What makes the Greater Madison Area a great place to visit? Our surrounding communities. Each has its own personality and they come together to make Greater Madison a must-experience travel destination. 

In Monona, that personality is centered around access to some of the region's most impressive outdoor amenities including some of the best hiking near Madison, easy access to Lake Monona and parks that wow.

Monona's natural resources have been a pillar of the community for centuries. The city exists on ancestral Ho-Chunk land and was a central gathering, celebration and trade space for native tribes across the Midwest. The spirit of honoring the land continues today across more than 330 acres of parks, notable conservation centers and festivals that invite people to engage with natural space. 

On-the-water adventure

Lake Monona, the inspiration behind the city's moniker, is one of five lakes in the greater Madison area and one of two lakes that create Madison's iconic isthmus. It's known for being the connecting point of many of the Greater Madison Area's icons including the Monona Terrace, the Lake Loop and Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Monona occupies the eastern shore of Lake Monona and provides several access points for getting on the water. 

New in 2024, self-serve kayak rentals are available at Schluter Beach through Instapaddle. Log in to the online platform and make your reservation, then you will get information on how to unlock your kayak from the locker station in the park. While you're at Schluter, you have to check out the hidden gem Monona Bait and Ice Cream Shop which sells live bait in addition to ice cream, burgers and sandwiches.

One of the best on-the-water dining spots in the area is at Buck and Honey's - Monona. The patio overlooks the Yahara River and hosts live music and other events throughout the warm-weather months.

Celebrated Conservation Spaces

The Madison region has a rich history as a sustainable destination largely thanks to its connection to environmental leaders including Aldo Leopold, who has been deemed the father of modern conservation and wildlife ecology. Leopold lived much of his adult life in Madison and was a professor at UW-Madison. His legacy is honored at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, a 21-acre natural oasis home to hiking trails, woodlands, wetlands, forests, wooded areas, prairies and oak savannahs that are open for exploration seven days a week. Events, classes and volunteer opportunities are offered year-round with options for all ages.

Another environmental legend in our local sustainable story is Edna Taylor, a teacher who became a dairy farmer later in life and offered 37 of her 97 acres to the city to form a conservation park. The city bought the land in 1972 just months after her death. She was known to be a believer in "sensible ecology." Edna Taylor Conservation Park, as the land is now known, is home to 1.4 miles of trails, seven native effigy mounds, a spring, marsh, and oak savannah. 

Parks to spark your getaway

There are 17 parks, beaches and pools packed within Monona's four-square-mile footprint totaling 330 acres of parks, playgrounds, forests and wetlands. With that much parkland, it's easy to find a park to match your vibe.

Shoreline parks

It's not a summertime trip to Madison without stopping at Olbrich Park. As one of the largest lakefront parks in the area, Olbrich is a great place to gather with a group or enjoy solo. It's home to The Biergarten at Olbrich Park which rotates brews weekly and offers a small menu of snacks with lots of picnic seating available. It's also a great place to get on the water with kayak rentals from Rutabaga Paddlesports onsite. From the park, you can kayak on Lake Monona and into Starkweather Creek for incredible views of Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

San Damiano Park is a historic piece of land that has recently been revitalized into beautiful public greenspace. The land's original significance was as a site for Ho-Chunk encampments and remains home to Ho-Chunk burial grounds known as effigy mounds. Later, the land was home to a 600-acre farm, then a Catholic friary. The land was purchased by the city of Monona with support from Dane County in 2021. The 10 acres of land were largely untouched for decades, lending to the park's breathtaking natural beauty. It's a great place to host a picnic, bird watch, take a walk, relax, take in changing colors during fall or enjoy an event like pop-up biergartens and seasonal festivals.

Several miles south of San Damiano is Schluter Beach, home to a small sand beach, picnic areas and a playground. Nearby Wyldhaven Park has stunning views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and Monona Terrace and is perfect for those looking for picture-perfect moments. Those looking to enjoy larger watercrafts can head to nearby Tonyawatha Park and Boat Launch, Lottes Park or the Winnequah Boat Launch, which offer great access for boating and fishing.

Great for the family

Considered the "crown jewel" of Monona's Parks, Winnequah Park is a beautiful 45-acre greenspace that surrounds a creek off of Lake Monona. Kids (and the young at heart) get to live out their most fantastical dreams at Winnequah's Dream Park fashioned to look like a castle complete with a painted moat, dragon sculpture and wizard statue.

If your family includes furry friends, the Monona Dog Park just south of the Edna Taylor Conservation Park is the only park that allows dogs to be off-leash.

Outdoor Events and Festivals

Events, fairs and festivals are a great way to explore the incredible outdoor spaces Monona has to offer.