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10 Things You Must Do in Madison, WI

The Madison Region offers a trove of must-see treasures. Here is just a small sample.

By Brittany Anas on June 16, 2020

Madison WI
Madison / University of Wisconsin-Madison/Bryce Richter

1. Al. Ringling Mansion

Al. Ringling Mansion in Baraboo was built in 1905 for circus showman AL. Ringling and his wife, Lou. The Ringling Bros. Circus was at its peak when the Romanesque Revival mansion was constructed. Tours are available to see original furnishings, hand-carved woodwork, Tiffany glass and murals. The Lou Ringling Ballroom is currently being repurposed to become the Al. Ringling Brewing Company & Pub.

Madison WI
Madison / Flickr.com/Al

2. Horicon Marsh

Horicon Marsh in northern Dodge and southern Fond du Lac counties is the site of both a national and state wildlife refuge. Horicon Marsh, located on Highway 28 between Horicon and Mayville, features the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the nation and the Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center. Recreation opportunities include hiking trails, paddling, fishing, biking, cross-country skiing, and in-season waterfowl, deer and upland game hunting.

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3. Alp and Dell Cheese Store

Alp and Dell Cheese Store makes and sells cheese at its chalet-style plant in Monroe, and a viewing hall allows the public to watch the cheesemaking process. Owners Tony and Esther Zgraggen  emigrated from Switzerland in the 1980s, and the store stocks local cheeses, along with nine kinds of imported cheese. Also for sale are five varieties of sausage and a selection of wines and locally brewed beers.

Madison WI
Madison / Flickr.com/Tom Gill

4. Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park in the Baraboo Range in eastern Sauk County is the largest state park in Wisconsin. Attractions include overnight camping, 16 hiking trails totaling 41 miles, and rock climbing on East Bluff and West Bluff.

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5. Driftless Historium

Driftless Historium in Mount Horeb is a museum that presents the story of southwestern Dane County through permanent and changing exhibits designed for all ages. Permanent exhibits have names like Civil War, Ebenezer Brigham, Tourism Immigration, Aslak O. Lie and Cheese Factories. The interesting museum won the 2019 Wisconsin Historical Society Board of Curators Museum Exhibit Award.

Madison WI
Madison / Flickr.com/Joshua Mayer

6. Ice Age Trail

Ice Age Trail is a 1,000-mile footpath entirely within the state of Wisconsin, including five counties in the Madison Region. The trail follows a route formed 12,000 years ago when glaciers retreated from the region and state. Today, the Ice Age Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the nation. More than 1 million people use the trail each year for hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing, and many segments through woods also support cross-country skiing.

Madison WI
Madison / Marsha Mood

7. Rotary Botanical Gardens

Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville features 26 different garden styles and 4,000 varieties of plants. The themed gardens include English, French, Italian, Japanese and Scottish styles, while the less formal gardens are named Fern & Moss, Shade, Prairie and Woodland. More than 100,000 people visit Rotary Botanical Gardens each year.

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8. Portage Canal

Portage Canal was constructed between 1849 and 1876 to connect the Fox River with the Wisconsin River at the city of Portage. Highlighted by a 1.5-mile piece of land between the two rivers, this land was used by Native Americans for thousands of years. Today, the south bank of the canal is part of the National Ice Age Trail, and significant renovations have occurred to clean the canal and create pedestrian walkways.

Madison WI
Madison / Nathan Lambrecht

9. Stoughton Opera House

Stoughton Opera House opened in 1901, and today, the theater operates on the second floor of Stoughton City Hall. The building had fallen into disrepair over the years until a decision was made in the late 1980s to restore its Victorian interior and rebuild the clock tower. Known for its great acoustics, the theater hosts a variety of musical and theatrical shows.

Madison WI
Madison / Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark

10. Cave of the Mounds

Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark in Blue Mounds formed more than 1 million years ago, with water gradually dissolving rock to form underground caves and caverns. Guided tours of the cave, discovered by explorers in 1939, take visitors past colorful stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other crystal formations on paved lighted walkways, and the temperature always remains a constant 50 degrees.

If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Region, check out the latest edition of the Madison Region Economic Development magazine

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