lake Day Hike – Ice Age Trail

A pinhole photograph of Balanced Rock on a Devil’s Lake hike.

East Bluff in Devil’s Lake State Park near Baraboo has to be one of the most popular and well traveled portions of the Ice Age Trail. Early Spring is the best time to visit to avoid the crowds of summer. I also tried a unique way of experiencing this popular spot by taking a less traveled route to get there.

A lesser traveled Devil’s Lake hike

My friend and fellow nature photographer Mike Murray and I recently did a 4.5 mile hike on the Ice Age Trail in Devil’s Lake State Park. We started in Roznos Meadow parking lot on the very eastern edge of Devil’s Lake after parking our car at our destination, the South Shore parking lot. I rode my bike back to our starting point, the Roznos Meadow lot via South Lake Road. It’s a pretty easy 3 mile ride that is mostly downhill. Only the first quarter mile is an uphill climb. South Lake Road was pretty quiet traffic and there is only a short stretch on 113 so traffic was minimal.

The 4.5 mile route of the Ice Age Trail with a bike shuttle on South Lake Road.

From the Roznos Meadow trailhead, the Ice Age Trail crosses the prairie with a nice view of the surrounding bluffs and starts up the East bluff from the far East side. On the other side of the Meadow it’s a nice meandering uphill trail through the woods getting you to the top of the bluff gradually. It’s a steady two mile uphill rather than the brutal hike up the rocky 500 foot vertical bluff most people take to the top from the South Lake Parking area.

A photographer takes in the view from the Devil’s Doorway rock formation on top of the East Bluff Trail.

This longer route makes for a more compete hike that gets you to the top in a more relaxed, less crowded enjoyable hike. There is even some solitude in the meadow and woods leading up to the top of the bluff. From the top of the bluff you descend the steep and rocky trail to the South Lake area instead of trudging up it like most people do. Don’t forget to stop and see the Balanced Rock on the way down. It’s about halfway down the trail to the lake. (see the top pinhole photograph)

taking in a relaxing view of Devil’s Lake.

*After The Hike*

Lunch- The Little Village Cafe is just that, a small town diner in Baraboo that probably hasn’t changed much in decades. I always look for an excuse to stop for lunch when I’m in the area. It’s located right on the downtown Square.

Explore Baraboo- Baraboo is one of my favorite small towns in Wisconsin. If you still have the energy after the hike explore some of the great antique shops or get a tour of the historic the Al Ringling Theatre. The antique shops and theatre are all within a few blocks of the Little Village Cafe.

Hiking Gibraltar Rock – Ice Age Trail

Pinhole photography from the Gibraltar Rock trail near Lodi, Wisconsin.

Hiking Gibraltar Rock on the Ice Age Trail is a pleasant surprise to most everyone who arrives at the top of the hike. I overheard a backpacker at the top of Gibraltar say “I didn’t know there was anything like THIS in Wisconsin.” That’s the same thing I thought several years ago when I reached the top. The above pinhole photograph shows off the view.

It’s also just a short drive from Madison and is one of the best hikes in Wisconsin.

hikers on top of Gibraltar Rock
Hikers take a break on top of Gibraltar Rock.

Views from a two hundred foot high cliff offer hikers a vista for miles across the beautiful Wisconsin landscape. Blue Mound State Park and Devil’s Lake State Park can be seen in the distance. Gibraltar Rock offers spectacular views like Devil’s Lake State park, but without the crowds. This lesser known park has much fewer visitors so on a weekday you might even have the place to yourself.

The trail to the top of Gibraltar Rock is a fairly easy short hike from the east parking lot. It’s also not nearly as arduous of a climb as the bluff in Devil’s Lake State Park.

You can extend the hike by walking to the top from the east parking lot and then back down to the west parking lot and return back for a total of 3.4 miles round trip. The additional scenery going down the west side makes both sides worthwhile.

taking a break from hiking the ice age trail.
Nazan and I take in the view from Gibraltar Rock.

Nazan and I combined the Gibraltar Rock hike with another section of the Ice Age Trail connecting Gibraltar Rock to the Merrimac Ferry on Lake Wisconsin for a total of 4.8 miles. I used a bike shuttle to get back to the Merrimac Ferry after leaving our car in the west parking lot of Gibraltar where we ended our hike. That way we could enjoy a one way hike from north to south without backtracking. The bike ride between the west parking lot and the Merrimac ferry is a short 2.4 miles on 188 and County Road V. It was an okay ride in April, but It might be more dangerous biking with busy summer weekend traffic.

Rock formations on the hike up Gibraltar Rock
A pinhole photograph from the hike up Gibraltar Rock.

