Lakes and Boating
Lake Access Sites Fees and Tenney Lock Information
There are 25 boat launching sites and several marinas/boat storage sites on the Yahara River lakes. These range from large marinas and multi-ramp launching sites to street-end access with only on-street parking available. Winter ice-fishing access is also available at Mendota County Park in Middleton and Upper Mud Lake at 4020 Terminal Drive in McFarland. Lake Access Permits (formerly Boat Launch Permits) are required year-round at City of Madison, City of Monona and Dane County launching sites. Lake Access fees can be found on our fees webpage. Please note that boat launches at Lake Kegonsa and Governor Nelson State Parks require a state park sticker and are not covered by Dane County Lake Access Permits.
Boating on the Yahara Chain of Lakes offers the opportunity to navigate the river through 3 boat locks on the Yahara River. The Tenney Lock is the largest Lock and is located on Lake Mendota within the City of Madison. The Lock is operated by a Lock Attendant during specific park hours. The other Locks are located Lake Waubesa at Babcock County Park at the Village of McFarland and on Lake Kegonsa at LaFollette County Park near Stoughton. The Locks provide navigational and recreational opportunities to boaters using the Yahara River System by allowing them to stay on the river without portaging around dams.
- Purchase Daily & Annual Lock or Lake Access Permits Online
- Tenney Lock Information for Boaters
- Dane County Locks & Dams Google Map
- Lake Access Permit Brochure (PDF) - Lake Access Sites and locations that sell Lake Access Permits
Please note: Dane County Parks owns and operates a lake access site on Upper Mud Lake, 4020 Terminal Drive, McFarland, 53558. The lake access site is open year-round but was developed primarily to provide ice fishing access. A lake access permit is required but is only enforced during winter months. The site provides walk-in access to the lake and adjacent public lands; ATVs and other motorized vehicles for access to the lake/ice or public land are prohibited year-round. Portable toilets and waste collection are provided during winter months only.
Water Trails and Maps
- Yahara Waterways Water Trail Guide (PDF): water trail maps with cultural, historical and environmental facts about the Yahara chain of lakes.
- Badfish Creek Paddling Guide (Google Maps)
- Miles Paddled website: includes an interactive map with advice on put-in and take-out spots, difficulty levels, wildlife spotting opportunities, and descriptions and maps of the routes.
- Capitol Water Trails website: maps for water trails throughout the county.
- Yahara chain of lakes maps: Kegonsa, Mendota, Monona (with Wingra), and Waubesa (with Upper Mud). Please note these maps are not intended for navigational use.
Sanitary Boat Pumping Stations
Sanitary boat pumping stations are located just above the Tenney Lock on Lake Mendota and on the Yahara River between Bridge Street and Monona Drive. The stations are open from May through October, weather permitting. There is currently no charge for using the stations.
Navigational Aids & Mooring Buoys
There are approximately 160 buoys in the Yahara lakes that mark no-wake zones, rock obstructions and the center of channels to assist boaters in navigation. Some points to remember include:
- From shore out to 200 feet, obstructions are not marked.
- Areas that are buoyed and signed “Slow-no-wake” and other areas within 100 feet of restrictions (e.g., boat landings) require no-wake speed. No-wake speed is the slowest speed a boat can go and still maintain steerage.
- Boats should always pass between pairs of green and red buoys.
The sheriff’s boat patrol monitors all mooring buoys that are privately owned. All mooring buoys within 150 feet of shore are no longer regulated by the DNR; however, they can be regulated by local government by ordinance. Thus, individuals should check with their local government before placing any new mooring buoy within 150 feet of shore. All mooring buoys beyond 150 feet from shore must be lighted, and a permit is required from the DNR.
Regulations and Safety
The Dane County Sheriff’s Department operates boat patrols on the Yahara lakes and enforces state and local boating laws. Deputies are on call for emergency response 24 hours per day. The department monitors Channel 16 on the VHF marine radio for emergency traffic. In addition, the City of Madison’s Fire Department has a lake rescue team that includes scuba divers and paramedic ambulance personnel. The University of Wisconsin Lifesaving Station on Lake Mendota also runs two rescue boats.
Boaters are strongly encouraged to participate in boat safety and training programs taught by the Red Cross, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, DNR, and volunteer instructors. Boaters should remember:
- Each person on a boat is required to have an approved personal flotation device.
- Operating a motorboat at a speed that is greater than reasonable and prudent is unlawful, as well as operating a boat while under the influence of an intoxicant or a controlled substance.
- Boats towing persons engaged in waterskiing, aquaplaning or a similar activity on any lake can not do so within 100 feet of any occupied anchored boat, marked swimming area or public boat landing.
Dane County Ordinance Chapter 71 requires certain motorized vehicles operated on lakes within Dane County to be equipped with flotation.
- 2019 - 2020 Flotation Inspection Information (.pdf provided by the Dane County Sheriff's Office)
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are non native plants or animals whose presence can cause severe damage to local ecosystems, industry and tourism. Dane County lakes and waterways contain a number of AIS and therefore, there are state laws that must be followed.
Accessible Fishing & Boating Improvements
Dane County Parks and the Foundation for Dane County Parks are partnering with local organizations to develop system-wide improvements to enhance fishing and boating access for all ages and abilities. More information about the program is available on the Accessible Fishing & Boating Improvements webpage.