While some days may still be warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, there’s definitely a change in the atmosphere around Madison. First, football season has arrived, and the town is painted red with Badger fans. If it’s Saturday morning and the brass sounds of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band are carrying across Madison and up to Midvale Heights, it’s a telltale sign there’s a home game. You’ll see a steady stream of cars and bicycles with red-and-white-clad riders flying UW flags. If you haven’t attended a Badger football game, you should make this season your first—it’s a great experience.
And even if your plans don’t include attending the game, everyone in Madison seems to get caught up in the excitement. Grills are being fired up, and special breakfasts and brunches are happening across the neighborhoods. Join in the fun and gather your friends for a potluck brunch and a few rounds of cornhole.
Cornhole, or bean bag toss, has grown in popularity over the past decade, but its origins remain something of a mystery. It became a favorite backyard and tailgate game around Cincinnati and then spread across the Midwest and the rest of country. A staple at game-day parties, the game is portable and can be played by all ages.
Another Saturday ritual continues into the fall, a walk around the Capitol Square for the original Dane County Farmers’ Market. Join the locals and visitors to see the largest producers-only market at its best and most colorful. Beautiful fall mums in a wide range of colors mix with shades of oranges from carrots, pumpkins, and other squashes. Varieties of apples and peppers add to the display. And if you can’t make it downtown, you can visit a neighborhood market. Madison has over 10 markets to choose from, all supporting farmers that bring healthy food to our community.
You can also treat yourself to an apple tasting. There are so many classic and new varieties offered by local farmers. One of my favorite memories with my children is a fall train trip. The school travel assignment was to do an apple tasting. We had so much fun picking out individual varieties and then staging our tasting. I still have the notes from the tasting stuck in one of my cookbooks. Add some local cheese and invite some friends to compare notes.
With a resurgence of cider, particularly hard cider, you might want to taste some local offerings and apple-based brandy. The Cider Farm, located in Mineral Point, opened a cidery and tasting room in March this year, co-located with Brennan’s Cellars on Watts Road. The ciders come from orchards that were transformed to include the varietals needed to craft the contemporary rendition of the fermented-apple drink inspired by European and American beverages. To accompany the ciders and brandy, The Cider Farm offers a small-plate menu and Sunday brunch. Much of the menu is vegetarian, and they also include gluten-free options.
Want to really immerse yourself in a beautiful autumn day? Ride your bike and join the growing number of avid bicyclists across the city. Madison’s vibrant bike scene embraces commuters, event-goers, patrons of the farmers’ market and local shops, and easygoing sightseers. Madison was named a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, and Madison Bikes and similar groups work to make every neighborhood as bicycle friendly as possible. To plan a great day out on the more than 200 miles of trails, go to cityofmadison.com/bikemadison/plantrip/map.cfm .
At events across the city, arriving by bike is encouraged with bike parking and bike corrals. Consider joining one of the abundant organized bike rides and groups. Don’t have a bike? You can use Madison BCycle, the on-the-street bike-sharing program with 40-plus stations across the city—it’s an easy rental system. Budget Bicycle, Machinery Row Bicycles, ERIK’S, Motorless Motion (MoMo) Bicycles, Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes, and other local bike shops also offer rentals.
Finally, you can participate in fall leaf peeping. Get a group of friends together for a fall bike ride through the UW-Madison Arboretum. If you’re inspired, lock the bike at the visitor center to set out on foot to explore Longenecker Gardens as well as the deciduous forests in Gallistel, Noe, and Wingra Woods for fall colors. You’ll also find the prairie segments brimming with late-blooming flowers, seed pods, and tall grasses. Evergreens contrast with tamarack varieties whose needles turn a golden hue. Take one of the arboretum’s interpretive walks to greater appreciate the colorful foliage on display.
City and county parks also offer opportunities to enjoy fall leaf color. Owen Conservation Park, located on the west side of Madison, provides views of the Capitol and has both prairie and woodland areas. Use a bike to get to the UW–Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve and Picnic Point. Pheasant Branch Conservancy, also on the west side, is another place to bike or walk and absorb autumn colors. See a variety of fall plants and color at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Or visit the southeast side of Madison for the Aldo Leopold Center and Edna Taylor Conservation Park, which features a glacial drumlin, effigy mounds, oak savannah, and wetlands. Trails accommodate both bicyclists and walkers.
Appreciate the fall foliage in and around Madison, where efforts to ensure trees remain a predominant feature are ongoing. Madison has been a Tree City for over 25 years and was presented with a Sterling Community designation for leadership in community forestry. Get out and experience the colors, sounds, and tastes of fall in Madison.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .