Consistently landing on the top of “the best of lists,” Madison made the #1 spot in 2020 as the best college town by College Gazette, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison is rated as one of America’s top 10 public universities. In 2021 Madison was the top US city for Tech Talent Growth and the fastest-growing city in the state.
There’s all that and more; Madison, also called “Mad City” or “Madtown,” is known for its vibrant and buzzy cultural scene. Music and the arts abound, beer flows, and the restaurant scene flourishes; festivals, fairs, exhibits, and events add to the local color and Madison vibe.
And, located in the heart of downtown, Madison’s State Street (pedestrian only) is anchored on one end by Capitol Square—the Wisconsin State Capitol is simply stunning—and the other by the University of Wisconsin with plenty of shopping and dining in-between.
Madison is a thriving, beautiful city with plenty of outdoor activities; it has the most playgrounds and parks per capita (of any of the 100 largest US cities) and is a Platinum-Level bicycle-friendly city.
Not only is Madison a wonderful place to live or visit, but the state parks located nearby are also equally enticing and offer an excellent opportunity to get out and about and explore Wisconsin.
Let’s look at the state parks near Madison and see what adventures await.
Map of State Parks Near Madison WI
Here is a map of the Wisconsin state parks covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Madison
Here are each of those state parks with their distance from Madison and what is special about each one.
1. Devil’s Lake State Park
Location: S5975 Park Rd, Baraboo, WI 53913
Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest and most visited state park in Wisconsin, and it’s just under an hour from Madison. The pink quartzite cliffs and bluffs that tower over the lake offer spectacular panoramic views. Other intriguing sights to see are unique rock formations like Balanced Rock and Devil’s Doorway, and effigy mounds that are located in the park.
The park is a year-round destination spot with camping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, and paddling. Stop by the nature center any time of the year and see what educational and recreational activities are in the works, and learn about the unique geography and how Devil’s Lake was formed.
The lake is part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a 1200 mile off-road, backpacking trail that follows the edge of Wiscounsin’s last glacier and highlights the glacial features that are left in the landscape.
Interesting fact – Millennium ago, what is now Devil’s Lake sat at the edge of a glacier that deposited piles and piles of boulders that blocked the north and south ends, when the glacier melted the lake was formed.
2. Mirror Lake State Park
Location: E10320 Fern Dell Rd, Baraboo, WI 53913
Just an hour NW of Mad City, Mirror Lake rarely sees ripples on its surface. The wooded shoreline and sandstone cliffs that wrap around it offer protection from the wind and make it an unusually calm lake.
Mirror Lake State Park is open year-round and offers camping (all-season), swimming, fishing, hiking, biking, paddling, and abundant opportunities to see wildlife. Mirror Lake is a strictly no-wake zone due to its compact size, and also to protect and preserve the sandstone sides. Kayaks and canoes are available to rent.
Interesting fact – The park is home to the Seth Peterson Cottage, a Frank Loydd Wright design that is available to rent.
3. Aztalan State Park
Location: N6200 County Rd Q, Jefferson, WI 53549
About 38 minutes east of Madison, you’ll find Aztalan State Park, located near the Crawfish River. While the park with wooded land and open prairie has hiking trails, picnicking, boating, paddling, and fishing opportunities, Aztalan is known as a preeminent archeological site prominently featuring ceremonial mounds, fortifications, and agricultural fields.
Aztalan was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and is known as the site of a prehistoric Mississippian culture settlement that thrived between 1000 to 1300 A.D. The characteristics of these settlements are mounds, enclosures, and rudimentary houses. Segments of the stockades and the two of the mounds have been reconstructed and help us understand what life may have been like here.
Interesting fact – Early settlers in the area named the mounds Aztalan thinking they were related to the Aztecs of Mexico.
4. Natural Bridge State Park
Location: E7792 Co Rd PF, North Freedom, WI 53951
Natural Bridge State Park is just a stone’s throw from Devil’s Lake State Park—30 minutes west and well worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. The picturesque bridge is a massive sandstone monument set within a beautiful forested area. Underneath the bridge is a sheltered area that has been used for protection by native peoples for over 10,000 years.
Interesting fact – The Bridge is the oldest-known human dwelling site in the upper-midwest.
5. Capital City State Trail
Location: 3101 Lake Farm Rd, Madison, WI 53711
The Capital City State Trail is one of several trails in Madison that make it one of the top five US cities for biking. The trails in and around Madison are used for in-line skating, walking, jogging, roller-skiing and biking. Here’s another resource for biking in the city.
Interesting fact – Bicycling is popular here, and not just for recreation. Many people use bikes as a means of transportation, the University of Wisconsin has more parking spots for bikes than vehicles.
6. Roche-A-Cri State Park
Location: 1767 WI-13 Trunk, Friendship, WI 53934
Located about an hour and a half north west of Madison is the Roche-A-Cri State Park, which was established to protect a unique 300 foot high outcropping with Native American petroglyphs and pictographs.
There is access to the top of Roche-A-Cri, with sweeping panoramic views of the area and a series of informational plaques that describe prominent features in the region. Camping, hiking, picnicking, and fishing are activities for the warm months.
The park does close down for the winter, but you can still visit with access through the parking lot on Czech Ave.
Interesting fact – Roche-A-Cri was named by French Explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries and means “Screaming Rock.” Named as such due to its visibility from other vantage points in the region.