Madison, Wisconsin: Football’s Heartland

Madison has five lakes, tons of hiking trails, and a lively night life, all with a population of about 230,000. Although it’s the capital of Wisconsin, Madison really is a college town at heart. There are about 42,000 undergrads at UW, and on game day, that number can triple with countless alumni and fans flocking to the city to cheer on the Badgers.

University of Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin

Camp Randall Stadium

Capacity: 80,321

Exciting things happened last season with the University of Wisconsin and the Big Ten Conference. With the addition of the University of Nebraska, there are twelve teams in the Big Ten. Yes, I know, the name is confusing. This is the second year that teams will play in two divisions, with the champion of each division playing for the conference title.

Bucky in the city
Bucky the Badger, eytonz via Flickr

When to go?

Madison, unlike southern states, is blessed with a mild early fall. With temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to the mid-70s in September and mid-30s to the mid-60s in October, fall is an ideal time to visit. Night games mean full days of enjoying all the festivities that Madison and UW have to offer.

Tailgating scene:

The folks in Madison sure know how party. Princeton Review named the University of Wisconsin their #14 party school for 2012. And with students’ homes in the shadow of Camp Randall Stadium, you can bet that the epicenter of tailgating will occur there. Some other lots are scattered about, but this is the place to see what Badger tailgating is really about. Beer pong and flip cup are played, and various meats are grilled. This is Wisconsin after all. There must be a beer in hand and a brat on the grill. Despite its reputation for being a party school, open container laws are enforced even on game day. That’s not to say that the police are out to spoil everyone’s fun. They pretty much leave folks alone as long as they are around their tailgate and aren’t too close to the stadium. Needless to say, don’t tuck a case of Milwaukee’s Best under your arm and walk up to the stadium. That’s about a $300 fine. Pre-game activities are also alive and well at campus-area bars. Head over to Regent Street, just across from Camp Randall Stadium and pick a place. You can’t really go wrong.

If you can tear yourself away from the keg or the bar, 135 minutes prior to kickoff is the Arch March. This is your chance to see the athletes up-close. The team walks from Camp Randall Arch to the McClain Center. This is a newer tradition that allows fans to cheer on the Badgers as they enter the locker room and prepare for the game. The Badger Bash tailgate party is located at Union South, and is touted as Madison’s largest tailgate party. It opens two hours prior to game time, with the Wisconsin Band performing 75 minutes prior to kickoff.

Chug Chug Chug
Pre-game Party in Madison, eytonz via Flickr

What you need to know:


Single game tickets can be purchased at www.UWBadgers.comor by contacting the Wisconsin Athletic Ticket Office located in Kellner Hall. The ticket office is open Monday-Friday from 8:30-4:30, as well as two hours before kickoff. Tickets sell out quickly, so plan accordingly.

Parking and shuttles: Since Camp Randall is located on campus, parking is a big issue. Never fear. Students living near the stadium will offer up spots on their lawn for about $20. There are also numerous shuttle services leaving from area hotels, bars, and parking lots that will also transport visitors to and from the stadium for about $5 per person round trip. With 100,000+ converging on the same location, it’s advisable to arrive at least two hours early if you actually want to see kickoff.

At the game:

Wisconsin has one of the largest student sections in all of college football, which makes for a lively crowd. This is intensified after having spent sufficient time tailgating. You’ll probably want to stop by Bucky’s Locker Room, located in Camp Randall to get your game day shirt. Otherwise, the student-led chants “Eat Sh!t!” and “Fu@K You!” that echo throughout the stadium might be yelled in your direction (really they’re shouting back and forth to each other). That’s just as much a tradition as Bucky Badger doing a push up for every point on the scoreboard. At the end of the third quarter, House of Pain’s “Jump Around” sounds the alarm for the students to go nuts. Thousands of co-eds clad in red flail about attempting to inspire their Badgers to victory. It’s a sight to see and something to do. Who cares if you’re not a student? When in Rome…

Student Section
Student Section in Madison, compujeramey via Flickr

Fifth Quarter:

In Wisconsin, four quarters just aren’t enough. After the game, win or lose, the band once again takes the field. Perhaps half of the crowd spills out of the stadium, but the other half sticks around to hear such favorites as “On Wisconsin” and maybe a lively polka. Dancing and celebration (usually) abounds and the last bit of football is squeezed out of Saturday.

