Dane County, Wisconsin, attractions, things to do

Dane County Attractions

Whether it is cultural or ethnic events, history, geology, sporting events, fine dining or plenty of fun, Dane County offers a wide variety of things to do and places to go - enough to keep every age pleased! In fact, there is so much to do in Dane County, you will have stay awhile to see and do it all!

The City of Madison, spectacularly set on an isthmus surrounded by lakes, features Wisconsin's beautiful state capitol building, the unique shops and activities of State Street, and the world renowned University of Wisconsin and its many cultural and sporting events. For the whole family there's the Children's Museum, the Henry Vilas Zoo, UW Geology Museum, and the State Capitol, to name a few! If you are looking for fun places to explore there is Cave of the Mounds, Washburn Observatory, Hinchley Dairy Farm, and UW Arboretum and Olbrich Gardens.

The smaller cities of Stoughton, Cambridge, Blue Mounds, and Mt. Horeb feature Norwegian and Scandinavian and Swiss cultural events, and are just a few of the many communities with great shops, restaurants and lodging, festivals and activities, and small town charm.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the many parks for camping, biking, hiking and the lakes for sailing, water-skiing, canoeing, fishing and swimming. In the winter skiing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing are very popular.

Urban culture, natural beauty, small town charm, ethnic events - experience it all in Dane County.

MUSEUMS AND HISTORICAL SITES

Cambridge Historic School
South Street, Cambridge, (608) 423-3780
This red brick school built by Cambridge residents in 1906 is listed on the Wisconsin and National Register of Historic Places. Plans are underway to house extensive collections, to offer workshops, an on-site kiln, and opportunities for "hands on learning. In spite of extensive renovations, tours are available on summer weekends and by appointment.

Elvehjem Museum of Art
800 University Avenue, Madison, 
(608) 263-2246
The Elvehjem Museum offers a fine collection of sculpture, prints, paintings and artifacts from 2300 BC to the present, and features special exhibitions on a regular basis in its skylit, 24,000 square foot gallery space. The museum also hosts "Sunday Afternoon Life from the Elvejhem" weekly through the school year, featuring chamber music performed before a live audience and broadcast on public radio throughout the Midwest. The museum and gift shop are open 9am-5pm, Tuesday through Friday and 11am-5pm, Saturday.ay and Sunday. 

Little Norway
County Highway JG, Blue Mounds, 
(608) 437-8211
Little Norway is an outstanding and unique collection of Norse antiques and culture housed in a number of cabins and buildings nestled in a tiny wooded valley in the foothills of Blue Mounds. The original cabins were built in 1856 and the "Norway Building" built in 1893 is representative of ancient Norse church architecture. The settlement is listed on the National and State Register of Historical Places. Guided tours through the buildings last 45 minutes and the last tour starts 45 minutes before closing time. Open May and June, 9am-5pm; July and August, 9am-7pm; and September and October, 9am-5pm.

Madison Children's Museum
100 State Street, Madison, 
(608) 2256-6445
A special place for children, the Madison Children's Museum features interactive exhibits and hands-on experiences for all ages of children. Special programs are offered each weekend. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9am-4pm. Age 1 & over $4; Seniors $3. Bargain hours: Tuesday - Friday, 3-4pm $3.

Mt. Horeb Area Museum
100 South Second Street, Mt. Horeb, 
(608) 437-6486
Experience the ethnic evolution and contributions to Dane County by the Ho-Chunk, Scotch/Yankee, German, Irish, Swiss and Norwegian communities over the last 150 years. The highly recognized Mt. Horeb Area Museum professionally presents the story of Dane County through modern interpretive exhibits designed for all ages. Open Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 12:30-5pm. Special tours available by calling ahead. Free admission.

Wisconsin Historical Museum
30 North Carroll Street, Madison, 
(608) 264-6555
Have fun while experiencing Wisconsin's distinctive heritage. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am - 4 pm; Sunday & Mondays - Closed. Admission is by donation.

Stoughton Historical Museum
324 South Page Street, Stoughton, 
(608) 873-4797
Originally built in 1858 as an Universalist Church this building was the first in Stoughton to be place on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum houses the implements and artifacts of everyday life in early Stoughton. Open May through September on Saturdays and Sundays.

