If you are new to Madison or visiting for the first or tenth time, this is a must-do ride no matter what the season. Minneapolis may be known as the City of Lakes, but Madison is definitely fitting of that title as well. In a matter of 22 miles, riders will understand why so many people are flocking to this great city. While the name of the ride is the Madison Urban Splendor Loop, don’t take the title too literally as you will also be going through some quiet, natural spaces along the way.
The best way to enjoy this loop is to start with coffee or tea at Barriques and ride clockwise around the bay to the lake. Make your way over to Olbrich gardens to admire the Thai pavilion and then continue on to the Wingra path which leads you right into the arboretum. You'll be amazed by the sharp contrast between the vibrant urban scene and natural serenity existing only a few miles from one another.
What Makes It Great
Everything and anything you could want from Madison is located on this route. From several spots along the ride you will be treated to jaw dropping views of the capitol (try this ride at night if you are comfortable riding in the dark and have good lighting— the city lights make for a beautiful site). One of the best farmer’s markets—held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings—is a quick side trip only a couple of blocks from the lake. Two friendly bike shops on the route and another just a couple blocks off-course will help you if you need any repairs.
There are ethnic restaurants galore within one to two blocks from the route on Williamson Street—from Laotion to Japanese. Locally owned coffee shops are around for you to get your caffeine fix, and two ice cream stands, and two breweries will give you all the uppers and downers you could possibly dream of and can, again, be found a mere one to two blocks from the lake. Thankfully you're getting your exercise to offset all this goodness!
Don’t have a bike? No problem! Machinery Row, a bicycle shop on the route, has rentals and Madison’s bike share program, B-Cycle, has plenty of kiosks on or close to this loop.
Who is Going to Love It
This ride is perfect for cyclists who want to slow down and really experience Madison outside of a vehicle. Although it’s mostly flat, and suitable for non-seasoned cyclists, there are a couple short hills.
No matter if you’re a city or country mouse, this ride has something for you. From it’s sweeping skyline views to the peace and quiet of the Arboretum and Olbrich gardens, just about anyone would be happy exploring the city this way. Riding with children? This route goes past Vilas Zoo (free or by donation) and the ice cream stops along the way will keep them fueled.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Be sure to check the parking signs, especially near the downtown area. Because this is a university city, many spots need a parking permit or only allow you to park for two hours before moving your vehicle. You’ll be safe parking near Barrique’s, the coffee shop where this ride starts, for as long as you wish.