Donald County Park, Dane County, Madison, Wisconsin, A Short Hike to a Big Rock in the State Capital Area

Now let’s take a short break from the Wisconsin state park system. I spend so much time driving to parks all over the state that sometimes I forget there are great options for hiking right in my backyard. One of these options is a park located 19 miles out side of Madison and managed by Dane County, Donald County Park.

Links to follow along:
Park Website
Park Map

This park has several parking lots and access points to trails. With 12.3 miles of trails within the park, I recommend looking at the map and planning your route before you go. Having the puppy with us and knowing our distance would be limited by her developing puppy joints, we picked an area that was short but also had two scenic overlooks. We started from the “Deer Creek Fishing Access” parking lot, hiked the Sweet Farm Trail to the Farmstead Vista Knoll, back to the parking lot, and then to the second scenic overlook on the Hitchcock Ridge Trail and back. In total, we probably only hiked about a mile and a half.

(Side note, we turned down the wrong road at first and found the main park entrance (by Pop’s Knoll.) This parking lot was packed. Like cars parked on the side of the road because the parking lot was full packed. I’ve been to this park since, and this parking lot was the same way. Just something to consider if you plan to visit on a weekend and hope to avoid tons of people.

Sweet Farm Trail

Distance: 1.7 miles to complete the entire thing (It is .6 miles linear with a .3 mile loop and a .2 mile offshoot to the scenic knoll)
Difficulty: Easy
Description: This gentle trail travels next to Deer Creek as it brings you to two scenic overlooks

The trail travels next to Deer Creek along the edge of the forest. This portion of the trail has some shade cover making it pleasant even on a sunny day.

That cluster of trees on a hill is the Farmstead Vista Knoll (one of the two scenic overlooks on the trail) and the “there and back” goal of this first hike.

After a short .3 mile walk, the trail has the option to turn to the right and cross the creek or continue straight. Look for this sign to know you’ve arrived.

Anyone missing a flannel?

The bridge over the creek

The trail then travels the .2 miles to the Farmstead Vista Knoll. This part of the trail was unique. On either side of the trail was open farmland while the trail itself was under a line of trees. It was like a little linear oasis protecting hikers from the sun.

The trail soon climbs up a small hill and reaches an open area that is the knoll.

This would be a super cute spot for a picnic. It’s shaded, grassy, and large.

After checking out the scenes of the surrounding farmland, we backtracked to the parking lot. From the parking lot, we completed another “there and back” segment to the scenic view on the Hitchcock Ridge Trail.

Hitchcock Ridge Trail

Length: .4 miles linear to the scenic view (the trail continues beyond that in a series of small loops and meets up with other trails)
Difficulty: Easy
Description: This trail begins in the grassland before turning into the forest. It climbs up a slight hill before reaching the top of the ridge.

This trail starts in the meadow on the edge of the woods before curving into the forest.

The trail becomes narrower and changes from grass to packed dirt.

Obligatory fern pic

After a brief upward hike, the trail reaches the scenic point, this rock formation.

The trail circles the rock, allowing you to get up close and personal. The puppy wasn’t sure what to think of the giant rock.

After spending a few minutes exploring the rock, we returned (once again) to the starting parking lot. This time, however, we gave the doggo some water, hopped in the car, and drove to get a little somewhat earned (but always deserved) post-hike beer at Wisconsin Brewing Co.

Wisconsin Brewing is great. In addition to delicious beer, that have a dog-friendly outdoor area. In normal non-COVID times, there are often bands and events going on. Plan your visit and checkout their updates on their website.

Moxxi’s point of view

Friends, dog, hiking, and beer. This was a nice way to start the weekend.

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