Capital City Loop—Madison

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Experience all the Madison area has to offer with very little traffic. This route will bring you South of the city where you will ride through prairies and next to Lake Monona.

Written by

Kierstin Kloeckner


18.0 miles

If you want to add a few miles toward the end of the ride, you can easily add on the Lake Monona Loop for an extra 12 miles.

Destination Distance From Downtown

1.7 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

This trail is quite easy for 90% of the ride, however, there are a few short steep hills near the Southern section in Fitchburg.

Time To Complete

1 hours

In almost all conditions, except winter, this trail is well maintained and even during rush hour, there is very little traffic to slow you down since it has bridges over the major roads.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Although most paths in Madison are maintained in the winter, this was is not. Ice patches are common after freezes and studded tires are suggested.

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


For those commuting to work, there is no fee for this trail. If using it recreationally, the $4/day or $20/annual state trail pass is required. You can purchase a pass at several kiosks along the route. The SW Commuter path leading you from downtown Madison to the Capital City trail does not have a fee.

Topographical Map

Capital City Trail Map

Land Website

Capital City Trail



For those wishing to get away from the automobile and most of the bicycle commuter traffic, this route is for you. In a short 18 mile loop, you will head South of the city on the SW Commuter path and will then make your way through prairies, marshland, hardwood forests and even an old pine stand before heading back to your starting point via Lake Monona.

This route is perfect for just about any type of bike and any level of rider since the level of difficulty is minimal.

What Makes It Great

This route is perfect for just about any type of bike and any level of rider since the level of difficulty is minimal.

Transport yourself from urban to feeling many miles away from it all in just a few miles. This loop shows newbies to the Madison area how diverse the landscape/ecosystem is just moments out of town.

Start by enjoying a coffee, tea or bakery item at Colectivo—a Milwaukee based cafe that strongly supports cyclists (in fact, each location has a floor pump to use if needed). From here you will meet up with the SW Commuter Path, considered Madison's bike highway, to head out of town.

Just a few miles South, you'll go over the highway via a bridge, head South another mile and will find yourself at Madison's first and only bike roundabout. Make sure you take the Capital City Path.

Here, you could take a quick detour to mountain bike at Seminole Trails, or continue on through a beautiful marsh area where migrating waterfowl can often times be seen. In summer, this section often has sunflowers and wildflowers which tower over cyclists.

After winding through dense woods and quiet suburban neighborhoods, you'll cross your second bridge over Fish Hatchery Road, where there is an actual fish hatchery. From here it's not too far back to Madison, but you'll be treated to an old pine stand and another marsh before entering the city once again.

End the ride by skimming lake Monona and working your way back to the SW Commuter Trail.

Who is Going to Love It

This ride is perfect for those not comfortable riding on the roads, but still want to get ample miles in. Because it is on trail most of the route, this is also very safe for families.

Nature lovers will rejoice with the sounds of frogs and song birds as well as all the native wildflowers. If you have kids, have them do a nature treasure hunt to keep them motivated.

Since there are some short hills, it is best to have a multi-geared bike, but many choose to do this on a single speed as well.

There are multiple places to use the restroom and fill your water bottles along the way so no need to worry. There is even a fixed repair stand near the parking lot at Seminole Highway if you happen to need it.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The Capital City trail does not enforce the usage fee for commuters, however, the daily $4.00 or $20.00 annual fee does apply for recreational users. The SW Commuter path, which will bring you up to the Capital City trail, does not have a fee.

Parking is easiest one or two blocks off of Monroe Street where you can park for longer than two hours. 

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Colectivo Coffee

2530 Monroe Street
Madison, WI, 53711
43.058011, -89.427879

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