The University of Wisconsin Arboretum (1207 Seminole Hwy., 608/263-7888, www.uwarboretum.org , 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, free) is one of the most expansive and heavily researched of its kind in the nation. Its 1,260 acres comprise stretches of natural communities from wetland to mixed-grass prairie; the restoration work on some is unique—designed to resemble Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest before settlement. More than 300 species of native plants flower on the prairies, some of which are the world’s oldest restored tallgrass prairie and the site of the first experiments (in the 1940s) on the use of fire in forest management.
The deciduous forests include one virgin stand dating to the time of European settlement in the lower half of the state. Flowerphiles the world over come here to sit beneath the fragrant lilac stands! In the deciduous forests along Lake Wingra, Native American burial mounds dating as far back as A.D. 1000 can be found. Best of all are the more than 20 miles of trails and fire lanes. Note that no bicycles or in-line skates are allowed.
The McKay Center (608/263-7888, http://uwarboretum.org , 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 12:30–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) is a solar-heated visitors center plunked in the midst of the arboretum, surrounded by 50 acres of ornamental gardens and shrubs. It has free guided tours at 1 p.m. Sunday, along with lovely evening walks once per month.