One of Madison's oldest parks, Vilas curves along the northern shore of Lake Wingra, offering a sandy beach for summer swims, numerous fishing sites, including two accessible piers and winter ice skating on the lagoon and rinks with a seasonal warming shelter offering concessions and skate rentals. The park offers year-round recreation for all ages and is adjacent to the UW Arboretum and the Henry Vilas Zoo.
VILAS PARK MASTER PLAN
Madison Parks is planning for the future of Vilas Park and we need your input to make it a success. What do you love most about Vilas Park? What would you change? Visit Park Projects for more information.
• 3-hour parking limit MGO 8.18(2) and (5) and Section 1.08(3)(a)
A three (3) hour parking limit is enforced at all times in the parking lots.
• Bus Parking Prohibited
Buses are prohibited from parking in single-vehicle stalls in Vilas Park. Bus drivers may drop passengers off at Vilas Park and then relocate to the rear parking lot at Bowman Park, 1775 Fish Hatchery Road.
An accessible pier at Vilas Park opened in September 2018. LEARN MORE
The "Old Woman in a Shoe" slide was built in 1962 as a gift to the Madison community. Members of the Madison Lathers Local 111, Madison Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 204 donated the labor and materials. Warren Walder oversaw construction of the slide, which was dedicated to George Morrell, a lather/contractor who had died several years earlier.
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
HELP KEEP PIERS OPEN AND SAFE!
As of 04/09/2020: Piers are installed at Marshall, Olbrich, Olin, Tenney and Warner and may be used with the following precautions:
One Person per Pier - please take turns and be courteous of others
Common Touchpoints - use gloves, and hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes
Daily and Annual Permits - may be purchased online only, iron rangers are temporarily removed
Launch your watercraft or ATV!
Surrounded by over 15,000 acres of lakes, accessing the water is easy in Madison and surrounding communities with your Lake Access Permit. A daily or annual Lake Access Permit is required year-round for launching a motorboat, sailboat, iceboat, canoe, kayak, or ATV from a designated lake access parking lots (see locations below). Piers are in place early/mid-spring through fall.
LAKE ACCESS PERMIT (Ordinance 8.215):
• A daily or annual Lake Access Permit is required year-round for launching a motorboat, sailboat, iceboat, canoe, kayak, or ATV from a designated lake access parking lot and may be purchased ONLINE.
• The permit is valid for the issue year through March 31 of the following year at designated launch sites in Madison, Monona and Dane County (see brochure map).
• The permit should be displayed on the inside driver's side windshield
DESIGNATED CITY OF MADISON LAUNCH LOCATIONS BY LAKE
LAKE MONONA: Law, Olbrich, Olin
LAKE MENDOTA: Marshall, Spring Harbor, Tenney, Warner
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.
Madison Parks has several park shelters with working fireplaces. You are welcome to use the fireplaces with your park shelter reservation. Hoyt Park also has several refurbished outdoor fireplaces where you can enjoy toasted marshmallows and a quiet evening around a fire. Just remember to bring your own wood and extinguish the fire completely before leaving the park. Please note, fires are not permitted in Vilas Park during the winter months. View all Fireplaces
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
Location: corner of Erin and Wingra Street Built: ca. 700 - 1200 A.D.
Description: Overlooking the zoo at the corner of Erin and Wingra Streets is an Indian mound group consisting of a bird effigy, a linear and six conicals. Two additional conical mounds and another bird were destroyed long ago. Most of Vilas Park was originally a marsh, providing a bounty of fish, birds small game and wild rice to the mound builders.
Wisconsin has the highest concentration of effigy mounds in the United States and the Madison area has one of the highest concentration of effigy mounds remaining. Most mounds were lost to 19th century agricultural practices and city development. The mound builders were farmers who also engaged in hunting and gathering. They lived in small villages and migrated from one to another based on the seasonal availability of natural resources. The mounds often, but not always, have burials associated with them, but their exact purpose is not entirely understood. Mounds tend to have been built in places with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The mounds are considered sacred by modern Native Americans and should be treated with respect.
This mound group was designated a City of Madison landmark on May 7, 1990 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Madison Parks are a unique blend of active recreation and passive recreation spaces. Open Fields are just that - open, not pre-designed as a softball diamond, or football field. These open fields are available in these parks to spark your imagination, play a game of tag, or follow the leader - or anything you can think of! Enjoy your parks!
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
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.
2021 RESERVATIONS: Available beginning on Lottery Day - Tuesday, November 10, 2020
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.
Many of the soccer fields are programmed with youth and adult league play. If you would like to reserve a field or facility, please call the Athletic Scheduler at 266-4711. Find out more about Athletic Field Reservations.
FIELDS, OPEN OR CLOSED?
The best and ONLY way to know if your field is open for play is to call the Rainout Line (608)267-8787. Weekdays the line will be updated by 2:00pm, weekends and holidays the line will be updated by 9:00am. The line will be updated if fields are questionable, if no update by times listed, fields are open for play. View all Soccer Fields
Madison Parks has nearly 100 tennis courts. Most of the tennis courts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. When courts are reserved, at least one must be left available for pick-up play. Please note that all tennis leagues and all tennis instructors must pay for a reservation, no matter the location. Go to: Athletic Field Reservations
Practice Wall Locations:
Bordner, Brittingham, Elver, Olbrich, Tenney, Waunona and Westmorland