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The magical outdoor stage at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. See more photos in the gallery >>
Mile after mile of rolling farmland, disinterested dairy cows, fresh air by the lungful. You may have seen southern Wisconsin by car, but it’s a whole different experience from the saddle of a bike—revelatory, even, once you get past the eau de Holstein. Green County—a perfect square of rural Wisconsin that stretches from Browntown on the west to Brodhead on the east and from Belleville south to the Illinois state line—incorporates some 279 miles of paved but near-deserted farm roads, not to mention two former rail lines reborn as crushed-limestone bike trails. In other words: two-wheeler heaven.
Begin your adventure by checking in to Brodhead’s Earth Rider, an eco-friendly, Tour de France–themed boutique hotel and bike shop located one block from the eastern terminus of the 23-mile Sugar River State Trail (we used the hotel as a base to explore the area’s different cycling options). The innkeeper and cycling matriarch Sharon Kaminecki—her daughter specializes in bike-themed art, and her son builds bike frames under the brand name Kaminecki—keeps a binder of suggested road routes; we liked the mildly hilly 25-mile Tour of the Old World, featuring a pit stop at the Amish-run Country Lane Bakery (try the cinnamon rolls).
Or leave paved civilization behind and head straight for the Sugar River trail. Three miles in, you will ride through a picturesque reconstruction of the 19th-century Clarence covered bridge. In another four miles, you will hit the tiny hamlet of Albany, and ten miles on is Monticello, where you can grab a burger at M & M Cafe before detouring to the intersecting Badger State Trail. The short jog is worth it for the chance to pedal through the quarter-mile-long, 120-year-old Stewart Tunnel, a former railroad passage that is dank, dripping, and utterly thrilling: Because the tunnel curves, you will find yourself in total darkness at its center (check your bike-light batteries before going in). Kids love it.
Hop back on to the Sugar River trail, and you are just six miles from New Glarus—Wisconsin’s “Little Switzerland”—at the path’s western end. Fat Cat Coffee Works sits feet from the trail and serves a mean chicken salad, while the traditional Swiss standby Glarner Stube offers cheese every which way (rösti, fondue, beer-cheese soup). For fuel of a different kind, stop by the top-notch New Glarus Brewing Company; the award-winning beer is also available at local watering holes including the cozy Puempel’s Olde Tavern. Go ahead: You’ve earned it.
The new Iron Horse Hotel caters to upscale motorcycle enthusiasts (and others)—and the recently opened Harley-Davidson Museum is nearby.
For a close look at the marsh’s 200-plus bird species, swing by the Marsh Haven Nature Center, which offers three different trails—wetland, prairie, and woodland—and an observation tower.
AMERICAN PLAYERS THEATRE
The walk from the parking lot can take 30 minutes; show up even earlier and enjoy a pre-play picnic—take your own or order one beforehand (serves six to eight people; $87.50).
CUT-RATE CAMPING Situated about 145 miles northwest of Chicago, Wisconsin’s Dodge County operates five lovely little parks that provide low-cost campsites ($14 a night; $18 with an electrical hookup) with showers and other amenities nearby and within easy access of Horicon Marsh, Beaver Dam Lake, and the 34-mile-long Wild Goose State Trail. Call 920-386-3700 or go to co.dodge.wi.us/landresources/recreation.
There are few more fanciful tales in the Shakespeare canon than The Winter’s Tale, and few more delightful settings for that peculiar romance than the outdoor stage of American Players Theatre, which this year celebrates its 30th-anniversary season in the rolling hills surrounding Spring Green, Wisconsin. Those same hills nurtured the young Frank Lloyd Wright, and later served as the setting for his stylish—and, at times, cursed—rural retreat, Taliesin. Today, the architect’s home is open to the public—after a seasonal break, tours resume in April—and can be paired with the theatre for a weekend of Dairyland culture. This season, in addition to performing Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and The Comedy of Errors, as well as plays by Shaw, Noël Coward, Harold Pinter, and Eugene O’Neill, American Players introduces its new indoor 200-seat Touchstone Theatre. But the beguiling open-air stage remains the draw—and when the forlorn king in The Winter’s Tale, looking to describe his lost wife’s eyes, doubly invokes the stars, playgoers need look no farther than the night sky above for confirmation of the sovereign’s heart-rending metaphor.