By Brian D’Ambrosio
From picking farms, to concrete art parks, to bluff and lake hikes, there are a bevy of fun options for kids in Madison, Wisconsin. Here are 10 unique, enjoyable, and unforgettable kid-friendly adventures, ranging from the offbeat to the outstandingly scenic.
Aztalan State Park
Lake Mills, WI
The family doesn’t need to have to trek to Egypt or Central America in search of pyramids. Less than one hour’s drive from Madison, they can visit the archeological pyramids of Aztalan State Park, where in 1836 a man named Timothy Johnson stumbled upon remains of an ancient village. According to park brochures, most experts believe the civilization to be a blend of two Aztec societies. This mysterious park was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Great open space for picnicking or simply wandering around.
Bures Berry Patch
3760 W. Brigham Rd.
Barneveld, WI 53507
Bures Berry Patch is a popular patch where families gather to pick the freshest produce. The farm specializes in cultivating asparagus, rhubarb, sweet corn, pre-picked/U-pick; peas, strawberries, raspberries and pumpkins. Always call for hours and availability. From Madison: travel Hwy 18/151 west for ~30 miles; go 2.5 miles past Barneveld; turn south on W. Brigham Rd.; proceed one mile.
5683 Lincoln Rd.
Oregon, WI 53575
One of Dane County’s most popular family-friendly farms, Carandale Farm offers U-pick or pre-picked strawberries, Concord grapes, and fall raspberries. It is located at the very end of S. Fish Hatchery Rd., 8.5 miles from the Madison Beltline.
Door Creek Orchard
3252 Vilas Road
Cottage Grove, WI 53527
Door Creek Orchard, just minutes from east Madison, is a beautiful family friendly farm offering U-pick and pre-picked apples as well as U-pick table and wine grapes, fall raspberries and pumpkins. Unpasteurized cider is pressed weekly. In addition to the pleasant fall fruit and cider for sale in the shed, the Griffiths’ provide customers with a quiet place to pick nature’s bounty, a true harvest experience that offers an escape from the pressure of fast-paced urban life.
Meat and naturally colored yarn are available from the Black Welsh Mountain sheep, which can we watched grazing near the upper orchard. Twice during the season, horse and buggy rides through the orchard may be purchased. Season: mid-August to late November. From Madison, take Hwy 12/18 east 3 miles past I-90, turn right on Vilas Rd. and go 1/2 mile.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Baraboo, WI 53913
All the physical and visual medicine one family needs is nestled in the South Range of the Baraboo Hills, an alluring gem of a lake flanked by two 500-foot-high bluffs composed of Precambrian quartzite. Set aside as one of Wisconsin’s first state parks in 1910, Devil’s Lake State Park, with its sweepings views, earthy rock formations, 360-acre spring-fed belly, 29 miles of hiking/biking park trails, and attractive hardwood forest, is a scenic little vista.
The view from above, courtesy of the steep East and West Bluffs has wowed adults and children alike for centuries, even hosting more than 1,300,000 visitors in 2008. Park Hours: Devil’s Lake is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Visitor Center hours are from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily in the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in other seasons.
305 West Main Street
Dickeyville, WI 53808-6842
Dickeyville Grotto and its surrounding shrines will amaze dads and children of all ages. These striking designs of stone, mortar, and vivid-colored objects, collected materials from all across the world, include colored glass, gems, antique heirlooms of pottery or porcelain, stalagmites and stalactites, commemorative China, sea shells, starfish, petrified sea urchins and fossils.
Embedded within are a variety of corals, amber glass, agate, quartz, ores, such as iron, copper and lead, fool’s gold, rock crystals, onyx, amethyst and coal, petrified wood and moss. Most of the shells, stones, tiles, wood, glass, gems and geodes were donated by parishioners. Visited by 40,000 to 60,000 visitors per year, Dickeyville Grotto stands at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 151 and Highway 35.
Nick Engelbert’s Grandview
Hollandale, WI 58010
Nick Engelbert’s Grandview is something out of a fairy tale. Nick Engelbert created his first concrete sculpture in the 1930s while recovering from a sprained ankle. By 1950, his entire yard was transformed into a landscape of over 40 offbeat sculptures.
Mineral Point Railroad Depot
11 Commerce Street
Mineral Point, WI 53565
Most kids love trains. Adorned walls and glass cases in the Mineral Point Railroad Depot Museum tell the tale of Mineral Point’s economic explosion and bust. The first train pulled into the depot in the summer of 1857; the Mineral Point depot was built one year earlier from local materials. It has survived to become the oldest depot in Wisconsin. The Mineral Point Railroad Society museum is open seasonally, from the first weekend in May to late October. Hours of operation are: Thursdays 10am-4pm, Fridays 10am-4pm, Saturdays 10am-4pm and Sundays 12-4pm.
Sterling North Boyhood Home
409 West Rollin St.
Edgerton, WI 53534
In Edgerton, Wisconsin, dads with the most bookish of bents can visit the landmark boyhood home of Sterling North, world-famous author of Rascal, So Dear to My Heart, The Wolfling, and 28 other works. Native Wisconsinite Sterling North grew up in the once thriving tobacco town of Edgerton. In 1963, he completed the book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. Set in 1917 when he was only 11 years old, the best-selling book chronicles a boy’s fondness for and friendship with a pet raccoon in the fictitious “Brailsford Junction.”
The home, which intentionally creates a kid-friendly ambience of books and Rascal-related merchandise, is open from April 5 (on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m through December 20 may be toured by appointment). Refurbished to its 1917 setting, furnished with authentic antiques, the museum showcases North’s desk, typewriter, photos, books and many family artifacts and memorabilia.
Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of Madison For Dads: 101 Unique Adventures.