Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources manages a variety of scenic state parks near Madison.
Some have historical and archaeological significance, places like Devil’s Lake State Park have prominent geological features, and many others are exceptional nature areas.
All of the options are within an hour’s drive away and offer fantastic activities in summer and winter.
Whether you’re into fishing, hiking, or just like to relax by the fire with family and friends, there is an option here for you.
Check out what Madison has to offer!
State Parks near Madison:
- Governor Nelson State Park
- Capital Springs State Recreation Area
- Lake Kegonsa State Park
- Devil’s Lake State Park
- Natural Bridge State Park
- Blue Mound State Park
- Governor Dodge State Park
- Tower Hill State Park
- Aztalan State Park
- Yellowstone Lake State Park
- New Glarus Woods State Park
1. Governor Nelson State Park
- Website: Governor Nelson State Park
- Distance from Madison: 10 miles (20 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
Named for Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), a former US senator and governor of Wisconsin, Governor Nelson State Park occupies 422 acres on Lake Mendota’s north shore and has year-round operating hours.
A longtime environmentalist, Nelson was known internationally for his efforts to create Earth Day in April 1970.
On most days with clear skies, visitors who stand along the park’s lakefront can see the capitol building and downtown Madison’s buildings.
This beautiful park has a mix of prairies, forests, sandy swimming areas, and more than 8 miles of trails. On the Woodland Trail, hikers will see remnants of Native American effigy mounds.
2. Capital Springs State Recreation Area
- Website: Capital Springs State Recreation Area
- Distance from Madison: 5 miles (12 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
Almost 2,500 acres in size, Capital Springs State Recreation Area is a cooperative land management venture by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Dane County Parks. These lands are open throughout the year.
Parts of this recreation area border southeastern Madison and the north shore of Lake Waubesa. Easy recreational access is provided along the 9.5-mile Capital City State Trail.
A wealth of activities define this area. These include fishing, hiking, boating, wildlife viewing, and picnicking areas that provide a convenient escape from nearby urban areas.
A 54-site campground is located in the adjacent Lunney Lake Farm County Park.
3. Lake Kegonsa State Park
- Website: Lake Kegonsa State Park
- Distance from Madison: 15 miles (25 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
Located a short drive southeast of Madison, the 342-acre Lake Kegonsa State Park sits along the northeast shore of the lake and offers a fantstic seasonal campground.
The park’s recreational areas are open daily throughout the year. Swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, winter skiing and sledding, and nature study facilities are enjoyed in this park bordering Lake Kegonsa.
Visitors can relish trails that cross prairies, oak woodlands, marsh habitats, and wetlands.
And boaters and paddlers would appreciate the park’s boat ramp located by the dam.
4. Devil’s Lake State Park
- Website: Devil’s Lake State Park
- Distance from Madison: 40 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Fishing, Picnics
The state’s most popular park, Devil’s Lake State Park offers spectacular views of a 360-acre lake from quartzite bluffs. In addition to views of the lake 500 feet below, bird watchers can see over 100 species, including mallards, Canadian geese, and the great blue heron.
Located near Baraboo, the lake received this name since it occupies a deep Ice Age chasm without a visible outlet or inlet for the water’s source.
Almost 30 miles of hiking trails and a variety of naturalist programs attract visitors throughout the year.
Parking lots fill early on summer weekdays as well as during weekends. Although winters are much slower, cross-country skiers will enjoy treks along some of the trails, though they may not be maintained during colder months.
Campsites are available, with recreational facilities on both shores and a visitor center on the North Shore.
5. Natural Bridge State Park
- Website: Natural Bridge State Park
- Distance from Madison: 39 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Hiking, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
A sandstone arch remnant from the last Ice Age is the defining feature at Natural Bridge State Park. This day-use park is generally open seasonally from mid-April through mid-October.
The arch surrounded by the forest is the main feature in this park, allowing visitors to see a natural rock shelter used by Native American populations approximately 10,000 years ago. Archaeological excavations have proven evidence of the use of this area by Woodfordian and Archaic Indian cultures.
The park opened in 1973 and includes almost 530 acres for hiking and snowshoeing, but no camping is permitted.
6. Blue Mound State Park
- Website: Blue Mound State Park
- Distance from Madison: 28 miles (35 min)
- Activities: Swimming, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
A great place to enjoy fantastic views, the 1,153-acre Blue Mound State Park also has a variety of geologic features.
Opened in 1959, the park includes observation towers and offers great vistas from southern Wisconsin’s highest point, an elevation of 1,719 feet above sea level.
