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How to spend a day on the water in Madison, WI


That picture-perfect view from Lake Monona. | Photo by

Table of Contents

As one of only two cities major US cities built on an Isthmus (hey SEAtoday), the lakes encompass the heart of Madison. Whether you’ve already got your kayak out or still don’t know the difference between Mendota and Monona, there’s a water ways to enjoy the lakes.

⛵ Jump right in

  • Madison Boats: Rent kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddle boards, and duck boats at any of Madison Boats’ three locations — Wingra, Brittingham, and Marshall. Pro tip: If it’s your first time paddle boarding, ask for a wider board for some more stability.
  • BB Clarke Beach: Right off of Willy Street, you’ll find an urban beach oasis. Bask in the sun on the beach or test out your best dive on the swim-out diving board.
  • Rutabaga Paddlesports: Nestled near Olbrich Park, grab canoes, kayaks + SUPs or sign up for a water excursion with a guide.
  • Jet Ski Madison: Zoom across the lakes on a jet ski at speeds up to 55 mph or rent a pontoon for the afternoon, delivered right to you.
  • Outdoor UW: Set sail on Lake Mendota on an eight-person stand-up paddle board. Need a refresher? Register for an intro to paddling course or create your own custom group activity.
  • Camp Randall Rowing Club: For experts or newbies, try your hand at the sport of rowing. Summer sessions are still open for July.

⛵ Stay dry

  • Mad-City Ski Team: 608’s premier water skiing team. Watch a free performance Sundays at 6 p.m. throughout the summer in Law Park, right next to the Monona Terrace.
  • Boat Ride with MSCR: Join MSCR from one of its four boat launches for a relaxing tour around Madison’s lakes. If you have a group of more than six people, MSCR offers private rides. Pro tip: Make sure you have cash for the $5 ride fee.
  • Capitol Club Boat: Ride around Mendota on your very own pontoon or explore a boat club membership for access to a private fleet.

Admire the water, with Wisconsin classics to snack on. | Photo by @madison.foodies

⛵ Refuel with shore snacks

  • The Boathouse at the Edgewater: Authentic Wisconsin bites at the lakefront bar + grill is sure to satisfy your every need. Boating in? They’ve got you covered. The Boathouse offers complimentary docking while you enjoy your meal.
  • Lake Vista Cafe: Perched on the sixth floor overlooking the lake, grab lunch or a drink at the cafe in the William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens.
  • Lakeside Street Coffee House: Walk around the Monona Bay loop with an iced coffee in hand from the 608 favorite.
  • Olbrich Biergarten: Prost. Cheers with beers + curds at one of Madison’s lakeside parks. Pro tip: Gluten-free + vegan friends have several options here.
  • Monona Bait & Ice Cream Shop: A Monona must-try, grab Babcock ice cream or bait for all your fishing needs.