Published earlier this year, two new guides for hikers in the Madison area and Wisconsin as a whole prove their worth. The books differ on the degree to which they consider the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, but otherwise tempt readers to explore and rediscover many beautiful places outside our doors.
Best Hikes Near Madison by Michael Ream
249 pages, $18.95, 2012, Falcon Guides, www.falcon.com
Falcon Guides has perfected the format for localized hiking and biking books with it's four- to five-pages for each trail, including a map, a description of the terrain, flora and fauna, directions, contact information and other details, such as "canine compatibility" and "special considerations" (noting, for example, the shooting range adjacent to the Portage area's Swan Lake Trail parking area).
Best Hikes Near Madison, with 43 hikes highlighted, ranges as far west as Dodgeville, east to the Scuppernong and Kettle View Trails, and south to Browntown-Cadiz Springs. Blue Mound, New Glarus Woods and Natural Bridge state parks as well as several linear state rail-trails are included.
I can't fault the Madison selections of Picnic Point or the paved Capital City State Trail. I'm partial to the outlying Pheasant Branch Conservancy, described as "a gem of a nature preserve" in Middleton, and Indian Lake County Park Trails en route to Mazomanie.
Because Best Hikes Near Madison is directed at hikers and not cyclists, the book shouldn't be faulted for featuring only short sections of much longer trails, such as a 5.5-mile stretch of the 53-mile Madison-to-Illinois Badger State Trail (a section heading north from Belleville, which deprives hikers of experiencing the 1,200-foot Stewart Tunnel south of that town).
It is a shame, though, that the Ice Age Scenic Trail only gets an "honorable mention" (as does the Military Ridge and Sugar River state trails) at the back of the book. At least Devil's Lake State Park, with some of the most challenging and stunning stretches of IAT, gets two chapters and 12 pages devoted to it. Thankfully, the Ice Age Trail Alliance updates its dual-volume atlas and companion guide every few years.
Best Hikes Near Madison joins several others in the series, including Road Biking Wisconsin, Mountain Biking Wisconsin, Best Rail Trails Wisconsin, Hiking Wisconsin, Best Easy Day Hikes Milwaukee and Rock Climbing Minnesota and Wisconsin. Michael Ream, the author of Best Hikes Near Madison, is credited with having also written hiking guides for Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, for the same publisher.
50 Hikes in Wisconsin, 2nd ed., by John and Ellen Morgan
254 pages, $18.95, 2012, Countryman Press, www.countrymanpress.com
In contrast to the previous book, in which the Ice Age Trail is given short shrift, 50 Hikes in Wisconsin is actually dedicated in part to Ray Zillmer, the Milwaukee attorney who in the 1950s sowed the seeds that would become the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the IAT's "army of wonderfully dedicated and unwavering volunteers" who continue to expand and maintain the 600-plus miles of off-road trail to this day.
In this book, a half dozen IAT segments (near Luck, Wood Lake, Waupaca, Cross Plains, Coloma and Slinger) get their own chapter descriptions and full-page topographic maps. For this second edition, in fact, the authors' focus on the IAT caused them to no longer include only loop hikes.
The book still doesn't hold a candle to what the Ice Age Trail Alliance itself publishes, but at least in this book the singular specialness of the IAT - crossing as it does through forests, prairies, farmlands and communities from one end of the state to the other - is considered in its proper context.
This new edition of the book includes 11 hikes not listed in the original published in 2004. (One of those is six more miles of Ice Age Trail in Waupaca and Portage counties, a stretch near and dear to this reviewer's trail running heart.)
Among the 50 Hikes in Wisconsin are intriguing ones on Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands and Rock Island State Park off the tip of Door County, both of which require ferry rides to reach.
The format is basic with all black and white photos. But as a reader you get the impression that time not spent on the book's design was time spent, well, hiking. Readers are well served by what the authors found.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports magazine.
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