So you are in Madison for a day and the weather is just too gorgeous to be inside. You are aware that the summers are painfully short here and you want to take advantage of the sunshine while you can. The perfect day? Head down to the University of Wisconsin campus and enjoy Lake Mendota. Parking downtown is a nightmare (Madison is located on an isthmus, which is an Ancient Greek word meaning “no parking”) so bike, walk or bus it if you can. If not, drive over to the western edge of campus where the the University of Wisconsin Hospital and the School of Pharmacy are and park your car in Lot 60. It is free on the weekends (except during home football games) and after 4:30 on weekdays. From there, you can walk to the lake (you can’t miss it) and turn either right or left along the Lakeshore Path to begin your adventure.
The Lakeshore Path runs the length of the University along the shore of Lake Mendota. This is the most beautiful part of campus and it was recognized as such long ago. Paths along the lake were created and used by Native Americans more than 10,000 years ago. Today, students, faculty and visitors walk, jog and bike along the path to get to class, to exercise or just for fun. The path extends west to Picnic Point the Eagle Heights campus housing area (2.5 miles), and to the east to the Lakeshore Dorms, Department of Limnology and Memorial Union (1.5 miles). All of the research that the Department of Limnology had conducted on Lake Mendota’s waters has earned it the nickname, “The Most Studied Lake in the World.” Check the map here and decide if you want to head directly to the Union or if you want the Picnic Point Loop added.
When you get to the Union, rent a canoe and head out onto the water. Canoe west to Picnic Point, east to the bluffs, north to Warner Park or south to the Yahara River and Lake Monona. The water looks a little green in late summer because of the algae, but away from the shore the the water is nice and great for swimming (just be careful getting in and out of your canoe in the middle of the lake). Enjoy the warm sunshine and the cool breeze. Listen to how quiet it is. Look back at how far (or not) you have paddled. When you have had enough, return your canoe and walk up to the Terrace. It is time to relax.
Memorial Union is a Madison must. It is the center of campus life outside of the classroom. It is a place to eat, drink, study, hold meetings and socialize. Construction on it began in 1925 and it was completed three years later. Inside, Der Rathskaller pays homage to Wisconsin’s German roots. Outside, the Terrace is an outdoor patio that is the perfect place to drink a beer (the Wisconsin Union is one of the few student unions in the country to serve alcohol), eat brats and enjoy some University-made Babcock Ice Cream. On summer days (and especially nights), a table can be very hard to find.
The rates for canoe rentals are: Student/Member: $8.77 for an hour or $26.31 for the day. Faculty/Staff/Guest: Hour $9.65 Day $28.95. In order to use the Union, you technically must be a member, student or faculty or buy a guest pass. This is usually not enforced if you do not make trouble. To buy alcohol, you may be asked for a membership card, but you can always get a guest pass.
The University of Wisconsin and Lake Mendota combine to make for one of Madison’s best days out.