Swiss Historical Village
612 Seventh Avenue, New Glarus, 
(608) 257-0158
See pioneer life like it really was in the Midwest during the nineteenth century at the Swiss Historical Village. Tour all 14 buildings and you will see a different fact of everyday life represented in each one. Open daily 9am-4:30pm., May 1 to October 31. Admission.

UW-Madison Geology Museum
1215 West Dayton Street, Madison, 
(608) 262-1412
A favorite place for both children and adults! Kids will marvel at the skeleton of a giant mastodon, the six-foot rotating globe and walk-through cave. Also exhibits of various types of colorful rocks and minerals. Open Monday through Friday 8:30am-4:30pm; Saturday 9am-1pm. Free admission.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum
30 West Mifflin Street, Madison, 
(608) 267-1799
Information on Wisconsin veterans, their participation in various historic events, and memorabilia are all on display at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Open Monday through Saturday 9am - 4:30pm; April through September also open Sunday, 12-4pm. Gift Shop. Free admission.

PARKS AND NATURE CENTERS

Blue Mounds State Park 
Blue Mounds, (608) 437-5711 
Enjoy a fun filled day at the Blue Mound State Park, which features the highest point in southern Wisconsin. The park features a campground, swimming pool, picnic area, off-road bike trails, cross country skiing and more!

Cave of the Mounds
Highway 151, Blue Mounds, (608) 437-3038
Discover the magnificent natural treasure and wonderful fun of the Cave of the Mounds, recognized as a national natural landmark. These magnificent caverns, with their jewel -like stalactites and stalagmites, were created millions of years ago by the earth's natural processes. A long buried treasure, the Cave was discovered in 1939 when a quarry blast revealed the entrance to this sparkling underground fairyland. A tour of the Cave, viewing the spectacular crystallized rock formations and shimmering water pools is an awe inspiring, entertaining and educational experience for the whole family. Beautiful gardens, picnic sites, gift shop and tourist center also available. Open year round with tours every 15 minutes daily in the summer from 9am - 7pm; spring and fall open weekdays 10am-4pm with tours every hour and weekends 9am-5pm with tours every 30 minutes; winter (November 15 - March 15) open weekends only - 10am - 4pm with tours every hour.

Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail
Dane County, (608) 266-2181
For adventurous bike enthusiasts, this winding bike trail runs for 47.2 miles from Waukesha to Cottage Grove. Following the path of the old Chicago and Northwestern Railway that operated in the 1880s, it goes through many smaller communities providing a picturesque journey with beautiful scenery of both nature and small community settings.

Lake Kegonsa State Park
Stoughton, (608) 873-7912
Activities available for the entire family can be found at Lake Kegonsa State Park. This 343-acre park has a beach, boat launch, playgrounds, shelters and an 80-site campground. Lake Kegonsa, which means "lake of many fishes" in the Winnebago language, is still one of southern Wisconsin's best fishing lakes and is large enough for boating, water-skiing and sailing, and ice fishing in the winter. Over 60-acres of the park have been restored to native prairie grasses and there are nature trails for hiking in the woods, prairie and marshland and trails for cross-country skiing.

Madison Conservation Parks
Madison, (608) 266-4711
Fourteen parks provide 20 miles of hiking trails through various Madison native landscapes. From Cherokee Marsh where marsh plants slowly release cleaner water to the lakes below to Owen Conservation Park where prairie landscape and oak savannas provide a gorgeous setting, each park offers a unique trail with different landscape and a diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife. Although open to the public, these parks are also used extensively for environmental education. 

Military Ridge Trail
Fitchburg to Dodgeville, Dane County, (608) 437-7393
Enjoy 39.6 scenic miles of this State Park Trail from Fitchburg to Dodgeville. Open to biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Fun for the whole family!

Olbrich Botanical Gardens
3330 Atwood Avenue, Madison, (608) 246-4550
Explore an oasis of beauty on the shores of Lake Monona - enjoy a lush tropical conservatory year-round. This glass pyramid is a sunny, green paradise filled with exotic plants, bright flowers, a rushing waterfall, fragrant orchids and free-flying birds. Stroll through 14 acres of outdoor display gardens including a sunken garden, and perennial, rose, herb and wildflower gardens. Open daily year-round; Conservatory Monday through Saturday 10am-4pm; Sundays 10am-5pm; Outdoor Gardens daily 9am-5pm; Summer 8am-8pm. Outdoor admission free; Conservatory $1;Wednesday and Saturday mornings 10am-Noon free admission; children under 5 are always free.

