Hiking Close to Home, Token Creek Park – Madison WI, Dane County

Having such a small window of time for outdoor recreation in Wisconsin, its not surprising that the summer and early fall months are busy. Busy as in, it’s rare to have a free morning on a weekend. Busy as in, every hour from 4pm on Friday through 8pm on Sunday is booked and accounted for. For this reason, it is important to find some go-to local hikes that can be done in an hour or two, without needing to spend an hour in the car just to get to the trailhead.

I’ve showcased a few of the local Madison hikes before on the blog. (Cherokee Marsh and Capital Springs being my typical quick hikes.) Wanting to shake things up, I searched for something different. This brought me to Token Creek Park, which, as it turns out, is unexpectedly close to my apartment.


Token Creek Park is a 427-acre park located slightly northeast of the Dane County Airport. The park’s website says that it is best known for the five outdoor shelter facilities. In addition to the shelters and hiking, this park also has camping, a boat launch, a dog park, equestrian trails, volleyball, a 27-hole disc golf course, and more.

Links:       Park Website         Park Map

We entered the park from Anderson Road. This isn’t the main entrance to the park, but at about a 3-minute drive, it was the closest entrance to our apartment. Anderson Road is a short, dead end country road with a few houses on it. On the north side of the road, an extra wide paved shoulder acts as a makeshift parking lot. About 15 feet down the road, you can enter the park on Token Creek Lane. This road is blocked to cars, but open to walk through.

From the road, the trail that circles the park begins on either side. We went right, or east, towards the dog exercise area.


I was immediately struck by the width of the trails. Many of them double as horse trails so the width of them makes sense. For being such a horse and dog friendly park, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of poo piles on the trail.

This trail curved north and traveled next to two dog areas, with one specifically for small dogs. Both the small dog area and the unspecified size dog area were busy with numerous dogs and humans.


Beyond this point we started seeing trail marker signs. These signs contained symbols, hiker, horse, dog, etc.,  indicating what type of use the trail was intended for. These signs also contained arrows and numbers. As none of the trails were named, I found these numbers to be confusing. What were they trying to tell me? Were they pointing the way to the park’s shelters, which were known by number? Were they marking the length of various trails? Looking at the map, neither of these guesses seemed to make sense. The park is small enough that it doesn’t really matter, I just like to be in the know, especially since someone took the time to put up signs and number something.

The trail also seemed to have points not shown on the map where the trail would split. Again, the park is small enough that this wasn’t a big deal. We just tried to keep to the outer most trail.

(View looking ahead)                        (View looking back)

The trail leaves the trees and opens to a meadow.


Now for the worst part of the trail. Knowing this park is named Token Creek, and there is a creek called Token Creek that passes through, I kind of wanted to see it. We planned to take the large outer loop all the way around to where it meets up with the boardwalk. Unfortinatley, we encountered a “trail closed ahead” sign that made us change our plans. Instead, we turned on a side trail that would also bring us through the center of the park. Fine.

This trail quickly turned into a muddy, wet, mosquito filled mess. As we continued on the trail, the mud and water became harder to walk around, leading to some very wet shoes and socks. Then, to make matters worse, there was a large tree down across the trail. Normally this isn’t a huge deal, but with the mud and water, there was no way to go around it. It still had enough leaves that we couldn’t go over it either. The only option was to crawl under it, only to find more water and mud on the other side.

By the time we made it out of the mud and back on solid ground, seeing the creek was no longer a priority. Instead of continuing west, we took a dry trail back to the main trail and went back the way we came.

0TC Map

See it on the map? The “do not enter” symbol is where the trail was closed, the tree symbol is where the tree was down, and the arrows are the way we came and went. The majority of that short section with the tree symbol was water and mud.

Reading reviews on Yelp, this section of the trail has been closed for several months now. The reviewer ignored the “trail closed” sign only to find that the trail was overgrown and seemed to have not been moved in months.

Hiking less than half of the trails, I don’t think I saw enough of the park to make the decision not to go back. Watch for a part two to the Token Creek adventure. Spoiler alert: next time, upon entering the park, I plan to turn left instead of right. Exciting stuff! Stay tuned!

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