Post Game:

Follow the crowds over to Regent Street where the party continues. Lucky’s, Jordan’s Big Ten Pub, and Stadium Bar are all a stone’s throw from Camp Randall. Parking lots are converted to party central to accommodate the Badger faithful. Grab yourself another beer, a red brat, and enjoy the scene unfold before you.

A little further down lies State Street, a pedestrian mall loaded with local shops, restaurants, and bars. Stop at State Street Brats, just in case you haven’t had your fill of sausages for the day. Load up on Bucky the Badger gear at The University Book Store. You’re going to want something to remember this by.


Friday nights Memorial Union Terrace has free live bands and various bars feature fish frys. The State Street area is a sure bet to find food and fun. Lest you think Madison is all about beer, brats, and football, there are a host of other things to do. Free tours of the capitol are available on Saturday and Sunday. Just around the corner from the capitol building is the Dane County Farmers’ Market. It is the largest producer-only market in the country, and opens every Saturday (excluding the really cold months). The market is the perfect place to get your hands on some famous Wisconsin cheese. Grab breakfast here, because Mickies Dairy Bar is sure to be packed. Babcock Hall Dairy Store is run by the university’s Department of Food and Science, and is located just off Campus Drive. Stop in on game day for some Badger Blast, a chocolate ice cream with fudge swirls and dark chocolate flakes. Work off some of that awesome food and drink by biking around Lake Monona or Lake Mendota. If you’re a architecture fan, Madison has two Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings to admire.

Camp Randall Stadium
Camp Randall Stadium, jimmywayne via Flickr

There is no doubt that Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland,” but on those special Saturdays, it could easily be dubbed “Football’s Heartland.” On those days Madison comes alive. You’ll feel lucky to be part of it, if only for a weekend.

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  • Tonya McAlpin Artzer via Facebook
    September 9, 2011

    Leah, have you ever been to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, IA? We went way back when we lived up there when Desmond Howard was playing….pretty great!

  • via Facebook
    September 9, 2011

    No I haven’t. Big 10 football has tons of tradition. I could do a piece on all 12 (yes now there are 12) of them. Love Desmond!

  • BadgerBandB
    September 9, 2011

    Loved your write-up but there is maybe one thing you’d like to correct, the Eat S—, F— You chants are directed back and forth between two student sections and not at opponent fans although there may be other off-colored words directed at them.

    • Leah Travels
      September 9, 2011

      Thanks for reading, and offering clarification on the chants. I was being more sarcastic than anything, but it wasn’t very clear. I’ll make note of it in the post. Again, thanks for reading! Love the idea of the 5th quarter.

  • Francesca
    September 11, 2011

    Love it! Like I said, I dig the Big 10 love for your first college football post, even if it’s not MY school 🙂 My friend’s daughter is a sophomore at Wisconsin; I’m gonna have to share this with her.

    • Leah Travels
      September 11, 2011

      Great win for the Spartans, but your neighbors down the road played one of the best football games I’ve ever seen last night. That game played up to the hype. Thanks for reading. I go to the SEC next week.

  • sarah
    December 9, 2013

    I’ve been reading through your posts while planning a RTW trip and came across this one- I work at Camp Randall! You came to town for one of the biggest games of the last decade, I hope you had a great time!

    • Leah Walker
      December 9, 2013

      Awesome! And congratulations on your RTW. That’s something I’ve never done, but always love watching other. Safe travels.


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