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Escape to the Sugar River Valley

Have you ever gone to a small town and thought, “Wow! This should be in a movie!”? There’s super cute boutiques, great restaurants, and everything is just so picturesque. That’s how I felt on our adventures in the Sugar River Valley! 

Seven Acre Dairy Patio
Seven Acre Dairy Patio

The Sugar River Valley is made up of four charming communities that are often associated with the Madison area but have more than enough to offer as a destination on their own. Mount Horeb, Verona, New Glarus, and Paoli are tucked between beautiful country roads, full of character, and home to spectacular local businesses. We had so much fun exploring, and all four communities left us wanting to come back for more. Here’s our guide to Escape to the Sugar River Valley! 


Mount Horeb

As you drive into Mount Horeb, you’ll spot some trolls and the Norwegian Flag. Yes, you read that correctly…trolls! Mount Horeb claims to be the troll capital of the world, and I think they have rightfully earned that title. 

The Mount Horeb trolls came to be in 1939, when Cave of the Mounds (just a short drive away) was discovered. The trolls lept from the cave and found a home in Mount Horeb…or so the legend has it! The other version of the story is that there was a Scandinavian store owner who imported trolls from Norway and started placing them on their shop’s lawn to help lure shoppers into their store. Not only did the trolls get people into the store, but they became the talk of tourists and truckers passing through. In the mid ‘80s, the 151 bypass was built and the town was concerned about losing tourist traffic. The town officials had a local wood carver make trolls to place throughout town. Mount Horeb named the route “The Trollway” to help encourage visitors to still pass through. Word spread and the nickname stuck! 


Today, as you stroll around town, you can find 36 troll sculptures. They are placed on the inside and outside of businesses and all have their own unique characteristics. The downtown area is very walkable and even has the Military Ridge State Trail going through it. As you set out to find the trolls, be sure to do some shopping! We love so many shops there, but some of our favorites are Gemplers, Driftless Chocolates, Kella, Olson’s Flowers, and Silk & Steel



After you’ve shopped up an appetite, head to one of the great restaurants in town. We recommend Grumpy Troll Brew Pub and Brix Cider. Both restaurants focus on sourcing their ingredients locally, make delicious beverages, and have dog-friendly patios. 


With so many amazing local businesses, we just didn’t have time to do it all. On our next trip to Mount Horeb, we will plan to visit Driftless Social, a cocktail lounge that also serves up yummy food (or so we are told!).


Verona

Remember how I said these communities felt “movie worthy?” Verona is nicknamed ‘Hometown USA’ because soldiers in Vietnam claimed it was the perfect United States hometown. Whether you’re looking for hiking, biking, or just awesome local businesses, Verona has it all! 


We strolled down Main Street and I loved that there were murals on multiple buildings. We stopped into Alice Good; Hayden was happy to see that they offered pour over coffee, and I loved that they also offered mimosas! The space is beautiful and has all sorts of art hanging throughout. 



Our next stop was Epic Intergalactic Headquarters. This medical software company is a destination within itself! Their campus is massive and each building is completely decked out in a different theme. Their free self-guided tours are offered 10am-3pm on weekends & 2:30-5pm on weekdays. I have visited a couple of times, and I still think it’s worth the hype! Hayden and I spent over two hours walking around the inside and outside of their crazy campus and didn’t even see half of it! We went through the farm and Wizards Academy Campus. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, be sure to explore the Wizards Campus–it is incredible!



New Glarus

Have you ever heard of Spotted Cow?! The beer, not the animal. It’s a farmhouse ale that is crazy popular and only sold in Wisconsin. The infamous beer is made at New Glarus Brewing Company in–you guessed it–New Glarus, WI. 

New Glarus is an extremely charming town that could definitely be the set of a movie (someone please make a Hallmark Christmas movie here!). The town calls itself ‘America’s Little Switzerland’ because its rolling hills filled with farms and wooded pastures are much like those in Glarus, Switzerland, and it has been a landing spot for Swiss settlers for over 175 years. 


The downtown has lovely Swiss details, is walkable, and is full of awesome shops and businesses. We always try to visit A Well Worn Story, Pioneer Valley, Hutch and Hide, and Brenda's Blumenladen. There are also a lot of incredible restaurants with dog-friendly patios, great taverns, and a state trail that goes right through town. As you stroll, you’ll see large painted cows up, down, and all around! The cows were imported from Switzerland, painted by local artists, and now make up the New Glarus Cow Parade. Can you spot them all?!



Of course, a visit to New Glarus Brewing is a great idea if you want to drink locally during your visit to New Glarus. The brewery is open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm. There is a lovely beer garden and a free self-guided tour. I also highly recommend Bailey’s Run Vineyard. The winery is open seven days a week and located on a beautiful property! In addition to their great wines, they also serve up some really yummy wood fired pizzas. If you’re looking to make it a long weekend in New Glarus, maybe check out The Blanc Chalet. It’s a new motel that we have heard nothing but good things about and hope to stay at during our next visit!


Paoli

The last stop of our Sugar River Valley adventures was to the small town of Paoli. We finally got to check out Seven Acre Dairy! This boutique hotel has an amazing restaurant and yummy ice cream shop. We enjoyed dinner on their dog-friendly patio that sits along the Sugar River. Everything we tried was delightful–the menu is unique and packed with flavor. I highly recommend the lobster risotto! Every bite was meaty, creamy, and so, so delicious! 

While eating dinner and ice cream, we could hear the live music across the river at Hop Garden. I highly recommend packing a chair or picnic blanket and making the short walk over there for an after dinner drink. 


Paoli seems to be packed with amazing, locally sourced restaurants. We also have The Paoli Schoolhouse on our list for another visit! 


This area is so beautiful and full of adventure, local art, and really great food. I highly recommend taking a weekend getaway to slow down and truly enjoy these movie-ready communities! 


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