Anyway, my parents came through the storm relatively unscathed (thank you, dear friends, for your kind inquiries). We’re having a wonderful time in Portland now that I’m not quite so worried about my folks. We’ve managed to hammer out our trip plans for the next five months. And finally, here’s a postcard from Madison, one of the prettiest little cities we’ve visited.
Exploring Madison By Bike
If you remember your fifth-grade geography lessons, you might recall that Madison is the capital of Wisconsin (I did not remember this. I’m learning state capitals as we visit them). But much more intriguing for us was discovering that Madison is the biking capital of the Midwest. We set up camp at Lake Farm County Park on the outskirts of the city and spent the next four days biking everywhere. Trails lead from the campground out into the country or into the city, to the attractive campus of the University of Wisconsin, and to beautiful botanical gardens. (You can pick up an excellent free bike map at any bike shop that gives details of more than 200 miles of trails.)
Madison ranks right up there with our favorite biking towns of Austin, Boise, and Eugene. But even if you don’t enjoy biking, Madison is a great place to spend a few days.
Downtown Madison: The Capitol Building And University
Situated on an isthmus between two lakes, downtown Madison is compact and picturesque. There are more bikes than cars in Madison, and with many dedicated bike paths and a good map, the city is easy to navigate by bike.
The architectural centerpiece of the city is the capitol building, right in the center of downtown. It looks like a smaller version of the White House from the outside, and inside offers an elaborate display of ornate mosaics, artwork, crystal chandeliers, carved woodwork, and stone from all over the world. We took advantage of one of the free tours that are offered several times a day.
The Gardens Of Madison
In addition to biking, our favorite activity in Madison was visiting the beautiful gardens in the city. Even better was that we could bike to the gardens. Given the long, severe winters and short growing season, the gardens in Madison are remarkable.
We were inspired by our visit to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. The mission of the arboretum is to encourage ecologically sustainable relationships between people and the land, guided by the teachings of Aldo Leopold, a former professor at the university who believed we have a moral responsibility to care for the natural world. Leopold is best known for authoring A Sand County Almanac, considered to be one of two books that sparked the environmental movement (the other was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring).
We also visited and loved the little jewel box Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a city garden where every inch of space is thoughtfully planned, also with an eye toward sustainable practices.
About The Campground
Lake Farm County Park is the perfect location for exploring Madison by bike. Bike trails from the campground lead to downtown or into the countryside along dedicated paths. Either direction is a pretty ride, and you can bike for many miles. The campground offers electric only sites with water conveniently located throughout, older bathhouses, and a dump station. The sites are gravel, surrounded by grass, and large, but wide open with no privacy. The campground WiFi is weak, but Verizon is decent.
I’ve realized that I never think to take photos of our campsites until we’re packed up and ready to leave. So I never have glamorous shots of our site. :-)
Bonus Stop: Perrot State Park
If you’re traveling west and need another stop along the way, Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wisconsin is good for a couple of nights. The sites are tucked into the forest and very private.
The campground has electric hookups only, and there is only one water fill very inconveniently located at the ranger station (fill up before you head into the campground because it’s a long way back!). The bathhouses are old—but you might see a luna moth on the bathroom window screen. It was our first ever and we were excited. Oh, and Verizon is decent, even though it seems like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
There are several trails in the park, including an interesting several mile hike on Brady’s Bluff that has some decent elevation gain and beautiful views of the confluence of the Mississippi River and Trempealeau Bay.
I moved to Madison from Seattle my senior year of high school, 1974, and thought I had moved to Siberia in the winter. However, it is one of the best cities to live in for its lively culture, University, Capitol mix. If it was a city on the West Coast I would be living there as the winters in Wisconsin are too extreme for me. It sure looks green and lush in your photos. When were you there?
Sheila, we were thinking that Madison would be a wonderful place to live—except for those winters! Your comment about feeling like you had moved to Siberia makes me even more certain that it’s not a place I would be happy. But in late May (when we were there) it was perfect!
Went to a work meeting in Madison years ago but we haven’t yet made it to WI in the RV. Looks like a city we would enjoy visiting.
I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who wakes up not knowing where they are sometimes. In fact I came out of Trader Joe’s in Provo, UT recently and had no idea what city I was in. It scares me sometimes but that’s what happens when we move around a lot.
Gayle, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in sometimes wondering where I am! I’m going with your explanation that it’s because we move around a lot. :-) And it really doesn’t help when my attention is pulled in so many different directions.
