Governor Nelson State Park

Summertime in Madison is a beautiful thing. The city seems to come alive as it shakes the cold, death grip of winter. There always seems to be a sort of desperation in knowing that winter will return in a few short months, making residents feel the need to get the most out of the weather. If you want to make sure you are back in Madison by dark to enjoy the summer nightlife, (trust me, you do,) then a day hike from which you can still see downtown is perfect.

img_2374(A view of the lake and the state capitol behind a volleyball court)

Sitting on the northern side of Lake Mendota, Governor Nelson State Park is a 20 minute drive from downtown. In addition to the typical state park activities (hiking, biking, boating, swimming,) the park also offers a gorgeous beach area with views of the state capitol building. The park is a popular spot for local events. While we were there, Fishing Has No Boundaries was going on. This event is an opportunity for people with disabilities to get out and fish. How cool is that?!


Woodland Trail

Length: 1.25 miles

Difficulty: Moderate (the DNR website lists this trail as the most hilly and difficult in the park. In comparison with the other trails in the park, it is the most hilly, but a moderate difficulty ranking seemed high.)

Positives: Has a short path to a panther effigy mound just off the trail, wide trail

Negatives: The short path to the panther effigy mound was totally overgrown so I was unable to see it. It has been a very rainy year with a lot of plant growth so upkeep was more of a challenge, I’m sure.


Other than the promise of the effigy mound, this trail wasn’t very special. Maybe I’m still a little bitter about not being able to see it. The rest of the trail was well kept and mostly went through the woods. There was a view of Native American council mounds, but that too was very overgrown. The trail also had an area marked as a scenic overlook. I was honestly expecting a view of the lake, or the capitol, or really anything. Instead the scenic overlook was this view:


To be honest, this trail wasn’t very interesting. It was fine to hike once, but I don’t think it is a trail I would hike again. I think the best part about this trail was seeing a female wild turkey fly into a tree. Yes, they can fly short distances! I learn something new everyday.

Oak Savanna Trail

Length: 1.8 miles

Difficulty: Beginner (although this trail has very few trees on it so the sun alone can make it a challenge on hot days)

Positives:More views (you aren’t restricted to looking at trees)

Negatives: Very near the road – for a portion of it you are right next to the highway



(Like I said, for a portion of the trail you are very near the road.)



After your hike is done, make sure to head back to the lake to enjoy some time relaxing by the water.


There are a few other trails on the other side of the main entrance that we did not tackle. It was a very hot day and they appeared to be more trails through the meadow. Perhaps on a cooler day I will give them a shot.

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