The Greater Madison Area is a group of counties anchored by the City of Madison in Southwest Wisconsin. It includes Dane, Jefferson, Dodge and Columbia Counties. The area is one of the richer and more cultural areas of the State as the area is primarily comprised of Madison and its bedroom communities, but also includes, Wisconsin Dells, a major resort area.
- Beaver Dam : A community in Dodge County.
- 1 Columbus : A small town on the eastern edge of Columbia County.
- Fort Atkinson : A rural community located in central Jefferson County near Lake Koshkonong.
- 2 Johnson Creek : A small village in Jefferson County that is home to a major regional outlet mall.
- 3 Madison : Wisconsin's capital and anchor of the region.
- Mount Horeb: A small community in western Dane County and home to the Troll Highway
- 4 Portage : The county seat of Columbia County.
- 5 Stoughton : A city in southern Dane County.
- 6 Verona : A suburb of Madison.
- Watertown : A large community situated on the Jefferson/Dodge County border.
- 7 Wisconsin Dells : A major tourist area and community located in northwest Columbia County.
Madison is renowned for the four lakes in immediate proximity to it. These lakes are all connected via the Yahara River and are major influences on the city and surrounding area. These lakes include the following:
- Lake Mendota: The larger of the two lakes forming the Madison isthmus, this is one of the primary recreational lakes in Southwest Wisconsin.
- Lake Monona: The smaller of the two lakes forming the Madison isthmus, this is a lesser recreational lake. Lake Monona is often considered to be the lake with the worst water quality of the lakes of the Yahara Chain.
- Lake Waubesa: The third lake in the chain, a portion of its shoreline is in incorporated Madison. This is a less recreational lake.
- Lake Kegonsa: The fourth lake in the chain, Lake Kegonsa is located close to Stoughton.
- Lake Wingra: A recreational lake entirely within Madison, much of its marshy shoreline is publicly owned.
Other major recreation areas:
- Lake Koshkonong: A major recreational lake located in southwestern Jefferson County. It is both natural (originally a marshland) and man made (by dam). It is one of the largest and yet shallowest lakes in Wisconsin.
While many of the historic sites in the greater Madison area on in the cities themselves, this region has a very unique history, especially in regards to the Native Americans who inhabited the area prior to European settlement.
- Aztalan, N6200 County Road Q, Jefferson (from Lake Mills, take County B east to County Q), +1 (920) 648-8774: A northern outpost of the Mississippian Culture (the same people who build the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site), Aztalan was a major village and trading post. As with Chahokia, the Aztalan settlers build mounds and traded with tribes and cultures from across the Mississippi River Valley before the site was abandoned sometime between 1200 and 1300 AD. The State of Wisconsin designated the site a park in the 1950s and has since restored the original mounds and the settlement log walls. The park is very popular for both general recreation (being next to the Crayfish River), those interested in history and paranormal enthusiasts (the site is allegedly a hotbed of activity). The park is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and located about five miles east of Lake Mills.
The greater Madison area happened by a twist of fate. In 1829, a federal judge bought the land on the isthmus. When the Wisconsin Territory had to choose a capitol, the Madison site was chosen not due to population or wealth but its central location between the Port of Milwaukee, long-time settlements Green Bay and Prairie du Chien and the profitable lead mines in the southwest. Much of the region grew out of the sudden influx of population and resources in Madison.
While Madison is the primary driver of the region, many of the outlying cities and particularly Wisconsin Dells, Beaver Dam and Fort Atkinson have very independent economies and cultures. This adds to the area's diversity. Those traveling through the area should not assume that many of the attitudes of "The People's Republic of Dane County" (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the liberal City of Madison) carry over to these areas. Despite this, you should find most residents of the area very friendly and helpful, regardless of their place of origin.
The vast majority of the area speaks English, though Spanish is increasingly common. Natives of the area speak English with a Midwestern accent, which should be clear to any other English speaker.
Madison is served by both I-94 (from Rockford and Eau Claire) and I-90 (from Milwaukee and La Crosse). US 151 serves as a secondary route but is the primary connection between Madison, Dubuque and Green Bay. Most of these routes will also give you easy access to the outlying portions of the region.
The region is also serviced by the Dane County Regional Airport (MSN IATA), which has daily flights to a number of hubs including Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Washington D.C.. The region is also in close proximity to General Mitchell International in Milwaukee meaning that many in the eastern portion of the area would probably opt for General Mitchell over Dane County.
By and large, the greater Madison area is safe. Madison itself is comparable to most other middle sized cities in the Midwest in terms of safety. Tourists using common sense to avoid bad situations will most likely be entirely fine. Motorists should be aware that the road system in the area is generally good but can be hazardous in the winter.