7 Places to Explore Nature in Madison, WI

Madison may be the capital of Wisconsin, but it has more to offer than being the home of Oscar Meyer and the infamous cheese curds. You’ll quickly remember that Madison is a college town if you take a drive throughout the city. The population significantly drops in the summertime, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do. Madison features an array of outdoor hot-spots perfect for any day.

The city of Madison is known for being one of the best cities with parks. It’s located on an isthmus, meaning the city is surrounded by water, where the views are beautiful from any park.

Winters in Madison are long and harsh, so it’s no surprise that locals take full advantage of the summer. Locals frequently enjoy kayaking, swimming, canoeing, camping, cycling, and other water sports. Here are seven must-visit outdoor destinations in Madison, WI.

1. Visit the Lakes

There are four large lakes in Madison, making it a destination for those who love anything to do with water. You’ll find Lake Mendota, the biggest and one of the most studied lakes in the country. The other three lakes are Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa. All of these lakes stem from the Yahara River.

Living so close to four lakes mean that residents have ample options for activities. Recreational activities are found on and around all four lakes, such as boating, canoeing, and kayaking. You can take your family camping, fish the day way, or simply have a picnic along the shore. Don’t forget plenty of space for swimming and jet-skiing. When winter arrives, the lakes give residents an opportunity for ice fishing.

2. Stroll Through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Open all four seasons, strolling through the beautiful Olbrich Botanical Gardens gives you an opportunity to take in some of the local flora and fauna. The gardens are free to the public, except for the Bolz Conservatory. You can stroll through fifteen gardens, both indoors and outdoors, where you’ll find exotic plants and native ones as well.

Olbrich is truly an oasis in the city. Featuring a sunken garden, perennial plant garden, rose and rock gardens, herb and wildflower gardens, and a tropical conservatory.

3. University of Wisconsin Arboretum

When you want to explore different ecosystems but don’t want to leave the city, the Arboretum is an escape within Madison. You can explore forests, wetlands, savannas, and tall grass prairies. Bring your bike or stroll along the paths.

The Arboretum has one of the oldest and most varied collections of ecological communities in the world. It spans over 1,200 acres, plus an additional 513 acres in other properties. Sometimes, you want to head outdoors but need something different. It offers 20 miles of walking trails and 4 miles of biking roads. The Arboretum is the perfect place to go.

4. Brittingham Park

Located on Washington Ave, Brittingham park is a community park located on the shorelines of Monona Bay. The location is convenient and easy to reach in the city. It features a beach house and boat rentals, a dog park, a boathouse, and a rowing club. Visitors can rent paddleboards and other water gear. It’s important to note that no motor boats are allowed here.

The city recently added a new playground and a community garden. You’ll find a fantastic fishing dock.

5. Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Over 12,000 years ago, glaciers sculpted the landscape along Wisconsin. Slowly, these glaciers have retreated and left behind several, unique landscape features. These remnants are examples of how continental glaciation sculpts and changes our planet.

The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile footpath that highlights the unique landscape features, showcasing beautiful areas throughout the state. The Trail is located within Wisconsin and travels through thirty-one counties.

If you want a place to walk and zen out, the IANST is the place to go in Madison. A majority of the trail is shaded, but be prepared to walk up some hills. The trail is easy to follow and winds through cornfields, woods, prairies, and meadows. There are times when the trail coincides with state bike trails, and these are the only sections where biking is permitted.

6. Tenney Park

Located on the shoreline of Lake Mendota and the Yahara River, Tenney Park has a friendly atmosphere and beautiful scenery, making it a location that everyone can enjoy. There are areas for visitors to socialize and gather with friends, places to be alone, and everything in between. You can watch boats on the lake, encourage the kids to pl on the different playgrounds, and watch the local wildlife.

There is a lot that you can do at Tenney Park. Toss out a fishing line, swim at the beach, play soccer, softball or volleyball, and take a bike ride. Stroll the paths or ride your rollerblades. In the winter, you can ice skate across the frozen lake and then hit up the warming shelter. This historical park offers plenty of things to do throughout the entire year. Stay for a sunset and you’ll see why Tenney Park is loved by Madison residents.

7. Cherokee Marsh

Cherokee Marsh is a great place to go if you’re in the mood to hit the walking trails. It is the largest wetland in Dane County, Wisconsin. It is located upstream from Lake Mendota, along the Yahara River and Token Creek. Featuring a convenient boat ramp, it is perfect for fishing or watching local wildlife.

All of the trails are well-maintained, and there are different trails for different activity levels. You’ll get to enjoy the wildflowers and a marsh outlook.

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