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Lake Mendota and Lake Monona with The Edgewater and The Wisconsin State Capitol Building in the center

The 5 Best Ways To Get on Madison Lakes

If you love being on the water — kayaking, canoeing, skiing or just kicking back on a dinner or cocktail luxury cruise — then Madison, Wisconsin is a summer paradise. Leave your cares ashore with one of these 5 Madison boat rental and tour options.

Picture yourself on a hot-air balloon sailing over the city of Madison on a sunny day (which is actually an option, by the way).

Lake Mendota and Lake Monona with The Edgewater and The Wisconsin State Capitol Building in the center

Part of the “isthmus” (a stretch of land between two bodies of water) of Madison, with Lake Mendota in the foreground and The Edgewater front and center, Lake Monona beyond the Wisconsin State Capitol Building Dome. (Click to embiggen)

Look down.

You see a strip of awesomeness (downtown Madison including the Capitol Square and State Street) sandwiched between two beautiful blue lakes. You also see a network of waterways linking those lakes to one another and several other lakes.

It’s a breathtaking view. But listen. You REALLY need to get off that balloon and get yourself onto (or into) the water, because from spring through fall, that’s a glorious place to be.

Oh, and don’t bother bringing a boat. We’ve got you covered. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best ways to enjoy Madison’s lakes:

1. Betty Lou Cruises

Betty Lou Cruises Yacht on Lake Mendota in Madison Wisconsin

Betty Lou Cruises has been showing people a fantastic time on Lake Mendota and Lake Monona for 19 years. The company has two yachts on each lake that run from early May into October.

For the Lake Mendota tours, if you’re staying at The Edgewater you can request a pickup right on our pier.

Weekly Public Cruises

Don Sanford leading a historic tour of Lake Mendota for Betty Lou Cruises in Madison Wisconsin

A new feature in 2016 is a weekly Historic Cruise led by long-time Betty Lou Cruises captain Don Sanford, who’s pointing out a feature on the Lake Mendota shore. Don has written a book about the history of Lake Mendota — a fascinating and beautiful place.

Buy individual tickets for a variety of daily cruises that generally feature a theme for food, drinks, and/or entertainment, such as a Caribbean theme or a night-time candle light couples cruise.

Here’s the complete list for 2016.

Special Public Tours

Some Betty Lou Cruises are tied to a specific event, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or maybe a fireworks display.

(BUCKET LIST ALERT: If you’ve never seen fireworks over a lake from the deck of a luxury yacht with nice people serving excellent food and drinks, well, my friend, it’s time to check that box pronto.)

Private Charter Tours

You can book private Betty Lou Cruises for business outings, family gatherings, and any other occasion when you really want to make a splash. (“Make a splash”… get it? Oh man, we do crack ourselves UP round here.)

2. Outdoor UW

Kayaking

Just a short paddle down the shore from The Edgewater is the University of WIsconsin Memorial Union: the heart and soul of one of America’s greatest universities.

Not only is this a must-visit location when you’re in town, it’s home to the Outdoor UW program, which rents a variety of paddleboards, kayaks and canoes by the hour.

3. Skipper Bud’s of Madison Pontoon and Sport Boat Rentals

If paddling or yachting aren’t your speed, Skipper Bud’s gives you the choice of fast fun or a more leisurely excursion.

Through an arrangement between Skipper Bud’s of Madison and The Edgewater, you can have sport boats rigged for skiing, tubing, or boarding, or pontoon boats, delivered to The Edgewater Pier.

Pontoon boats come in 6-person, 12-person, and 14-person sizes, and you can rent them by the hour (minimum of two hours), for a half day or whole day. Same with the sport boats.

Of course, you’ll need the proper license to pilot these crafts yourself, but if you don’t, no worries, you can also book any Skipper Bud’s tour with a qualified captain.

Two kids tubing

4. MSCR Drop-In Pontoon Boat Rides

This is kind of a Madison insider option; not a lot of people know about it.

For just six bucks, you can tour Lake Mendota or Lake Monona on a pontoon boat driven by a trained volunteer crew managed by the Madison School and Community Recreation program.

The drop-in boat rides are first-come, first-served. Just show up at the Tenney Boat Pier 45 minutes before a scheduled ride. The pier is in Madison’s wonderful Tenney Park, on the Yahara River that connects the two lakes.

The rides are about 90 minutes, and run from June through September, usually two tours per day from Tuesday through Sunday. A couple of the tours leave from other Madison docks. Check the schedule here.

If your ride takes you north into Lake Mendota, you get to go through the Tenney Lock, which is pretty cool.

5. The Edgewater Pier: The Port of Call That Has It All

The Pier at The Edgewater resort in Madison Wisconsin

Rataj-Berard photo

The Edgewater Pier has 40 slips where boats can tie up, all free and staffed by attendants. You can also plan and launch a charter excursion of just about any kind through The Edgewater, in partnership with Skipper Bud’s of Madison.

Life in The Edgewater Pier in boating season is truly one of Madison’s great experiences.

Kids at The Boathouse bar and grill in Madison Wisconsin

Rataj-Berard photo

Next to The Pier is The Boathouse, a bar and grill with an outdoor deck on the lakefront and gorgeous views of the lake from the inside.

Stop in for a fresh take on Wisconsin lakeside restaurant classics: burgers, brats, fish fries, and more. And a nice cold beer? Yessir! If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, head up to Augie’s Tavern or The Statehouse restaurant.

 

Above The Pier and The Boathouse is The Plaza, where you can gaze down at the lake on one side and gaze up at the regal Capitol Building dome on the other side.

It’s a perfect place to just hang out or catch one of the special events, including live bands, dancing and general frivolity. It’s hard to decide whether this place is more fun or more beautiful by day or by night. Just to be safe, we humbly recommend you try both.

The Plaza at The Edgewater in Madison Wisconsin

The Plaza at The Edgewater is rockin’ on a summer afternoon. -Rataj-Berard photo

Summer on the Water Two-Night Package

Get a package rate for the Summer on the Water Two-Night Package if you stay up to September 9, 2016 (you need to reserve it seven days in advance). The package includes a hotel room for two, plus:

  • A half day of boating for 4-6 people provided by Skipper Bud’s of Madison. They’ll bring the boat right to The Edgewater Pier. You can also hire a captain for an addition fee.
  • $50 credit for The Boathouse bar and grill.
  • 10% off on any additional guestrooms

Get more details and reserve your Summer on the Water getaway.

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