Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Parks

Boating and Lake Access

Boating on the lake

Dane County lakes, rivers, and streams offer abundant opportunities for boating, fishing and paddling adventures. Facilities range from modern, paved boat landing areas with fish cleaning stations to secluded canoe launches.

Currently, there are 25 boat launching sites and several marinas/boat storage sites on the Yahara chain of lakes. These range from large marinas and multi-ramp launching sites to street-end access with only on-street parking. 

Lake Access Permits are required year-round at all Madison, Monona, and Dane County launching sites. Please note that launching sites at Lake Kegonsa and Governor Nelson State Park require a state park sticker rather than a Dane County Lake Access Permit.

Purchase a Lake Access Permit


Yahara River Locks

Boating on the Yahara chain of lakes will take you through three (3) boat locks on the Yahara River. The locks are associated with dams used to maintain lake water levels. Each lock and dam location offers a portage for small watercraft. View the lock/dam and portage locations.

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 and requires a permit to use (see links below). The fee for the permit is used to offset the cost of the attendant.

The other two locks are Babcock Lock on Lake Waubesa at Babcock County Park in the Village of McFarland and LaFollette Lock on Lake Kegonsa at LaFollette County Park near Stoughton. These locks provide recreational opportunities to boaters during high water flow periods in the Yahara River System by allowing them to stay on the river without portaging around dams. These locks may be CLOSED during low water flow when lake level elevations are at the summer minimum. Visit our Lake Levels & Information webpage to view lake elevation data and closure information for these locks. There is no fee to use these two locks.

Purchase a Tenney Lock Permit     Tenney Lock Info for Boaters     Lake Access Brochure  

Water Trails and Maps


Sanitary Boat Pumping Stations

Sanitary boat pumping stations are available at the following locations:

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.


Ice Fishing Access

Several lake access sites provide plowed parking lots and restrooms in winter months for ice fishing. To learn more, visit our Ice Fishing webpage.  


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. Learn more on the following webpages:


Invasive Species

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.