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The last advance of the glaciers some 10,000 years ago thankfully missed the southwest corner of Wisconsin, leaving the hills and valleys intact and providing some of the most challenging bike riding in the Midwest. The climbs aren’t necessarily long in miles, but the grades can be steeper than the switchbacking mountain roads in the Rockies or Blue Ridge.
For my money, the queen of climbs is the ride to the top of Blue Mound State Park. At 1,716 feet, Blue Mound isn’t the highest point in the state (that would be 1,951-foot Timms Hill in Price County), but it’s the closest thing we have to a real peak, visible from 40 miles away on a clear day.
From Madison, there are countless ways to reach Blue Mound, including taking the crushed limestone Military Ridge State Trail, which skirts the southern edge of the park.
But experienced riders looking for a challenge should definitely explore the back roads with the help of a good map or GPS unit. County JG climbs out of the Bohn Creek valley and provides a less grueling incline before the final grind to the park entrance. Ryan Road will also get you there and is a shady, twisting, steep backcountry road where you need to watch for wild turkeys.
The most challenging way to the top of Blue Mound is up Mounds Park Road, a two-mile-long ascent where the grade at times tickles a leg-busting 15 percent. If your out-of-state biking pals think Wisconsin is flat, take them that way and wait for the whining. Low gears are a must for this one.
On the Map
For specific maps and routes, you can use websites like MapMyRide or Strava. But a printed map is nice to carry, too, in case your phone battery dies or you can’t get a good connection. Plus, there’s something pleasant about laying out the paper map to plan routes or see afterward where you went. The Dane County Bicycle Map produced by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board and Dane County is an awesome resource. Available for free at bike shops and many government offices, it shows all the roads, color coded based on automobile traffic counts.
There’s water available at Blue Mound State Park, but no food. Many hungry riders frequent Sjolind’s Chocolate House, which has outdoor seating, in nearby Mount Horeb. Mary’s Coffee Express is also worth a visit, especially if you’re pressed for time.