Water Trails

Photo courtesy of Eloisa Callender

There are several water trails and maps to help you explore Dane County's aquatic resources. If you are planning on traveling between lakes Mendota and Monona, be sure to check the Tenney Lock Hours and Fees before you go.  If you want to join with others for an organized group paddle, check with the Mad City Paddlers paddling club. 

Yahara Watersays Water Trail Guide

If you would like to learn fun cultural, historical and environmental facts about the Yahara chain of lakes, use the Yahara Waterways Water Trail Guide.

Badfish Creek Paddling Guide

A paddling guide created by Andy Hoernemann, Friends of Badfish Creek Watershed member with contributions from Barry Kalpinski of Miles Paddled. The guide is available as a Google Map.

Miles Paddled

The Miles Paddled website documents canoe and kayak trips on rivers and creeks throughout Wisconsin. They have a number of Paddle Reports for locations throughout Dane County that give advice on put-in and take-out spots, difficulty levels, wildlife spotting opportunities, and descriptions and maps of the routes.  Find Dane County paddle spots on their interactive map.

Capitol Water Trails

The Capitol Water Trails website has maps for water trails throughout the county.


Regulations and Safety

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office Marine and Trail Enforcement Bureau 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:

  • Each person on a boat is required to have an approved personal flotation device.
  • Operating a motorboat at a speed that is greater than reasonable and prudent is unlawful, as well as operating a boat while under the influence of an intoxicant or a controlled substance.
  • Boats towing persons engaged in water skiing, aquaplaning or a similar activity on any lake cannot do so within 100 feet of any occupied anchored boat, marked swimming area or public boat landing.

Boating Safety Classes

Find out more about Marine and Trail Enforcement, Boating Safety and Regulations (Dane County Parks) and Boat Safety Fun for Kids (Boating Orders).


Slow-no-wake Zones

Slow-no-wake requirements are in place within 200 feet from the shores of lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa under normal conditions. Find general information about slow-no-wake zones, as well as any current restrictions, on the Dane County slow-no-wake webpage. Also available is a Slow-no-wake poster in PDF format.


Aquatic Invasive Species

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 (WDNR) that must be followed. Learn more about invasive species and the Clean Boats, Clean Waters prevention program.


Lake Maps for the Yahara Lakes

The Yahara River chain of lakes offers anglers, whether they fish from shore or from a boat, some of the best fishing opportunities in Dane County. The Yahara River chain of lake maps provide information on free and fee-required boat launches, paddler put-ins, walk-in fishing access, accessible fishing piers, lake depths and contours, and much more. PDF maps are available for the following lakes: Kegonsa, Mendota, Monona (with Wingra), and Waubesa (with Upper Mud).  Please note these maps are not intended for navigational use.