10 easy kayaking destinations in and around Madison

I once dreamed of owning a home on a lake so I could push off from shore in my two orange kayaks any time I wanted. But I realized I had more freedom living where I now live and choosing where I wanted to kayak on any given day, rather than feeling restricted to kayak the same water over and over. That’s because a large part of my kayaking joy comes from the exploration of new waterways.

Here are my favorite close-to-home places to kayak:

Lake Monona, Madison 

Put in at Brittingham Bay and paddle through Monona Bay into Lake Monona. You can take in the hustle and bustle of the city with great views of downtown Madison and the Monona Terrace from the quietude of the water.

Put in at Olbrich Park Beach, go west a short ways and paddle up Starkweather Creek for a great backyard view of Madison’s Marquette neighborhood.

Lake Mendota, Madison

Launch from Nau-Ti-Gal Restaurant on the northeast side of Madison and paddle through Skipper Bud’s Marina and the bay into Madison’s largest lake. Go east toward Warner Park for more naturistic views and go west past Governor Nelson State Park to admire the beautiful lake homes.

Drop the kayaks in from James Madison Park, paddle west along the shore past The Edgewater Hotel, UW-Madison and its Memorial Union and University Hospital. Beautiful views—and because Lake Mendota is so large, it can be choppy and challenging.

Cherokee Marsh

Put in near Nau-Ti-Gal Restaurant and go north through a quiet marsh filled with fish and heron, up the Yahara River.

Mirror Lake, Wisconsin Dells

A popular kayaking destination, only a short drive away! There are almost always other kayakers on the water. We especially like to paddle the lesser traveled routes through the reeds toward Hwy. 23, looking for wildlife.

Rock Lake, Lake Mills

Choose a marsh wetland south of the bridge or explore the lake on the north end. On summer days, Rock Lake is filled with families and boaters but there’s plenty of space for everyone.

Yahara River, DeForest

Put in at Veteran’s Park or from the Conservancy Place and travel down river toward Windsor. Allow a couple of hours from the park to the conservancy and a couple more from the conservancy to Windsor Road. As you go around the riverbends, you may startle deer drinking from the river or Great Blue Herons looking for fish.

Marshall Millpond and the Maunesha River, Marshall

A quiet no-wake lake, great for a quick evening outing. Travel upstream on the Maunesha River through a few tricky spots and then enjoy the ride down river on the way back to the millpond.

Lake Wisconsin, Harmony Grove

Explore the lake and kayak up and down the channels to check out the lake homes. We’ve spent hours on this lake: paddling, picnicking and relaxing in the sun.

Wisconsin River near Lodi

Put in near Hooker’s Restaurant and paddle downstream to Lake Wisconsin. A very heavily boated area in the summer, so we paddle close to the shoreline.

Lake Waubesa, Madison

We like to drop our kayaks in at Lottes Park on West Broadway near Rutabaga Paddlesports and head south under the beltline through Upper Mud Lake, under the Lower Yahara River Trail and into Lake Waubesa. By the time we reach McDaniel’s park, we’re ready to pull ashore briefly for a snack break.

Where are your favorite places to kayak? I want to add them to my list to explore during the warmer months ahead!

7 thoughts on “10 easy kayaking destinations in and around Madison

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  1. Thanks for giving me more ideas on places to try. I always went in Lake Mendota at Beach Park in Maple Bluff. The only other place I’ve been that was fun to explore was in Pardeeville. Chandler Park/Park Lake. It is pretty good size and a friend and I took a leisure paddle all around it. If you go on a Thursday night, the Amish have an evening bake sale going on throughout the summer.


  2. Loved your story about the Yahara – reminded me of kayaking the Fox River with my sister a few years ago when the water was low – what an adventure. It’s a great place to kayak, beautiful scenery and easy paddling. Plus it runs north!


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