***COVID-19 Update: Please review our updated trail rules before your next visit.
Located in the City of Madison not far off of Hughes Road, this preserve offers a little over three miles of trail featuring some difficult but beautiful climbs thanks to the rocky terrain. Known for its interesting rock formations, “Balance Rock” is a particular favorite. In the winter when the trees are bare, you can see views of Madison below. A large pavilion is available for picnics as well as a playground making this a comfortable starting point for families to explore the outdoors.
Additional parking available up the hill next to the water tower.
Parking & Information: There are two parking areas available to access the trails. The main parking area and trail entrance is located next to the pavilion. At this location, you’ll find the information kiosk with a trail map and helpful reminders. The second parking area is located just uphill next to the water tower. You can start your hike from here beginning on Balance Rock Trail if you do not need to visit the information kiosk. Just remember to take a trail map with you (available to download on this page).
The upper portion of the trail system, closest to the trailhead, offers some easier hikes perfect for families or beginners. These trails, like the rest of Rainbow Mountain, are rocky but do not contain significant changes in elevation – including Stoneridge Trail, Jake’s Trail, High Pass Trail, Balance Rock Trail, and the upper portions of Rainbow Loop Trail. Many of the preserve’s popular points of interest can be found along these trails. “Balance Rock” is just one of many interesting rock features that can be enjoyed by visitors. Wandering among the boulders offers a fun, natural playground.
While the upper area of the preserve delivers an easy stroll, once the trails turn downhill hikers should be prepared for a more challenging journey – including Ja Moo Ko Trail, Spring Trail, Wild Trail, Berry Trail, and the majority of Rainbow Mountain Loop Trail. The rocky terrain provides a stony stairway down the mountain, with an approximately 350 foot elevation change along the way.
The mountain provides a small yet diverse range of habitats varying from the hot westerly slopes to cooler moist easterly slopes. Tree species include eastern red cedar mixed with various oaks, hickories and other hardwoods. The eastern slope has numerous watercourses with a primary stream running to the southeast. At the intersection of Rainbow Mountain Loop and Spring Trail, visitors can pause for a break and enjoy this spring-fed stream and prepare for their uphill return trip to the trailhead.