15 Best Day Trips from Madison, WI

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

Madison is the capital city of Wisconsin, in the United States. It lies between lakes Mendota and Monona.

It was founded in 1829 and became the capital city in 1848. Madison is known for its extensive network of parks and lakes with hundreds of miles of nature trails, its restaurants, and its museums and art galleries.

Thanks to its vibrant culture, the city is known as one of the most quintessential cities in the US. Madison is surrounded by great destinations for a day trip.

If you’re in Madison and need some new scenery outside the capital city, here is an exhaustive list of the best day trips that you can take from Madison:

1. Wisconsin Dells

Wisconsin DellsSource: Jacob Boomsma / shutterstock
Wisconsin Dells

Wisconsin Dells is a city that is situated just over 1hour away from Madison.

The city got its name from the Dells of the Wisconsin River.

From the Witch’s Gulch, you get an amazing view of the sandstone.

The Wisconsin Dells together with the village of Lake Delton form “the Dells” which is a popular tourist attraction site.

The first tourists came here in the 19th century and the site is still worth a visit years later.

In the downtown of Wisconsin Dells is the H.H. Bennett Museum and Historic Studio while to the north of downtown is the Dells of the Wisconsin River state natural area.

Almost the entire city of Wisconsin Dells is an amusement park.

The real heart of the adventure is the water park; time passes by so quickly when you’re having fun here.

2. Chippewa Falls

 Lake Wissota State Park, Chippewa FallsSource: Jacob Boomsma / shutterstock
Lake Wissota State Park, Chippewa Falls

Chippewa Fall was incorporated as a city in 1869 and is located in Northwest Wisconsin on the Chippewa River.

The name Chippewa comes from the Ojibwa language; the river is named after the Ojibwa Native Americans.

Visit Chippewa Falls and learn all about its charm and history as you explore the great outdoors.

This city is the birthplace Seymour Cray who is known worldwide as the father of the supercomputer.

The best time to visit Chippewa Falls is during the Christmas holidays.

The residents here take their Christmas traditions very seriously.

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, the city is transformed into a wonderland.

Magnificent lights are displayed alongside the shining angels in the Christmas Village in Irvine Park.

3. Spring Green

Frank Lloyd Wright's, Spring GreenSource: Juli Hansen / shutterstock
Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Spring Green

The Spring Green village is located about 1 hour to the west of Madison.

This small village is home to two of Wisconsin’s famous edifices which are must-sees for every architecture aficionado: Taliesin and House on the Rock.

The Taliesin complex is an 800-acre estate that was built as a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright.

The House on the Rock is an awe-inspiring crowded attic that exhibits with quirky attractions.

Other places that you can visit on a day trip to Spring Green are the American Players Theater where Shakespeare’s plays are shown, the Spring Green General Store, the art galleries, and the emporium.

4. Baraboo

BarabooSource: Helene Woodbine / shutterstock

Baraboo is the largest city in Sauk County and is located on the Baraboo River.

This city is the winter home to the Ringling Brothers Circus.

If you love magic, you should visit the Circus World Museum, especially in summer when there is a daily parade with performances by magicians, clowns, and aerialists.

This museum preserves the legacy and history of the Ringling Brothers circus and is the only museum in the world that is exclusively clown-focused.

Another must­see landmark in Baraboo is the AI Ringling Theatre.

Nestled in the Baraboo Range is the Devil’s Lake State Park which is only 35 minutes away.

5. Devil’s Lake State Park

Devil's Lake State Park, Baraboo area, WisconsinSource: MarynaG / shutterstock
Devil’s Lake State Park

This park is one of the largest and most popular parks in Wisconsin covering an area of 3,730 hectares.

This park is situated about 35 miles northwest of Madison and is known for its 500-foot-high bluffs and its pink quartzite cliffs along the lake.

One of the primary attractions of the park is the Devil’s Lake which is a closed drainage lake located about 2 miles to the south of Baraboo.

This rectangle­shaped lake was created through by glaciers and covers an area of 150 hectares.

Within the park is the Baraboo Hills which are said to be much older than the lake.

The Southern part of the Hills was declared a National Natural Landmark in the year 1974.

This park is a popular tourist destination thanks to its scenic beauty and its proximity to the Wisconsin Dells.

If you’re looking to spend your day surrounded by nature away from the busy state capital, nothing beats this park.

6. Mineral Point

Mineral Point, WisconsinSource: Faer Out / shutterstock
Mineral Point

The magical Mineral Point is a city in the southwest of Wisconsin.

This city was settled in 1827 and it became a leading zinc and lead mining center in the 19th and the 20th century.

The architectural buildings in Mineral Point date back to the 1840s.

This city is full of charm and whimsy.

There are numerous caves and badger holes here that tell about this small town’s history.

The charming ambiance of Mineral Point’s buildings makes this town a recommended place for a day trip from Madison.

7. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Madison Museum of Contemporary ArtSource: THX0477 / Flickr
Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art

This art museum, established in 1901, was formerly known as Madison Art Center.

This museum is the lifeblood of art and entertainment in Madison; it opened its permanent home to the public in 2006.

The collection includes more than 5,000 objects from across the globe and some pieces of work from iconic artists.