If you guys make it to the Midwest, you will love Madison! The biking is fantastic.
Glad to hear your folks are managing the aftermath of the storm. Always a scary situation. We’re in discussions now for our summer excursion and since hubby has a sister in northern WI, we’re tentatively planning a Midwestern visit. Thanks for the info and reminding me what a fun place Madison is to visit.
Thanks so much for checking in about my folks last week, Ingrid. It’s really challenging to be so far away when something like this happens. They were lucky, and are doing well. :-)
We loved Madison—not sure if you’ve stayed at the campground there, but it’s pretty sweet. We really enjoyed our travels in the Midwest!
Love your photos of early midwestern blooms, always so appreciated after the long cold winters. Neal went to college there and we affectionately call it Madtown. For next time: a wonderful Sat am market near the Capitol and great off road biking in Kettle Morraine SP (all levels, northeast of Madison). So glad your folks made it through Michael, what a relief for you!
Leah, I imagine Madison would be a really fun place to go to college. We had heard good things about the farmers market, but sadly, we weren’t there on a Saturday. I was bummed! Thanks so much for the tip about biking at Kettle Moraine. I’m hoping Madison will be a place we return to.
And thanks for the good thoughts about my folks. We’re very relieved that they’re doing fine, especially since they refused to evacuate during the storm.
I love that header pic – it reminds me of the Spriograph of my youth! Our one visit to Wisconsin didn’t include Madison and I see we must add it to the list for our return. The garden is gorgeous. I always think of you two when I see these amazing places – so fun to visit with garden-smart peeps! That luna moth must be from an alien planet!!!
Haha, I had to look up spriograph—you have the most creative mind, Jodee! You guys definitely need to add Madison to your list the next time you’re in Wisconsin. You will love the gardens, especially the planter kaleidoscope! That luna moth does look like it comes from an alien planet of magical creatures. :-)
When one lives in a house with wheels, wondering where you are, which way you are facing, what is outside your window, become everyday occurrences. I can’t tell you how many times over eight years I would hear a noise while in bed and have to figure out what it could be as I figured out where I was especially since the longest we ever stayed in one place was a month so our wheels moved a lot. Too funny!
We did a day trip to Madison. We wanted to see three places when we visited WI…Madison, Green Bay, and Milwaukee. So we decided to locate in Fon du Lac. So to visit Madison, we parked at the Walmart and took the car with the bikes into Madison. We rode all over the campus and the capital. But when I saw Eric by the lake and your caption, I didn’t recognize it all. Well, we saw it! As a matter of fact our photo is from the same area just a little closer to the water! I have no memory of the lake at all. Guess it made quite the impression!!
Pam, now I’m feeling much better knowing I have at least two friends who’ve experienced the strange “where am I?” feeling. I’m relieved that when I look out the window I know where I am, LOL!
With all of the adventures you’ve had over the past eight years, I’m not really too surprised that you didn’t remember the lake in Madison. That’s what our blogs are for, right?
I love Madison! When we lived in Chicago Madison was a nice weekend getaway. I do think of it as a college town (in a good way) because there are so many ethnic restaurants catering to a young vibe which is great. Reading your post makes me realize how much of Madison we actually missed haha like the Botanic gardens!!! How did that happen?? I do remember a terrific farmers market atmosphere Saturday mornings in the Summer. Love your photos, especially the ones of the garden and the trails. Good to know what we missed :)
I certainly can relate to waking up and wondering where I am…
So glad your parents are ok….that must have been some worrisome days. Don’t you love bike path that lead from the CG into the city? Love Madison too. We’ll have to check out those state parks, thanks for the tip about the water. We’ve run into that a few times…..it’s so much easier to have water at the site!!
Thanks, Debbie—we definitely had some worrisome days during the height of the hurricane knowing that my folks were directly in the path and refused to leave. :-( They were very fortunate.
Those bike paths in Madison were some of the best we’ve seen anywhere—so much fun to have miles of beautiful trails right out our door!
Peta, I wish we had been there for the Saturday Market! If we return (and I hope we do) I’ll try to plan our stay so that we’re there for it. If you go back to Madison, don’t miss the botanical garden. Glad to know you’re part of the “where am I?” club—you win for the most exotic locales! :-)
So glad to hear your parents are OK. Such a horrendous amount of damage in their area. I’m happy their house was not part of it.
