Located in downtown Madison, James Madison Park is no stranger to busy city life. Yet these twelve acres offer users an area ideally suited for refreshing the body and mind. The basketball courts, volleyball court, and playground are popular destinations for students and other residents. On nice days it's not uncommon to see at least a few pick-up games of soccer and Frisbee in the open grassy area. The park is also home to the historic Gates of Heaven, which provides a beautiful location for weddings and other gatherings and complements the park's peaceful atmosphere. Whether you're in the mood for a friendly volleyball match or just a break from city life, treat yourself to a visit to James Madison Park.
Alternate address: 728 East Gorham Street
Alcohol is prohibited in this park. For more information, see the Madison General Ordinance 8.24. In order to have alcohol in this park, you must have an alcohol permit, which may be obtained through the Parks Administrative Office.
Madison Parks ranks #1 in the nation for number of basketball hoops per resident, come check out the hoops in your neighborhood! Most of the basketball courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you are planning a new league or tournament see Athletic Field Reservations.
Madison Parks has some of the best lake views in the area with beaches located throughout the city. Seasonal lifeguard service is provided at select beaches, beginning in June and continuing into early September at select locations. See below for specific days and times for each location.
BEACHESwith multiple lifeguards
• BB Clarke, daily 11am to 7pm (through Monday, September 2)
• Olbrich, Wed. - Sun., 11am to 5pm (through Sunday, August 25)
• Tenney, Wed. - Sun. 11am to 5pm (through Sunday, August 25)
• Vilas, daily 11am to 7pm (through Monday, September 2)
BEACHESwith a single lifeguard ( through Sunday, August 18)
• Bernie's, Friday - Sunday 12 to 4pm
• Esther, Friday - Sunday 12 to 4pm
• Spring Harbor, Friday - Sunday 12 to 4pm
• Warner, Friday - Sunday 12 to 4pm
WATERCRAFT RENTALS & MORE (see also Canoe & Kayak Rentals)
• Brittingham Park: Madison Boats
• Olbrich Park: Rutabaga Paddlesport
• Marshall Park: Madison Boats
BEACHES with no lifeguard service • Brittingham • James Madison • Marshall • Olin
2019 Beach Conditions: Thank you for your patience as we continue to recover from last year's flood. We are working to secure proper permits to replenish the sand at our beaches. We anticipate this work happening in early July. Please continue to enjoy the beaches in the meantime.
FAQ: IF A BEACH IS CLOSED DUE TO THE WATER QUALITY, IS THE PARK STILL OPEN?
Yes. Water quality testing is performed by Public Health Madison & Dane County Memorial Day to Labor Day. If a water test shows concerning results, the beach is listed as closed until bacteria or blue-green algae levels decline. During this time, there is no lifeguard service and you are advised to avoid the water. The park remains open to the public for other activities. It is also advised to avoid the water after heavy rainfall. MORE INFORMATION
Madison Parks offers various locations to launch a canoe or kayak and is allowed at all of Madison Parks motorboat launch sites. Additionally, the parks listed below have a specially designated area for launch.
If you are looking to store your kayak or canoe in a park, please visit the storage webpage.
James Madison Park pier update (07/31/19): The pier at James Madison Parks sustained significant damaged during the flood of 2018 and was removed. Due to FEMA regulations and approvals, the replacement of this pier has been delayed. Unfortunately, we do not have a timeline for its replacement.
View all Canoe & Kayak Launch Sites
We have new watercraft storage spaces available at Vilas, Warner, and Olin. Call (608) 266-4711 or EMAIL to reserve yours!
Watercraft Storage Spaces
Explore Madison's beautiful lakes, rivers, and creeks by paddle and store your canoe, kayak or paddleboard on the shores of your favorite park. All storage racks are outdoors and uncovered. The annual storage period begins each year on April 1 and ends on March 31 of the following year.
How to Reserve:
You may be placed on our waitlist at no charge by call (608) 266-4711 or EMAIL.
Current users will be able to renew their boat storage for 2019 beginning in February 2019. All current users must renew or vacate before April 1, 2019.
As spaces become available, those on the waitlist will be contacted after April 1 and given the opportunity to reserve a space.
2019 Storage costs (tax included):
$110 Madison Resident
Watercraft storage rules include:
Watercraft must not exceed 80 pounds, 18' length, 42" width or 24" height.
Storage is for permitted watercraft only. No personal property.
Only one watercraft is allowed in each space.
Watercraft must be secured to the boat storage rack. Owner accepts all liability for theft or damage to their property.
Parks Staff reserves the right to cut any lock and remove any watercraft, under any condition it deems necessary for the function of the boat storage program.
Licensed and permitted dogs are allowed, on-leash & on path as posted in the following 26 parks.
In February 2017 the Board of Park Commissioners and the Madison Common Council approved the on-leash dog parks pilot program. More information. In summary, under this ordinance, an additional 14 parks joined the existing 12 parks where dogs are permitted on-leash and on-path, where posted. It is the intent that within these new parks, dogs will be limited to the paved paths, or within six-feet thereof, which will be posted as such at the entrances, subject to the existing requirements that the dog be under the owner or handler's control, the dog is licensed and has a permit to use dog exercise areas.
Wisconsin residents aged 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Nonresidents aged 16 years old or older need a nonresident fishing license to fish in Wisconsin waters with hook and line. Visit the Wisconsin DNR website for more information.
Every year, the first consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June and the third Saturday and Sunday in January, are designated as Free Fishing Weekends throughout the state of Wisconsin. Residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a fishing license (and trout stamps) over these two days. Visit WI DNR
Description: In the days before individual boat ownership became widespread, renting pleasure boats for lake excursions was a significant summer business in Madison. Numerous commercial enterprises developed here in the nineteenth century to cater to the demand, the first being the one German native Charles Bernard started on this site in 1855 as a fishing station.