An example is the Pitahayas, an oil-on-metal painting done by Frida Kahlo.

While here, you can take a stroll around the spectacular 7,100 square foot rooftop sculpture garden, and the media gallery which showcases prints, drawings, and photographs.

8. Sun Prairie

Sun Prairie, WisconsinSource: Corey Coyle / Wikimedia
Sun Prairie

Sun Prairie is a suburb of Madison, located in Dane County.

This city is the second most populated city in the county after Madison.

If you prefer a quiet day trip location, then Sun Prairie is the perfect spot for you.

About half an hour away from San Prairie are some community parks that are ideal for relaxation and are recommended for picnicking.

They include the Sheehan, Angel, Woodview, and Wetmore.

9. Pendarvis State Historic Site

Pendarvis State Historic SiteSource: Shirley Faherty / shutterstock
Pendarvis State Historic Site

This historic site is located in Iowa County and is made up of several cabins that date back to the 19th century.

These cabins were built by the immigrants who came to mine lead in Mineral Point.

These buildings have been restored to their original state.

The Pendarvis site serves as a museum to preserve the history of early lead mining; it’s owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Visit Pendarvis to see how the miners lived back in the day.

10. Mount Horeb

Mount Horeb, WisconsinSource: Jaknelaps / Wikimedia
Mount Horeb

Mount Horeb is a village located about 30 minutes to the west of Madison, in Dane County.

The early settlers were Norwegian and for this reason, this town bears a Scandinavian heritage.

The main street is decorated with life-size trolls that are carved from tree trunks.

This “Troll Capital of The World” has numerous antique shops, gift shops, and several specialty shops in the downtown area.

Other places that you must visit on your day trip to Mount Horeb are the Cave of the Mounds, the Onyx Ridge, and the Blue Mound State Park.

11. Beaver Creek Nature Reserve

Beaver Creek Nature ReserveSource: www.beavercreekreserve.org
Beaver Creek Nature Reserve

If you are looking to learn as you discover the mysteries of nature, visit this 400­acre reserve and you’ll surely not run out of things to see.

This picturesque natural habitat contains a butterfly house which gives tourists a beautiful experience as they become one with nature.

You can visit at night and get views from The Hobbs Observatory.

12. Monroe

Monroe, WisconsinSource: SD Dirk / Flickr

Are there any cheese lovers in the house? Monroe city, bordered by the Town of Monroe to the north and Town of Clarno to the south, is all about cheese.

This city has been thriving for more than a century thanks to the art and business of making cheese.

This cheese capital of Wisconsin is home to one of the last of the Limburger cheese factories.

Pay a visit to the Historic Cheesemaking Center to learn all about Wisconsin’s famous cheese.

13. Monona Terrace

Monona TerraceSource: Suzanne Tucker / shutterstock
Monona Terrace

This terrace is a convention center that is located on the shores of Lake Monona.

It’s also referred to as the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

The terrace was designed in 1938 by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the building wasn’t built until 1997, nearly 60 years after its inception.

Monona Terrace was constructed by a southern Wisconsin contractor, J.H Findorff and Son Inc.

Any Wright fan wouldn’t want to miss a chance to see this stunning building, located on Madison’s Waterfront.

The rooftop allows panoramic views of the downtown, the Capitol, and Lake Monona.

14. New Glarus

New Glarus, WisconsinSource: kjbrazil / Flickr
New Glarus

This village in Green County is located at the intersection of Wisconsin Highways 39 and 69. This community was founded in 1845 and was incorporated in 1901. Among the first settlers here were the immigrants from Switzerland in the mid-1800s.

New Glarus is the perfect getaway from Madison and is well-known for its Swiss charm.

Everything in this village fully embraces the Swiss heritage including its culture, history and food.

This Swiss village is home to “Spotted Cow”, one of Wisconsin’s most famous crafted brews.

If you love beer then new Glarus should be at the top of your list for best day trips from Madison.

Other highlights of the trip to New Glarus include Swiss historical Village which is an open-air museum.

15. Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Olbrich Botanical GardensSource: Ken Wolter / shutterstock
Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The 16­acre Olbrich Botanical Gardens is named after its founder, Michael Olbrich, who established it in 1952. The gardens are located in Madison and are owned by the nonprofit Olbrich Botanical Society and the City of Madison Parks.

Visit these gardens to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding landscapes and the exotic plants.

The glass-enclosed Bolz Conservatory was added to the garden in 1991. It’s filled with fragrant flowers, orchids, a waterfall, and birds.

Another addition is the “sala”, an elaborate Thai pavilion opened in 2002 that was donated to the University of Wisconsin by the government of Thailand.

The gift was made though Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King.

This pavilion is one of the 4 salas that are found outside of Thailand.

15 Best Day Trips from Madison, WI:

  • Wisconsin Dells
  • Chippewa Falls
  • Spring Green
  • Baraboo
  • Devil’s Lake State Park
  • Mineral Point
  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Sun Prairie
  • Pendarvis State Historic Site
  • Mount Horeb
  • Beaver Creek Nature Reserve
  • Monroe
  • Monona Terrace
  • New Glarus
  • Olbrich Botanical Gardens