200 miles of bike trails. Well that’s a WOW and right from your park. Way to pick it! Love the red head you are sharing the road with. Will he too be on his way to Florida soon? Those brightly colored tables remind me of Florida and the Caribbean. What a great turkey photo! Surprised at all the guys together. Are they having a “show off”? The gardens are beautiful and your pictures of them excellent.
We’ve also been to campgrounds where you’d better fill up before you head in. Seems the rangers should tell you this. But we’ve never been to one where we could get such amazing pictures of the blooming shooting stars or that fantastic luna moth. I’ve seen them but my pictures were not stunning like that one. The colors are incredible.
Sherry, those brightly colored tables at the student union do look like they belong in Florida! The university has the most beautiful setting of any we’ve seen.
We loved being able to bike everywhere from the campground and spent most of our time in Madison on our bikes. You guys would enjoy it! And we were thrilled to see our first luna moth. The background was the bathhouse window screen—not the most picturesque locale, but the dark background does make it stand out.
I think you have more “confused” friends than you know! I, too, lose track of where I am, what day of the week, month of the year it is all to often. I used to worry about dementia, but I know it’s just the result of so much forward planning and regular moving. The inside of the “house” looks the same so there aren’t many clue to where you are until you step outside!!!
Love the gardens and most especially the Luna Moth – what a beauty!
Oh good! You’re part of the club, too, Sue! :-) You’re absolutely right—I think the momentary feeling of “where the heck am I?” is because of so much forward planning and frequent moving.
Isn’t that luna moth an amazing work of nature’s art? That color!
“Wait…where the hell are we???” – Me, every single day.
Fear not! You are not alone!
I am always amazed by how green some of these places get. When I think of Wisconsin, I envision cold and snow and gray and darkness. But, just like we experienced in Vermont and Colorado, the snowier these places are in the winter, the greener they are in the spring. I’m sure all that green is also a nice compliment to Wisconsin’s famous breweries and creameries! We’re looking forward to checking it out some day. Thanks for the tour!
Laura, I was amazed at how lush and green Wisconsin is. It’s a place that could fool you into thinking, “Oh, how bad could the winters really be?” Ha!
The creameries and breweries are on our list for our next visit to Wisconsin. We thought about stopping by a brewery while we were biking, but after a beer, I lose my motivation to bike. :-)
So glad you’re part of the “club,” too! Makes me feel better knowing I’m in such good company.
Laurel, you are never alone asking those questions!
Thanks for checking out Madison for us, I wanted to go there but the Sandhill Cranes at the International Crane Foundation was more appealing than the city. And thank you for visiting the capitol building for us, we missed it too!
MonaLiza, we’re hoping to visit the International Crane Foundation next time we’re in Wisconsin. I remember your visit there and how much you enjoyed it. We loved our time in Madison and were happy to see so much birdlife (including a few Sandhill Cranes) while we were biking, though. Seems like most of my good friends are in the “where am I now?” gang. :-))
What a beautiful place! We’ve never been to that part of the country, I’m thinking we should give it a shot. Our biggest source of confusion is Target stores. We get to know how one is organized, go in to the next one, and nothing is where we think it should be.
Madison is beautiful, Allison—and I think you two would really enjoy the biking. Haha, yeah—Targets are a good place to get confused. Opportunities are everywhere for enhancing cognitive skills!
I am so glad that your parents are okay! When newscasters started mentioning Apalachicola, I was really worried for you. The road to recovery looks like it will take forever to get back to some sort of normal. Who knew that Madison, Wisconsin could be so beautiful. Not that I have a desire to go there but good to know that there are lots of pretty places in the USA.
Thanks so much for your concern about my folks, Brenda. You’re right, it’s going to be a long road to recovery for the entire Panhandle.
We were surprised by Madison, too—actually, the entire Midwest was a wonderful surprise!
We are in Wisconsin right now and had hoped that the weather would hold for us to do some biking, but it doesn’t seem to be working out. We do hope to visit the farmers’ market if the weather holds (lots of rain in the forecast). Either way I am sure we will enjoy a visit to Madison. After looking at your lovely photos, I would definitely like to come back in the spring.
LuAnn, spring seems to be a wonderful time to visit Madison. I’ll bet the gardens are beautiful now in the fall, too. Hope you can get some biking in—the trails are some of the best we’ve found in our travels. And I hope you get to the farmers’ market so that you can tell me about it!