In Madison, we turn winter weather into winter adventure. Our frozen lakes and stunning landscapes bring out our best (and maybe unexpected) ways to enjoy the outdoors. Madison winters are not just for the thrill seekers. There's a snowy sport for all levels of athletic ability. 

Want to enjoy winter in a whole new way? Learn more about frozen festivals in Madison.>

Keep safety in mind while traversing the frozen lakes. When it comes to safety while traversing the frozen lakes, please keep safety in mind. The lakes are typically frozen in early January but freeze date varies year to year. Generally, a minimum thickness of four or five inches is required for walking. Ice traction on your shoes can help to provide a bit of extra grip to prevent slips and falls.

Strap on some snowshoes

Strapping on a pair of snowshoes and heading out onto a frozen lake or snowy trail is a great way to get some exercise and see some of Madison's most spectacular winter scenes. It's easy to do whether you're a pro or first-timer. You can snowshoe in any Madison park (there are 270 to choose from!) or stick to one of the city's designated snowshoe trails:

  • Cherokee Marsh South
  • Door Creek Park 
  • Elver Park
  • Yahara Hills Golf Course

Snowshoeing across a frozen lake is a bucket-list style adventure you can't find everywhere. The Wisconsin Union makes doing so easy with snowshoe rentals right along the shore of Lake Mendota. Snowshoe rentals are also available at Rutabaga Paddlesports and can be taken anywhere to explore during the rental period.

For more inspiration, check out these 15 places to snowshoe in Madison.

Skate Your Way through town

Madison's favorite ice skating spots provide three totally different vibes, each with their own fresh perspective of the city. For a whimsical, urban ice skate check out the outdoor rink at The Edgewater in downtown Madison where you can skate with a lakeside view, roast marshmallows, sip cocoa and stay overnight at the 2023 Best Historic Hotel in the U.S.

The frozen lagoon at Tenney Park is surrounded by beautiful scenery and five bridges that are known to be favorite spots among local photographers. The park's warming shelter offers skate rentals and allows for breaks from the cold in between loops around the lagoon. Ice hockey fans can also enjoy a match at the nearby Tenney Park hockey rink. The city offers 19 different free ice rinks across the parks. Check the status of city park ice rinks here.

For those looking for a massive skating adventure, look no further than the frozen lakes. Lakes Mendota and Monona make for some of the largest ice rinks you'll ever see with views you cannot beat. Skate rentals are available at the Wisconsin Union.

Fish our frozen lakes

You know you've reached peak Madison wintertime when you look out onto the frozen lakes and see them dotted with shanties and people gathered around icy holes. If you have a Wisconsin fishing license — and enough layers to live up to the winter weather — you can angle for an array of fish, from bluegills and perch to pike and walleye.

Find your spot with help from our guide to the best fishing spots in Madison.

Sled our steepest hill

Elver Park is Madison’s largest community park at 227 acres and has the steepest sledding hill! The park system even makes its own snow, so there’s always somewhere to sled, no matter what our winter weather. And, it’s lit for evening sledders, too.

Trade in your tires

You’ll see cyclists riding fat-tire bikes throughout the city and on our trails, too. The knobby, 4.5-inch tires allow for more stability and a relaxed experience. Fat-tire bikes also work for biking across our frozen lakes. You can rent a fat-tire bike for a day at Machinery Row in downtown Madison, located right along the shore of Lake Monona and the Lake Monona Bike Loop.

Go by kite

True thrill-seekers will love ice-kiting, an exhilarating experience where you strap on skis or a snowboard, attach yourself to a kite and go for a ride on the lake — sometimes at a rate of 60 miles per hour! You can take lessons or buy equipment with Kite Riders.