UW Madison Arboretum
1207 Seminole Highway, Madison, (608) 263-7888
Natural wonders abound in 1,260 acres of restored prairies, woods, wetlands and savannas. The arboretum, which contains the largest and oldest restored ecological community in existence, features miles of walking and hiking trails, as well as cross-country ski trails. In the warm weather visit the stand of lilacs and other flowering trees that create a magnificent spring show each year. Educational programs are held in the site's McKay Center. Public tours are available each weekend. Open year-round.

SPECIAL THINGS TO DO

Dane County Farmers' Market
Capitol Square & Martin Luther King Boulevard, Madison, (920) 563-5037
Experience this Madison tradition and fun event - the Dane County Farmers Market is the USA's biggest farmers' market and features Wisconsin-grown fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as honey, cheese, baked goods, herbs and gourmet coffee and more from over 200 vendors. Late April through October, 6am to 2pm Saturdays downtown on the Capitol Square. Also, May through October 8:30am to 2pm Wednesdays on Martin Luther King Boulevard, downtown Madison.

Blue Mounds Farmers' Market
County Hwy. ID & Mounds Road, Blue Mounds, (608) 437-5197
Enjoy fresh produce and more at the Blue Mounds Farmers' Market. Held on Friday nights, 4 - 7 pm, starting the first Friday in June through the second Friday in October.

Henry Vilas Zoo
702 South Randall Avenue, Madison, (608) 266-4732

Have a wild time at the Henry Vilas Zoo! Located on the shores of Lake Wingra, this zoo offers a wide variety of exciting attractions, including many animal exhibits, picnic areas and playgrounds in the park, swimming and more. Feed and pet the animals in the Children's Zoo, ride a camel, attend an educational program and have a ball at the annual Zoo Benefit Dance or Halloween at the Zoo. Open year round. Discovery Center/Herpetarium 10am-4pm; Primate Center 10am.-4:45pm; Children's Zoo open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day 10am-4:45pm. Free camel rides Sundays in June - August 10:30 am-Noon. Free admission.

Hichley Dairy Farm Tours
2844 Highway 73, Cambridge, (608) 764-5090
Experience farm life when you tour the Hinchley family dairy farm. Take an educational tour of the dairy barn and milk house, ride a tractor driven hayride, and play in a petting area of farm animals. A great time for young and old. Please see our website for seasonal hours, attractions and admission. www.dairyfarmtours.com. 

Tyrol Basin Ski Area
3847 Bohn Rd, Mt. Horeb, (608) 437-4135
There's winter fun for everyone at Tyrol Basin. Tyrol Basin combines a rustic atmosphere with modern snowmaking and grooming technology to create mountains of winter fun. Skiing and snowboarding from November through March. Twelve runs, two triple chairlifts, ski and snowboard rentals and lessons available. 

University of Wisconsin Badgers - Big Ten Sports
University of Wisconsin Athletic Department, Kohl Center, Madison, (608) 262-1440
See collegiate sports at their finest! The University of Wisconsin features 23 athletic teams for men and women. Badger sports play an important role in campus life and have tremendous fan support locally and nationally. Winner of three Rose Bowl championships in 1994, 1999 and 2000, the football team plays at Camp Randall Stadium, while basketball and hockey are played in the Kohl Center. The Kohl Center, named for lead donor Herb Kohl, U.S. senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team, opened in January 1998 and is one of the most highly regarded collegiate arenas. Featuring beautiful glass artwork, the Kohl Center is a state-of-the-art athletic and entertainment facility and seats 17,000. Tours are available by calling (608) 265-4138. Ticket information and schedules for various sports teams available through the UW Athletic Ticket Office, (608) 262-1440. 

Washburn Observatory
1401 Observatory Drive, Madison, (608) 262-9274
Come see the stars at Washburn Observatory. Since its founding in 1878 the Washburn Observatory has been open for public stargazing. At one time it was a state-of-the-art facility for astronomical study; today it is still one of the telescopes used by University of Wisconsin space scientists. The observatory is free and open to the public for stargazing on the first and third Wednesday nights of the month if the sky is at least 75 percent clear. No reservations are needed. Call ahead for stargazing conditions!