The large heated swimming pool is a popular summertime destination in this state park. With a depth spanning from 3 to 4 feet, the pool offers a popular gathering place for families between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The ADA-compliant lift chair allows swimmers with disabilities to enjoy the pool, too.
The pool facilities include a changing area and a shower. Visitors should plan to bring a lock if they plan to use the available lockers. No lifeguards are on duty.
What’s more, the park has more than 20 miles of walking and off-road biking trails, some available for year-round access. A warming house is available along a winter ski trail.
7. Governor Dodge State Park
- Website: Governor Dodge State Park
- Distance from Madison: 48 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Fishing, Picnics, Horseback Riding
Bluffs, valleys, steep hills, a waterfall, and 2 lakes punctuate Governor Dodge State Park.
At over 5,300 acres, this large park honors Moses Henry Dodge (1782-1867), who served as Wisconsin’s first territorial governor from 1845 to 1848.
Early Native American populations came to this area in search of shelter as the Ice Age came to an end. Excavations have documented the cultural history of these early settlers.
Visitors today can enjoy the hickory and oak forests and see the Stephen’s Falls waterfall.
Open year-round, the park has swimming areas at Twin Valley Lake and Cox Hollow Lake, horse trails, hiking and cross-country ski trails, and a boat launch facility.
A great place for fishing, there is also a fall hunting season. And winter snowmobiling is popular, too.
8. Tower Hill State Park
- Website: Tower Hill State Park
- Distance from Madison: 36 miles (50 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics
Located about 35 miles west of Madison along the Wisconsin River, Tower Hill State Park offers a scenic location to learn how early settlers made lead shot for their rifles in the mid-1800s.
Daniel Whitney came to the area and oversaw the construction of a tower to make lead shots in the 1830s. Exhibits describe the process used at this location until the 1860s.
The 77-acre park is open throughout the year, though the main gate is usually closed between the weekend of Columbus Day and mid-May. Visitors may still enter the park during the off-season, though services are limited.
A sandstone cliff, upland forests, campsites, canoe landing, and trails offer a variety of natural and recreational diversions in this park.
In addition to the reconstructed Helena Shot Tower, there are many panoramic views on the trails to enjoy.
9. Aztalan State Park
- Website: Aztalan State Park
- Distance from Madison: 30 miles (35 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
Notable archaeological sites occupy portions of Aztalan State Park, located 30 miles east of Madison near Lake Mills.
The 172-acre park along the Crawfish River opened in 1952. Most of the parkland is open prairie, with about 38 acres of wooded forest.
A national historic landmark, the park occupies the location of a Middle-Mississippian village that existed more than 1000 years ago.
The park staff reconstructed flat-topped pyramid mounds and a stockade to represent features found on the landscape at that time.
Excavations were performed a century ago and preservation efforts expanded in the mid-1940s.
Aztalan offers those interested in history a great destination to learn about early footprints on the Wisconsin frontier.
10. Yellowstone Lake State Park
- Website: Yellowstone Lake State Park
- Distance from Madison: 46 miles (1 h)
- Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
Located 50 miles southwest of Madison, Yellowstone Lake State Park offers a wide variety of year-round recreational opportunities.
A group camp, family campground, and numerous facilities make 450-acre Yellowstone Lake – a reservoir and one of the few lakes in this part of Wisconsin – a popular destination.
A sandy beach is popular for summertime swimming. Among the fish found in this lake are bluegill, walleye, largemouth bass, and channel catfish.
Open year-round, the park is a great place for boating, fishing, biking, hiking, and picnicking. Ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are popular wintertime activities.
11. New Glarus Woods State Park
- Website: New Glarus Woods State Park
- Distance from Madison: 32 miles (45 min)
- Activities: Hiking, Biking, Camping, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Picnics
New Glarus Woods State Park occupies approximately 435 acres in an area that is 30 miles southwest of Madison.
Park visitors have easy access to the Sugar River State Trail, which spans over 23 miles, offering connections to other recreational areas.
The park is open year-round and offers both drive-in and wooded campsites.
Hiking and winter snowshoeing are popular activities, and the picnic and playground facilities make this a great place for family gatherings.
Rangers have restored some portions of the park to resemble their earlier existence as prairies by burning, mowing, and seeding the land. Conservation and recreation are important aspects of this park.
Pro Tip: When visiting Wisconsin state parks, remember to purchase a vehicle admission sticker. Rates vary for day, annual, senior citizen, and out-of-state passes. Rental cars must also display these non-transferable passes.
Fishing licenses and other recreational fees may be assessed at some locations. Please check with park staff to learn of specific policies for each park.
Map of State Parks near Madison:
Lakes in Wisconsin: