Where to Paddle in Madison, Wisconsin
Last summer I had the pleasure of spending a long weekend in Madison, Wisconsin and discovered it's a pretty cool town in addition to being a great stand up paddle boarding destination. I've been to Madison in the winter to watch hockey games and ice skate on the lakes, but this was my first visit in the summer.
We found an Airbnb near Williamson Street and S. Baldwin Street in a retro neighborhood with a bit of a hipster vibe. The main reason for choosing this neighborhood was the proximity to the launch spot I'd found online for our paddle boards. I didn't expect to find the Willy Street Co-op and a pretty fantastic brunch spot, Willaby's, within steps of our place. I'm a HUGE fan of breakfast, so I always scope out any good breakfast spots and we went back to Willaby's every morning.
My plan to launch our iSUPs was to walk the half mile from the Airbnb to Yahara Place Park which borders Lake Monona and the Yahara River. We would launch from Yahara Place Park, paddle Lake Monona and head up the Yahara River to Lake Mendota. I do tons of internet research trying to find the best launch spots (which isn't easy to find) at any destination I'm considering transporting my inflatable paddle board and this spot was recommended in a blog post - and it was perfect. The main drag of Madison, including downtown, is also located between these two lakes.
The park area provided space to inflate our paddle boards and we left our bags near a picnic table. The ground was low enough to the water that it was easy to launch our boards into the water. We started by paddling southwest towards downtown to get a view of the capitol building. The view of downtown appeared about a mile into our paddle. We paddled around that area enjoying the views and relaxing in the sun.
We paddled back to our launch area with the intent make our way to Lake Mendota by way of the Yahara River. It's about a mile paddle against a moderate current from Yahara Place Park to the Tenney Park Locks that lead into Lake Mendota. We encountered a few boats idling along the river, but mostly had the river to ourselves!
When we arrived at the Tenney Park Locks, they were closed and that's when I discovered it's not a good plan to paddle through locks - anywhere. That's the best part of exploring different areas - you learn things that will help plan your next adventure! I'm sure many experienced boaters know all about how lake locks work, but I had no idea. Lake Mendota was very windy and rough, so it wasn't a great paddle board location, anyway. Little did we know, the trip back was going to be the most relaxing portion of our paddle! I mentioned there was a moderate current on the paddle towards Lake Mendota - we took advantage of that on the way back. We relaxed on our boards and allowed the current to take us all the way to Lake Monona. We still had to keep our ears open listening for boat traffic, but it was a welcomed break and in times like that, I find you can almost reach a meditative state. Just relax, listen to nature and surrender to the current - it was so peaceful.
While you're there....
I mentioned that Madison turned out to be a pretty cool town, so here are a few other things we did during our trip:
Bike a Trail - We didn't have our own bikes along, but Madison has a bike sharing program that allowed us to bike around Lake Monona and see more lake views along with the neighborhoods surrounding the lake. It was about a 1.5 hour ride and just a word of caution - the BCycle bikes are priced for 30 minute rides and there are no docks once you get a few miles into the trail, so plan on paying for the extra time you are using the bike. It was still worth every penny!
Dinner - We ate dinner on the lake at Sardine - a cute little french bistro. We dined on their patio and enjoyed a great sunset view of Lake Monona.
Explore Downtown - We walked downtown from our neighborhood and happened to find the Art Fair on the Square taking place on the streets around the Capitol building. We explored the festival and even took in some views from the top of the Capitol.
This trip made me want to explore all the other lakes in the Madison area and I hope to make another trip this summer - and blog about it! Stay tuned....