Dane County lakes, rivers, and streams offer abundant opportunities for boating, fishing and paddling adventures. Facilities range from modern, paved boat landing areas with fish cleaning stations to secluded canoe launches.
Currently, there are 25 boat launching sites and several marinas/boat storage sites on the Yahara chain of lakes. These range from large marinas and multi-ramp launching sites to street-end access with only on-street parking.
Lake Access Permits are required year-round at all Madison, Monona, and Dane County launching sites. Please note that launching sites at Lake Kegonsa and Governor Nelson State Park require a state park sticker rather than a Dane County Lake Access Permit.
Boating on the Yahara Chain of Lakes will take you through 3 boat locks on the Yahara River. The Tenney Lock is the largest lock and is located on Lake Mendota within the City of Madison. The lock is operated by a lock attendant during specific park hours. The other locks are located on Lake Waubesa at Babcock County Park in the Village of McFarland and on Lake Kegonsa at LaFollette County Park near Stoughton. These locks provide navigational and recreational opportunities to boaters using the Yahara River System by allowing them to stay on the river without portaging around dams.
Sanitary boat pumping stations are located just above the Tenney Lock on Lake Mendota and on the Yahara River between Bridge Street and Monona Drive. The stations are open from May through October, weather permitting. There is currently no charge for using the stations.
There are approximately 160 buoys in the Yahara lakes that mark no-wake zones, rock obstructions and the center of channels to assist boaters in navigation. Some points to remember include:
The sheriff’s boat patrol monitors all mooring buoys that are privately owned. All mooring buoys within 150 feet of shore are no longer regulated by the DNR; however, they can be regulated by local government by ordinance. Thus, individuals should check with their local government before placing any new mooring buoy within 150 feet of shore. All mooring buoys beyond 150 feet from shore must be lighted, and a permit is required from the DNR.
Lake access sites also provide plowed parking lots and restrooms in winter months for ice fishing at Upper Mud Lake, Lake Farm, Goodland, Fish Camp, and Mendota County Parks. Please note, the McFarland Lake Access Site is open year-round, but was developed primarily to provide ice fishing access. A Lake Access Permit is required, but is only enforced during winter months. The site provides walk-in access to the lake and adjacent public lands. ATVs and other motorized vehicles for access to the lake/ice or public land are prohibited year-round. Portable toilets and waste collection are provided during winter months only.
The Dane County Sheriff’s Department operates boat patrols on the Yahara lakes and enforces state and local boating laws. Deputies are on call for emergency response 24 hours per day. The department monitors Channel 16 on the VHF marine radio for emergency traffic. In addition, the City of Madison’s Fire Department has a lake rescue team that includes scuba divers and paramedic ambulance personnel. The University of Wisconsin Lifesaving Station on Lake Mendota also runs two rescue boats.
Boaters are strongly encouraged to participate in boat safety and training programs taught by the Red Cross, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, DNR, and volunteer instructors. Boaters should remember:
Dane County Ordinance Chapter 71 requires certain motorized vehicles operated on lakes within Dane County to be equipped with flotation. Learn more on the Dane County Sheriff's Office website.
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are non native plants or animals whose presence can cause severe damage to local ecosystems, industry and tourism. Dane County lakes and waterways contain a number of AIS and therefore, there are state laws that must be followed.
Dane County Parks and the Foundation for Dane County Parks are partnering with local organizations to develop system-wide improvements to enhance fishing and boating access for all ages and abilities. More information about the program is available on the Accessible Fishing & Boating Improvements webpage.