There is a short 1 mile road walk connecting the two sections to each other but we really enjoyed both segments making it almost a full day hike. The Ice Age Trail between Gibraltar and the Merrimac Ferry is much less used, but is still breathtaking. It climbs up and follows a ridge with amazing views of Lake Wisconsin. There is parking on both ends of the trail. Several well placed benches at overlooks are a great place to rest and have a snack. It’s well worth combining this trail with the Gibraltar segment for a longer full day hike.

The mother of all trail benches at the top of the Merrimac segment, complete with a foot rest to recline and take in the view from the top of the ridge.

*After the Hike*

Beers- Reward yourself with a beer at Lone Girl Brewing in Waunakee after the hike. Lone Girl Brewing is worth making a road trip just by itself! It’s a good stopping off point for a beer on your way back to Madison. A perfect way to end an awesome hike.

Breakfast/lunch- Lucy’s Family Restaurant in Lodi offers breakfast all day. Nothing hits the spot like having a home cooked breakfast after a morning hike.

Coffee shop- Downtown Coffee Grounds is a fantastic Mom and Pop coffee shop in Lodi. The home cooked scones are delicious if you want to stop for a morning bite to eat on the way to Gibraltar or stopping off after.

Lone Girl Brewing has some of the best beer in Dane County.

Brooklyn Wildlife Area Hike – The Ice Age Trail

a pinhole photograph of An old oak tree on the old ice age trail

I found this stately oak tree while on a hike in the Brooklyn Wildlife Area, an awesome segment of the Ice Age Trail. This photo also is a great example to show just how crazy wide angle a pinhole camera can be. It’s what I really love about pinhole. The below digital photograph shows how close the camera is to the tree. The second I hiked around this corner of the trail and saw the tree I knew this was going to be a pinhole!

a pinhole camera taking a photograph of a tree
To give an idea of just how crazy wide a pinhole camera can be this is the camera where I took the above photo.

I’ve seen the Brooklyn Wildlife Area on Google maps but had never heard anything about the place. When I saw the Ice Age Trail makes it’s way through the refuge I thought I’d have to go check it out someday. I’m glad I finally did.

The route to the right is the Ice Age Trail, the route to the left is the biking shuttle route. All four parking lots are marked with the blue pins. 

It’s a hidden gem of a hike, compete with some hilly stretches, open meadows, wooded areas and even a scenic overlook that you can see for miles. It’s about a 3.5 mile to hike from the south parking lot on Hughes Road to the north parking lot on County Road DD. For a longer 6.5 mile hike start at Hughs Road and go all the way to the far northern parking lot on Frenchtown Road.

I was able to do a point A to point B hike by myself using my bike to shuttle myself to the car. The first time I went I parked my car at the north County Road DD parking lot and rode on County Road DD for 2.8 miles to the southern parking lot on Hughes Road to start the hike. Locked my bike at the starting point and hiked back to the car. This worked great, I’m going to do this more often. I’ve always disliked doing out and back hikes. Half the hike is seeing stuff on the way back you just walked by! Just be careful on County Road DD. It’s a narrow fairly busy road. Next time I’ll get an earlier start so I beat morning traffic.

ice age trail sign
The Ice Age Trail is an awesome hike through Brooklyn Wildlife Area.

From the south the hike starts out in typical wooded area and comes to lots of hilly glacial moraine  in the middle of the hike. The trail follows a ridge running north and south and comes to an open hill with a great view for miles around. These changes of scenery keeping the hike entertaining.

If you wanted to do a shorter hike strait to the good stuff in the middle like the overlook, just park at the middle parking lot on County Road DD. From there the overlook and the middle hilly portions of the trail are a very short distance.

hiker on the ice age trail.
The view from the overlook halfway through the hike.

The trail does continue through to the farthest northern part of the Brooklyn Wildlife Refuge, but there is no parking lot there for your car and a narrow road. Not a good place to park. The Ice Age Trail even continues on outside of the refuge on another ridge running north.

Hiking the Ice Age Trail.
The very northern face of the trail near Frenchtown Road has some beautiful rock outcroppings.

My Wife and I hiked the entire Brooklyn Wildlife area hike plus the Ice Age Trail running north to Frenchtown Road parking lot on a later date. So I did the bike shuttle from the Frenchtown Road parking to the southernmost parking lot on Hughes Road. From there we walked the entire 6 miles north to the car. It made for a great day trip. The northern section follows some high hills with great views of the surrounding area. It’s worth walking the two portions together if you have the time to make it a longer day.

my bike that I used to get back to the trailhead of the Brooklyn Wildlife Area hike
A new technique or me in hiking since getting a roof rack for my car- using your bike to shuttle back to the other end of the trail instead of doing an out and back hike.

