Nestled in the heart of Madison, atop it's tallest peak is a hidden gem. Minutes from downtown, the Rainbow Mountain Preserve, technically part of Stoneridge Park owned and operated by the city, wraps one side of the mountain, offering adventures through boulder gardens, bluffs, a wonderland of wildflowers throughout the year and fantastic views of the city below. Though small in size --only 130 acres and 3 miles of total trails -- there are five distinct trails ranging from glades to woodland streams.
What Makes It Great
From the main parking area, venture through the playground and take aright at the large boulder where you'll descend through an upland mixed deciduous forest. The trail quickly narrows, winding through boulders before reaching the next junction. Hang right and enjoy a stretch of level ground and views to the valley before descending again. Or, for added adventure, take the JaMooKo Loop. The name is a combination of various pets from members of Madison Greenway and Trails, Inc., a non-profit who fought to preserve these trails originally. You'll pass several pit caves, as well as some small trail spurs leading to hidden treasure. Do you geocache? Check out the Jolly Green Giant's Hippie Beads, but be prepared to do a little bushwhacking. The Rainbow Loop turns steep as it pulls back toward the ridgeline past some interesting rock formations, rich with fossils.
Watch carefully to take the correct path to the right; Left leads you to a glade, now private property. This section of trail will have you rock hopping a bit before leading you through a garden of tall boulders. A short spur leads to interesting bluffs, more caves, and great spots to beat the heat or shelter from a storm.You'll take in fantastic views, best in winter, and see the infamous Balance Rock, a large erosion feature. The Spring Trail, acting as a shortcut of sorts, will take you sharply downhill, past a multitude of wildflowers, some endangered, and a series of cascading waterfalls before meeting the Rainbow Loop trail again. The area is peppered with springs, a wade place to cool your feet on a hot summer day. Aside trip on the Wild Trail will reward you with several caves to explore, and the opportunity get up close with some of the bluffs here offering an array of ferns and interesting flora.
Who is Going to Love It
Family friendly, the shaded playground is a great summer retreat for the little ones. The trail system is perfect for an evening stroll, while the more challenging aspects of the preserve and multiple loop possibilities make for a great training ground for longer hikes with various terrain combos. Its diversity in flora also makes the preserve a favorite spot for local outdoors groups.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Day use only. No fires, rappelling, or climbing. Pet friendly, but must be on a leash. Please practice Leave No Trace.
From Hwy. 72 (University Dr.); turn south onto Hughes Road.
From Madison Blvd. (old Hwy 20), turn north onto Hughes Rd.
From Hughes Road, turn east onto Lynnbrook Drive into Stone Ridge subdivision across from Discovery Middle School; turn right onto Concord Drive then take a left on Stoneway Trail to the top of the hill; bear right at the T intersection and go to the parking lot at the water tower (app. .6 mile).