Wisconsin, Madison to Milwaukee, Glacial Drumlin State Trail
Developed in 1986, the Glacial Drumlin State Trail is one of Wisconsin’s best bicycle trails. The 52-mile long trail runs between Cottage Grove and the Fox River Sanctuary in Waukesha with easy connections to Madison and Milwaukee. Fortunately, both cities have large networks of bike trails. Running between Wisconsin's two largest urban areas, Glacial Drumlin State Trail stretches through 10 small towns, many farmlands and glacial topography.
The trail is on an abandoned rail corridor, except for a short section northeast of Jefferson, between State Highway 26 and County Highway Y, which uses public roads as the trail route.
It provides a glimpse into the past when glaciers bore down on southeastern Wisconsin in the last Ice Age. Although the trail stops short of the railroad’s original destinations, plans are afoot to link with Madison via the Capital City State Trail and with Milwaukee via the New Berlin Recreation Trail. A 5-mile extension to Madison is expected to begin construction in 2019.
The trail offers fairly level grade and smooth limestone and asphalt surfaces, ideal for bicyclists in many levels.
Please note that each bicyclist age 16 or older needs a Wisconsin state trail pass. Trail passes must be purchased before using the trail and should be carried with you while using the trail. Passes are available from private vendors along the trail, at self-registration stations on the trail, at the Lake Mills Trail Headquarters and at the Lapham Peak Unit, Kettle Moraine State Forest Office near Delafield.
Since the Glacial Drumlin State Trail parallels State Highway 18 and Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Madison, access points and rest rooms are available at several locations along the trail:
- The western half of the trail begins at County Highway North in Cottage Grove and travels to Junction Road east of State Highway 26 north of Jefferson. Parking is available in Cottage Grove, Deerfield, London and Lake Mills.
- The eastern half of the trail begins in the Fox River Sanctuary at College and Prairie Avenues in Waukesha and goes to County Highway Y, three miles northeast of Jefferson. Parking is available in Waukesha, Wales, Dousman, Sullivan and Helenville.
- And you must use public roads, Junction Road and County Highway Y, for a 1.5-mile section between the two halves of the trail.
Beginning in Cottage Grove, you will head east for about 40 miles on a crushed-stone surface before reaching pavement in Dousman. This is one of many small towns along the trail providing rest, refreshment, and exploration. Leave Cottage Grove, you will pass through miles of open country before and then seeing Deerfield and London. At around mile 14, you may sail over a 0.25-mile-long bridge that separates upper and lower Rock Lake, right after that you will see Lake Mills. A restored 1895 train depot provides exhibits on local nature and railroad history, as well as other visitor services. And 1.3 miles south of the depot on Mud Lake Road, camping is available at Sandhill Station State Campground.
In the 5-mile stretch between Lake Mills and Jefferson, the trail will tunnel under a thick tree canopy in the summer and crosses Crawfish River and Rock River (a fishing haven for locals). In Jefferson, at about 22 miles, signs will guide you through a 1.5-mile on-road section before reconnecting with the trail. While you journey through small towns and the communities of Helenville, Sullivan, Dousman, and Wales, you will find nearby restaurants and grocery stores.
Before approaching Sullivan, the trail parallels US 18 for some miles, and then a stream and wetland populated with yellow finches and purple thistles. Outside of Dousman, the crushed-stone surface ends, and the final 13 miles to Waukesha are smooth pavement. Even with the smoother surface, you might notice the grade increase since you pass south of the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Cushing Park Road Recreation Trail, 4 miles past Dousman, will take you there. It’s a well-deserved downhill after Wales for the last 7 miles to the Fox River and the trail’s end at the E. B. Shurts Environmental Learning Center at the Fox River Sanctuary in Waukesha. State campgrounds are situated in Lake Mills, Dousman, and Delafield.
On the way, you may spot large sandhill cranes, graceful birds with bright red caps on their heads, or hear spring peepers and a chorus of frogs. Deer, wild turkeys, foxes, and other critters are often seen.
Eventually, the Glacial Drumlin State Trail may connect to the Capital City and Hank Aaron state trails, linking together Madison and Milwaukee.
85.637 km / 53.213 mi
437 m / 1,434 ft
461 m / 1,511 ft
317 m / 1,040 ft