Kettle Moraine Bald Bluff Hike – Ice Age Trail

An erratic rock known as the stone elephant on a hillside

The Kettle Moraine Bald Bluff Trail is some awesome hiking only about an hour from Madison. So often we overlook exploring the places close to home. I had only hiked the Kettle Moraine once and Mike Murray of North Sand Photography had never hiked there so we figured it was time we did. We spent a Sunday morning leisurely walking a short section of the Ice Age Trail between the Bald Bluff Trail parking lot and the Elephant Stone- an erratic left behind after the glaciers melted. (above photo)

Ice Age Trail

One of the purposes of Ice Age Trail is to feature all kinds of interesting glacial geology. That same topography makes for perfect hiking. Doing it on the last official day of winter with no leaves on the trees was an excellent time to go. It allows you to see all the interesting glacial topography along the trail better.

The entire trip was about three miles so it was an easy short hike to do in the morning and head into Palmyra for lunch. It’s a good workout though hiking up and down the glacial moraine.

The Kettle Moraine Bald Bluff Nature Trail overlook.
The Bald Bluff Nature Trail in Kettle Moraine State Forest

The highest point of the trail is very early on in the hike, the top of Bald Bluff. From the overlook you can really envision how the glaciers  gouged out the valley below as they traveled south stopping right where you are standing. The ridge running to the southwest curving slightly back north in the distance is the terminal moraine bulldozed up by the glaciers southern advance. The valley floor is very flat where the glaciers scraped the earth. At least it looks nearly flat from where you are standing. The hill is about 200 feet above the road you came in on and the parking lot.

Stone Elephant

a sign pointing to the Stoned Elephant
The Bald Bluff Nature Trail in Kettle Moraine State Forest

After taking in that view from Bald Bluff you continue on north on the Ice Age Trail. The Stone Elephant is only about 1.5 miles down the trail. It’s not Mount Rushmore, but it is pretty interesting and is a nice destination to have a snack on the park bench before heading back. Or explore further. Next time I’d like to do that or bring two cars to set up a shuttle so we can do a point to point hike rather than an out and back. It would be easy to keep on hiking to Tamarack Road about another mile and half up the trail to another parked car rather than returning to where you started.

hiking the ice age trail.
The Bald Bluff Nature Trail in Kettle Moraine State Forest, part of the Ice Age Trail, has a lot of interesting glacial geology.

It maybe takes a little creativity to see an elephant in the rock. I took a pinhole photograph from the angle I believe it’s supposed to look like an elephant. (top photo in this post) I could be wrong. But what I think IS actually amazing about this rock is to think this enormous boulder was carried here by a glacier from some point up north. Often these erratic stones were carried hundreds of miles from it’s original resting place. As the glaciers melted they left behind the debris they were carrying with them.

Getting there

Start the hike at the Bald Bluff Nature Trail trailhead a few miles south of Palmyra. There is a nice gravel parking lot and a historical brochure about the area around the Bald Bluff. Abraham Lincoln even slept here!!!!! No really, in his days serving in the army he camped near Bald Bluff.

Taking a selfie on the Kettle Moraine Bald Bluff Hiking Trail.
Mike Murray, left, and myself on a late winter hike scouting locations. And that would also be my hiking pole in the photo. I’m not the greatest at taking selfies!

Ice Age Trail Alliance Photographer

Pinhole photography from the Gibraltar Rock trail near Lodi, Wisconsin.

Ice Age Trail Photographer

I’m honored to be chosen to be the Ice Age Trail Alliance contract photographer for 2017! I’ve been meaning to get out and photograph the trail here in Wisconsin since moving here. I’ve done some day trips near Madison on the trail, but never really explored in depth. Now I have an excuse. So watch for more photography from the trail this year.

What is the Ice Age Trail a lot of people might be asking? It’s a national Scenic Trail like the Appalachian Trail that traces 1000 miles of the terminal moraine through Wisconsin left after the last Ice Age. Terminal Moraine is the geology deposited at the point of furthest advance of a glacier or ice sheet. So think hilly scenic areas!

Primarily what I’ll be photographing for the Ice Age Trail Alliance is people enjoying the trail as well as trail building and maintenance. More photojournalistic photography, but I also plan on doing a lot of scenic photos with my pinhole and digital cameras as well!

I’m looking forward to getting to know the trail much better!

pinhole photo of the devil's doorway rock formation in Devil's lake State Park
As the Ice Age Trail Alliance Photographer I’ll be photographing place like Devil’s Lake State Park. The Ice Age Trail passes though Devil’s Lake.