I had no idea what I was expecting when I first heard about the Little Switzerland just a few hours from Madison by way of the Badger State Trail. But, New Glarus, Wisconsin, really looks like a European transplant in the heart of the dairyland. All of the houses, bar, restaurants, stores, gas stations, and hotels, were done up in a traditional Swiss architecture. Still, the cultures don’t clash one bit, because their specialties are, of course, beer and cheese.
Just outside of the main drag, right up the hill on 69, is New Glarus Brewing Company, probably the most famous ‘micro’-brewery in Wisconsin. To Madison, or most Wisconsin residents, the self-guided tour might not be worth the time, but the Hard Hat tour held every Friday is worth the money.
That being said, if you are really into beer, go to Sugar Pizza, aptly named for being on the Sugar River Bike Trail. They have 80+ beers to choose from, and all of them are great. Even if you have some anti-beer friends and family traveling with you, there will be something for them on this beer menu. And, if not, they will love the 30’ pizza, the Swampmonster, which will be filling you up for the next week.
What made this place for me and my biking crew was the staff. The waitress, with her singular sense of humor, was cracking jokes with us the whole night. Later, the owner came out to talk to us about beer, and he was cracking jokes and talking about beer with us, too. We told him that it was a shame that people ordered domestics at his establishment with such cheap craft beers on hand. Then, he told us that he had a new beer in. It was called Boode, from St. Louis. It took us a while to realize that he was making fun of Bud Light. Later, he brought us out a spectacular sour ale. On him! It’s rare to get an owner more personable than that.
The other Wisconsin staple, cheese and dairy, is well represented as well. The most centrally located, and probably the most well-known place in town for this must-have is Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus. This dairy wonderland is open from 10 to 5 daily, and features many kinds of cheese, many kinds of fudge, and all the ice-cream you need for your New Glarus trip. But, the reason I knew this place was the best was because of the crowd it drew.
While I was buying a scoop of blue moon and a brick of jalapeño cheese, a biker gang walked into the shop to look for fudge. One of the guys walked up to the counter and asked if they had any of their blue moon fudge. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it, and so the biker got upset. With a sulky tone, he said that he and his wife look forward to that fudge every time they stop by the town. That’s how you know a place has good fudge, the biker gangs that stop in town ritualistically buy it.
The last place to stop on this trip is the New Glarus Woods State Park. In my opinion, it is a better option for lodging than some of the hotels in town, but it also features great views of the surrounding area due to its location on top of the hill. And, it has some spectacular walking trails for prairie enthusiasts.
The state woods has two main trails that feature prairies to the north and the south. The southern trail is the Havenridge Nature Trail and features those stunning views of the surrounding hills, a typical feature for a city on the edge of the driftless area. The trail to the north is the Bison Nature Trail, and leads right to the Sugar River Trail which will take you into town. This trail features a prairie that is in the valley containing the town itself.
So, whatever your adventure that you are planning, there is clearly something to do in the locally famous town of New Glarus. Go for an escape to the Swiss countryside, or go for the beer and cheese. Or, if you are just in it for the nature, there is valleys and prairies galore.