5 Outdoor Adventures in Downtown Madison

The city known for the Badgers, the state Capitol and a dynamic arts scene is also home to some amazing outdoor adventure. These five activities get you into the great outdoors without leaving the heart of the city.

Paddle Lake Mendota

Get out on the water with stand-up paddleboards (SUP) or kayaks. Both vessels are available for rent at the Memorial Union Terrace, or take part in a guided paddle along the Lakeshore Nature Preserve led by a UW-Madison student from Outdoor UW.

If your group is feeling particularly adventurous, hop on the 8-person stand-up paddleboard, called the SUPsquatch! Be sure to stop by Babcock Hall Dairy Store for a post paddle ice cream scoop (or two.)

Stroll the new Alumni Park

Located near Memorial Union, you’ll find 1.3 acres of lush outdoor space, teeming with 7,877 trees—a rare sight in a booming metropolis. Drop in on a guided tour of the park to get the inside story on how UW is making an impact on the world. Of course, no tour would be complete without ample photo ops – luckily, Alumni Park has you covered with prime selfie snapping backdrops like the Bucky statue, Badger Pride Wall and Progress Point overlook. Complete your day with a stop at the Union’s outdoor beer garden for a pitcher of Wisconsin’s finest.

Pedal around Lake Monona

As the bike capital of the Midwest, the Madison Area boasts more bikes than cars! Hop on a bike (or rent from BCycle) and take a trip around Lake Monona. This 12-mile loop will take you through B. B. Clarke Park (complete with a lifeguard manned swimming area) and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace.

Explore Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Olbrich features a variety of outdoor green spaces, including a sunken garden with an eighty-foot reflecting pool and an exotic Thai pavilion—the only one in the continental U.S. Stop and smell the roses at the two-acre rose garden, complete with a two-story stone rose tower highlighting Midwest-hardy shrub roses.

Visiting on a rainy day? The year-round tropical Bolz Conservatory, a sunny 50-foot-high glass pyramid, houses ferns, palms, and flowering plants along with a waterfall, birds, and fish.

Take in the view from Picnic Point

Picnic Point, a nearly mile-long peninsula along Lake Mendota’s south shore, is among Madison’s most distinctive features. This easy walk is perfect for a quick outing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Stop at benches along the way to take in views of the downtown skyline.

About halfway to its tip, Picnic Point reaches its narrowest width, commonly called “the Narrows.” Stop here to see Lake Mendota in both directions at once. Refresh yourself with a drink from the picnic point pump before making your trek back.

There’s more to do in Madison this season – find outdoor music, boat rides and more at these Capital City summer hot spots!

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