North American Squirrel Association (nasa)
La Crosse, (608) 781-3100 (ask for Tony)
Formed in 2003, nasa is a non-profit organization that grew out of a desire to provide physically challenged and elderly members of our community with outdoor opportunities such as hunting and fishingnasa has purchased a pontoon boat that is freely available for the elderly and physically challenged. Along with the pontoon boat, nasa holds several fishing events and a fall hunting event each year. nasa has also helped support a program with Mt. La Crosse that will allow more children with special needs learn how to ski.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Cooksville, Highway 138
Step back in time to the 1850's when you visit this sleepy village noted for the quality of its early architecture and history. It has been listed as an historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. Located only 7 miles south of Stoughton on Highway 138.

Governor's Mansion
99 Cambridge Road, Madison, (608) 266-3554
See the executive residence of Wisconsin governors! This southern classical revival home was completed in 1928 and has housed Wisconsin governors and their families since 1949. An elegant showcase of art and decoration are on display; spectacular holiday decorations attract many visitors. Tours April - August and during the holiday season. Open to the public. Call for tour hours.

Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center
1 John Nolen Drive, Madison, (608) 261-4000
Originally designed by Frank Lloyd and built in the late 1990's, the Monona Terrace combines curving geometric forms that converge with a beautifully landscaped waterfront setting, blending the exterior of Monona Terrace with its spectacular environment. Monona Terrace is a first rate modern convention center with 250,00 square feet but also is designed for complete accessibility and civic enjoyment. Its rooftop features a 68,000 square foot garden that celebrates city life with live performances and space for public and private functions. It features stunning views of Lake Monona, the State Capitol and the downtown skyline and has adjoining bike and hike paths. Tours offered daily, Monday-Sunday, at 1pm. $3/person.

Picnic Point
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Take a walk on one of the most beautiful paths on any American campus! A narrow, heavily wooded finger of land that juts out about a mile into Lake Mendota, Picnic Point is easily accessible, with a wide dirt path, and offers views of the campus and the State Capitol. There are also a number of picnic spots and a sand beach along the path. It connects to another 300 acres of natural areas along the lake for hikers, joggers and nature lovers. Once the lake is frozen, it becomes a playground for anglers, ice boaters and everyone who wants to play on the ice!

State Street
Downtown Madison
When you visit State Street you will understand why there is no street like it anywhere in the country! The New York Times calls it "a funky half-mile strip of food, music, craft and clothing shops running from the university campus to the imposing state capitol building!" Connecting the University of Wisconsin campus to the State Capitol, State Street features a pedestrian mall lined with over 180 specialty shops, 44 restaurants, 10 outdoor cafes, the Madison Civic Center and 4 museums. Street performers and musicians entertain regularly. 

The 'Trollway'
Main Street, Mt. Horeb, 1-88TROLLWAY
Visit the quaint main street of Mt. Horeb where shopping, dining and trolls abound! Whether you like antiques, fine gifts, crafts, cheese, collectibles, clothing, furnishings, stitchery, Scandinavian imports or art, the "Trollway's" many fine stores appeal to everyone, as well as the restaurants featuring homemade special ethnic delights and baked goods.

Wisconsin State Capitol
4 East State Capitol, Madison, (608) 266-0382
See marvelous marble, notable art, mosaics and murals when you tour the capitol! Wisconsin's State Capitol was built between 1906 and 1917 and is Wisconsin's third capitol building. It is composed of granite and its dome is the largest in the United States and it is the only one made of granite. Free guided tours daily year round. 

FESTIVALS

Art Fair on the Square
Capitol Square, Madison, (608) 257-0158
Featuring art from all over the United States, the Art Fair on the Square is one of the largest cultural festivals in the country. Renowned artists in various art mediums display and sell their art. Sponsored by the Madison Art Center, the Art Fair on the Square brings nearly 500 artists and 200,000 people to downtown Madison for two days every July. 

Syttende Mai
Stoughton
Celebrate the Norwegian heritage of many of Stoughton's residents at Syttende Mai, when thousands of visitors come to Stoughton to enjoy the festivities. The words "Syttende Mai" are Norwegian for "seventeen May", so the event is held on the weekend closet to May 17. From folk dancing, Norwegian food, musical performances, an Ugliest troll contest, an arts and craft fair to canoe racing and a 20-mile run from Madison to Stoughton, Syttende Mai features fun for the whole family.

Taste of Madison
Capital Square, Madison, (608) 278-9666

Tantalizing tastes from hundreds of restaurants in the Madison area are featured at this annual Labor Day weekend event.