Gradually, Bernard's business expanded to include both boat and fishing gear rentals.
By the 1890s Bernard was building his own boats as well, including several large, steam-powered excursion boats that operated on Lake Mendota. Bernard ferried picnickers to his private park (gone) near Mendota State Hospital. After his death in 1907, son William ran the business. William and his son Carl became known across the United States as avid ice boat builders and racers.
In 1911 the Bernards replaced the original buildings with a larger frame structure. Four years later that building was destroyed by fire and was replaced with the present frame building. Carl Bernard sold out to Harry Hoover in 1943; Hoover continued to operate the board livery and gave excursion rides until 1968 when he sold the property to the City. Today the Bernard-Hoover boathouse is the only survivor of the early days of Madison's love affair with pleasure boating.
The boathouse was designated a City of Madison landmark on October 18, 1976
and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Description: Noted Madison architect, August Kutzbock, who was trained in Germany, designed this little gem of a building. He also used this distinctive Germanic style for the Pierce and Keenan Houses at Pinckney and Gilman Streets. Gates of Heaven (Shaare Shomain in Hebrew) was built in 1863 on W. Washington Avenue for Madison's first Jewish congregation. The building later served as the first Unitarian Society Meeting House, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the English Lutheran Church and a funeral home. It was moved to this site in 1971 through the efforts of local citizens and the City of Madison to save it from the wrecking ball.
Gates of Heaven was designated a City of Madison landmark on May 20,1974 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Parking lots are available in these parks for the programs or events in these parks. Parking lots are available from 4:00 am to 10:00 pm. Overnight parking is not allowed. Parking regulations specific to that park are posted at the entrance of the park.
View all Parking Lots
Madison Parks has 175 playgrounds to spark your imagination right in your neighborhood. In fact, the City of Madison has the most playgrounds per resident of any city in the nation, with almost 2 more playgrounds per 1,000 residents than the city that got second place! From swing sets, to unique climbing features our playgrounds are perfect for your toddler to your teen.
Restrooms are located throughout the parks system and in most cases in a park with a reservable shelter. Most of the restrooms are available only during the summer months. Restrooms available during the winter months include those open for winter activities at the following parks: Tenney, Vilas, Elver, Olbrich, Warner and Westmorland Parks.
No firearms or weapons are permitted on this property. Violators are considered trespassers and subject to forfeiture or arrest.
WHAT IS LOTTERY DAY? This is the first day you may make a shelter reservation for the following year. Held typically on the 2nd Tuesday in November, the day begins with in-person reservations (see below), and follows with phone-in and online reservations.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS?
Beginning at 7:30am and ending promptly at 7:59am, each party wishing to reserve a park shelter is given a numbered lottery ticket. The distribution takes place in the lobby of the City-County Building, outside the Parks Administrative Office (210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Rm. 104)
Due to the random drawing process, arriving prior to 7:30am is not recommended or necessary. The building is locked until 7:30am.
Only ONE lottery ticket is given to each party reserving a shelter. Failure to abide by this rule may forfeit your eligibility in the Lottery Day process.
Beginning at 8:00am, random lottery tickets are drawn. This order establishes when reservations are processed.
If you arrive after the drawing begins, you will need to wait until the Lottery Day process is complete before you may place your reservation.
Cash, checks or credit cards (MasterCard or Visa) are accepted for your full payment, which is due at the time of processing your reservation, along with any required permits.
Cancellation Policy: Reservations made during the Lottery Day process will receive only a 50% refund up until 10 days prior to the reservation. Within 10 days, no refunds are provided.
Reservations and checking the availability of our larger shelters may be completed ONLINE or you may call the Madison Parks Office at (608) 266-4711 Monday-Friday, 8:00 am – 4:15 pm. More information and details on reserving a large shelter may be found in our Shelter Reservations Guide.
Most shelters are open mid-April through mid-October. There are a few exceptions:
Please Note: We are continually improving our park system. Some of these improvements may impact a nearby shelter. Prior to making a reservation, please visit Parks Projects for more information on specific parks.
Pricing varies depending on the shelter and may be viewed here.
Picnic shelters are also reservable or available on a first-come, first served basis.
Madison Parks does not guarantee absolute privacy to any group. Your reservation will reserve only the facility you are using, not the entire park or other facilities within the park. If you are interested in reserving the entire park, please visit Special Events.
Alcohol is permitted in most Madison Parks. There are a handful of parks that are alcohol-free. In order to have alcohol in these parks, you must have a reservation and an alcohol permit, which can be obtained when placing your reservation.
Public improvements and/or construction may be underway during the time of your reservation. The City of Madison Parks Division makes every attempt to schedule around events and shelter reservations whenever possible, however, this is not a guarantee. Please keep in mind improvements to parks and infrastructure continues throughout the year. Please visit Park Projects for a partial list of major capital improvement projects.
Firearms or weapons are not permitted at any of the shelters. Violators may be considered trespassers and may be subject to forfeiture or arrest.
The availability of Gates of Heaven may be checked online however, you will need to call to make your reservation.
2020 RESERVATIONS: Available beginning on Lottery Day - Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Slacklining is a balance sport which uses nylon webbing, typically 1"-2" wide, suspended horizontally between two anchor points. Slacklining and hammocking, under policy are allowed at specific times and on specific park trees. In December 2017, the Board of Park Commissioners approved a policy and guidelines for slacklining and hammocking on park trees. The policy provides inforomation on when, where and how. Please review the following documents before tethering on any park trees.