While in Madison, Wisconsin for a visit with my brother, I went for a second hike/walk. One thing that I enjoy about hiking is exploring trails and trail systems that are new for me. This hike included first-time experiences with two trail systems, so I’m separating the post into two parts. This one covers the first part of my hike, which was on the Military Ridge Trail not far outside Madison. This trail is 41 miles long, with the western portion following the top of the Military Ridge and the eastern portion going through the Sugar River Valley. The trail follows the former Chicago and North Western Railway Line right-of-way and is part of a much larger nationwide network of such trails. It connects to the Capital City Trail and then to the Southwest Commuter Path for uninterrupted access into the heart of Madison.
Based on the distance I wanted to walk and other factors, I started at Riley and hiked east just past Verona to a trail head at County Road PB, for a distance of 7.1 miles. Since my brother could drop me off and later pick me up, I was able to do a point-to-point hike rather than my usual solo out-and-back hikes.
The trail itself is crushed stone and is used for hiking, cycling, running, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, among other activities. A trail pass is required for all users except pedestrians. Riley is an unincorporated community, basically a small cluster of houses, so the trail immediately has a rural feel as it passes through the countryside.
The trail crosses the Sugar River and/or its tributaries numerous times, with some 47 bridges altogether. As I walked across one of the first bridges, I paused to look down and was surprised to see a turtle making its way along an old branch in the water.
The trail passes numerous farms. They brought back wonderful childhood memories of driving through southeastern Wisconsin on family vacations to visit my grandparents.
I was quite impressed with the signage along the trail. All stop signs (at road crossings), bridge crossings, etc are noted with “ahead” signs, which are presumably appreciated by cyclists and snowmobilers although not needed as much for walkers. There is even good signage on the roads to indicate trail crossings. (The bridge crossing is perhaps 100 yards past the road crossing in this picture.)
There are also mileage markers: I started west of mile 9 and finished east of mile 3.
As I approached the crossing of another country road I noticed some activity in the field off to my right. It looked like hay was being gathered and baled. Suddenly a small fork lift-type vehicle started to scoot up the road carrying a couple of hay bales. I was too far away to get to the crossing in time to intercept the fork lift, but I was lucky enough to catch it as it drove past the trail crossing.
Although I did not see a great deal of wildlife, it was pleasant to hear, and see, several goldfinches. Their flight call and flight pattern are distinctive. Here is another view of the beautiful countryside, with the Sugar River in the foreground and a distinctive double silo in the background.
As mentioned above, the Military Ridge Trail connects via the Capital City Trail to the Southwest Commuter Path into Madison. On my Commuter Path hike two days prior I had enjoyed finding seven of the planetary signs for Planet Trek, a 23-mile scale model of the solar system. Although I hadn’t checked carefully in advance, I knew that the outer planets were along the Military Ridge Trail, so I was hoping to encounter Neptune during my hike. Sure enough, not far from the middle of my hike I found Neptune!
Just outside Verona approaching from the west there is a lovely bench that invites a rest stop along the trail. In addition to several hanging plants there is a repurposed bird house, which turns out to be a mini lending library sponsored by Little Free Library. This organization is on its way to creating a worldwide network of over 2500 such libraries. What a wonderful idea!
A short distance past the library the trail passes near the center of Verona, at this time the most southwesterly suburb of Madison. Although it has only been incorporated since 1977, many of the buildings are of a more traditional style.
Through town the trail passes close to the back yards of residences, similar to the Southwest Commuter Path in Madison. Just east of town, near the intersection with County Road PB, there is an access trail that leads to the Ice Age Trail. The second part of my hike was on a segment of the Ice Age Trail.
My hike along the Military Ridge Trail was most enjoyable, and I look forward to an opportunity to hike sections (see here) – maybe eventually the entire 41 miles!