To understand why Verona is such a hub for fantastic cycling, you have to go back in history – say around 15,000 years or so.
It was then that the ice caps that once covered most of Wisconsin began to melt, leaving behind the rolling green hills and scenic valleys the state is famous for today.
Cyclists who appreciate the unique terrain around Verona can also thank the state’s dairy industry for providing a network of low-traffic, well-paved rural roads linking farms and towns. Cyclists can pedal for hours with little interruption to the peace and quiet other than the chirping of songbirds.
“It’s an amazing place if you like to ride a bike,” says Bill Martin, co-owner of SBR Endurance Performance in Verona. “Honestly, you can go a mile from town and the countryside just opens up.”
The city of Verona itself features a mix of growing families enjoying excellent schools and young professionals drawn to career opportunities at Epic Systems, the country’s leading electronic medical records company. The limitless opportunities for biking reflect this diversity, says Martin.
“There’s the Military Ridge Trail that goes both ways and if you really want something to test yourself, we have that too,” he says.
Local cyclists have long enjoyed the endless variety of excellent routes around Verona. But the city began to claim its place as a true “cycling destination” when Ironman Wisconsin was launched in 2002.
Triathletes around the world were surprised to find breathtaking hills on the 112-mile race course that winds through and around Verona to the cheers of fans. As Ironman Wisconsin’s reputation grew, more runners began to visit the area bringing their friends and families.
Among them: runners of all ages from Vision Quest Coaching, the Chicago-based training program founded by former professional cyclist Robbie Ventura. On Saturday mornings in the summer, you’ll find plenty of Illinois license plates parked in front of the Rocket Bicycle Studio.
“We had over 100 people there to take the Ironman course,” says Dave Noda, president of Vision Quest. “Even those who don’t race like to ride there because the roads are so beautiful.”
Noda says Wisconsin has a national reputation for excellent cycling, and Verona has provided another level of support for visiting cyclists, from accommodations to restaurants.
“Rocket Cycles kind of became our home base,” he says. “They let us fill our bottles and park in front. They were huge.
But the Verona bike is not reserved only for the Lycra public. The popular Military Ridge State Trail, a converted rail line now dedicated to non-motorized traffic, is perfect for families or those looking for flatter terrain on a crushed limestone surface.
Runners on the Military Ridge can head west for Riley’s Tavern which offers a pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings or continue to Mount Horeb, a town famous for its Norwegian heritage.
Head the other way on Military Ridge and you can take paved bike paths to downtown Madison or connect to the Cannonball Path, Capital City State, or Badger State trails.
Dirt more your thing? Verona is next to the popular Quarry Ridge Trails which offer 8km of challenging single track trails as well as easier loops for cyclists of all skill levels. Blue Mound State Park, about 20 miles west of Verona, has an extensive network of mountain bike trails that wind around southern Wisconsin’s highest point at 1,719 feet.
Verona is also blessed with two full-service bike shops that can help you with riding suggestions, repair issues, or any other bike-related issue.
Rocket Bicycle Studio offers custom bikes and expert assembly. It also hosts television events for many major European racing events.
Atkins Verona Bicycle Shoppe is over 50 years in business and is one of the best known names in the local bike shop scene.
Whatever your style, there are countless routes in and around Verona that can suit cyclists of all ages and skill levels. All routes begin at the Military Ridge Trail parking lot off PB County and can be adjusted as needed.
Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
The Ironman Wisconsin Loop (42 miles, 1,746 vertical feet)
This is the famous route known for its challenging hills and throngs of fans lining the route as participants get a taste of what Verona’s cycling scene is all about. The grand climb of Old Sauk Pass will challenge any cyclist’s legs.
The route starts in Verona then climbs west towards Mount Horeb before turning towards Cross Plains and then returning to Verona. For Ironman Wisconsin, the route is run twice plus an additional route to downtown Madison to complete the 112-mile Ironman course.
Verona to Paoli (17 miles, 525 feet of elevation gain)
The journey to the picturesque hub town of Paoli, south of Verona, could be considered the region’s most popular cycling destination.
On cool weekend mornings or warm summer evenings, you can find loads of cyclists of all abilities descending the Badger State Trail, a paved trail-rail route that opened in 2006. Peddling to Paoli offers a bit of everything, including two hills on Range Trail and views of the peaceful Sugar River on the way back.
Verona to the capital (25 miles, 741 feet of climbing)
Wisconsin was one of the first leaders in the 1970s to convert its abandoned rail lines into bike paths – hence the name “rails-to-trails”.
This family-friendly ride heads east on the Military Ridge Trail and connects to the Capital City Trail which leads to the State Capitol building in downtown Madison. Lots of possibilities to shorten the route by simply turning around and backing up.
Verona to Blue Mound (52 miles, 3,034 feet of climbing)
Looking for a challenging hike to the highest point in southern Wisconsin? This expert route features highly scenic, low-traffic rural roads punctuated with steep climbs and thrilling descents. The 2 mile ride up Ryan Road is one of the longest and most beautiful climbs in the state.
The reward at the top of Blue Mound State Park (1,719 feet) is cool tap water and a spectacular view of the Driftless Area north toward the Wisconsin River. Watch your speed as you descend from the park.
Verona to New Glarus (51 miles, 2,325 feet of ascent)
Not as challenging as the Blue Mound route but just as scenic, this intermediate route heads into the Swiss-themed community of New Glarus. The biggest hills are on the way out, including a long descent on Pioneer Road towards town.
The return route includes Frenchtown Road and the cemetery of French-speaking settlers who established the town of Belleville – “beautiful town” – during the 19th century.