Top 8 Early Spring Hikes in Jefferson County

March 20, 2024

As the weather warms up, the sun lingers later in the day, and we begin to pull ourselves from our cozy couches, make note of these favorite spring hikes to get you out and about. They offer not only a chance to finally stretch your legs in warmer temps, but the beauty of early spring on the trails. Grab picnic goodies from Jones Market, The Sweet Spot Cafe, Staller Estate Winery, The Langholf, or Brickhaus Cafe, boot up, and head out to enjoy the new growth and signs of life!


Spring Hike #1: Dorothy Carnes County Park Trails


Nestled against Rose Lake in Fort Atkinson, WI, this stunning park is beautiful for hiking, birding, nature appreciation, picnics, dog walking,and so much more. The park features restored prairies, woods, and wetlands. Head to the southern part of Dorothy Carnes to the peninsula and enjoy shooting stars under the hickories. 


Spring Hike #2: UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve

These easy 1-2mi loops take you through woodlands, wetlands, and prairie. Early spring provides wide, unobstructed views of the 110 acres and new growth in the prairie. Picnic on the observation deck off the trail that begins near Perkins Stadium or at any number of the benches on the outskirts of the preserve off of Schwager Dr.


Spring Hike #3: Rice Lake Loop

This easy 1.5-2mi loop is a gem in the spring because hikers get a view of the new ground cover and moss-covered rocks along the trail. Rice Lake is highly visible in early spring throughout the entire trail since there’s no summer overgrowth yet. If you head out in June, that’s an ideal time to spot the eerie Ghost Pipe. Enjoy your picnic atop the lookout tower as you take in the beauty of the budding birches and their reflection in the water across the lake.


Spring Hike #4: Emma Carlin Trails

This rugged trail system with moderately challenging loops winds through hardwood forest, meadow, and over rocky terrain. The ever popular dandelion is easy to spot alongside rue anemone and possibly bloodroot and wood violets.


Spring Hike #5: Blackhawk Segment of the Ice Age Trail

This moderate, hilly 8mi trail is a must visit during the spring. It’s a lot easier to trek in the cooler temps vs. a toasty summer day. Plus, the sunlight through the budding trees is beautiful as well as the wildflowers that pop up along the trail. Another plus, you can take in a long view of Lake LaGrange and have a picnic in the grass before mosquitos make their arrival!


Spring Hike #6: Whitewater Lake Segment of the Ice Age Trail

This easy 1mi portion of the Whitewater Lake segment (off Clover Valley Rd.) immediately crosses a creek. Hikers can veer off the boardwalk and dip their toes in the water. The wetlands aren't overgrown yet in early spring. As you wind through the Kettle Moraine Forest, keep your eyes peeled for jack-in-the-pulpit, marsh marigold, and iris. Set up your picnic on the bridge crossing the creek or anywhere in the open forest!


Spring Hike #7: Natureland: High Wilderness Trail

This easy 1.5-2mi trail is a favorite for early spring growth. Meander the wide path, keeping your eyes peeled for honeysuckle, wild violets, and wild strawberries. Picnic anywhere on the loop! OR head across the street to the main park area of Natureland and feast under the pavilion.


Spring Hike #8: Glacial Drumlin Trail


Running between Wisconsin's two largest urban areas, this trail stretches for 52 miles through farmlands and glacial topography. The trail travels through 10 small towns from Cottage Grove to Waukesha. The trail is on an abandoned rail corridor and passes the Rock and Crawfish Rivers in Jefferson, look out for sunning turtles! You’ll also spot Virginia bluebell, bloodroot, and trillium.


Happy spring, to you, and happy hiking!


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