Outdoor Adventures in Madison: A Guide to Year-Round Activities

Madison, WI, presents a wonderful blend of urban life and natural beauty, making it a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re into peaceful nature walks, bird watching, or photography, Madison offers an array of outdoor activities in Madison WI to satisfy your adventurous spirit. The city’s wildlife sanctuaries are a birder’s paradise, offering a chance to observe a diverse range of avian species. For photography lovers, the scenic beauty from shimmering lakes to lush parks provides endless opportunities to capture Madison’s unique charm.

Seasonal activities also play a significant role in Madison’s outdoor scene. Winter brings with it a host of fun, including ice skating and enjoying the craft beverage scene, while summer offers sailing, swimming, and golfing. These seasonal variations ensure that there’s always something to do outside in Madison, keeping the city vibrant throughout the year.

Fun Things to Do in Madison, Wisconsin

Dapper Cadaver

Dapper Cadaver in Madison is a year-round provider of Halloween and death-themed props that meticulously covers every detail, ensuring that even the darkest fantasies are brought to life. Whether you’re looking for something as ordinary as human organs or as unique as a chicken skeleton or a mummified baby dragon, they have a wide array of items to choose from.

Their inventory boasts high-quality horror movie props, ranging from medical equipment and dinosaur bones to coffins, caskets, and specimen jars filled with an assortment of both realistic and fantastical items. Dapper Cadaver stands out as one of the few prop houses that welcomes the public, making it a popular destination for prop masters from both indie films and major blockbusters.

Catering to a variety of needs, from Halloween decorations to shockingly lifelike severed limbs, Dapper Cadaver offers everything necessary for a haunted house or even for creating that quirky B-movie in your basement. For those who are just browsing, they also have makeup, clothing, and novelty items like pens. Even if you don’t need a six-foot Break Away Obelisk, you won’t leave empty-handed.

Lost City Forest

Nestled in the southeast corner of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, adjacent to a marsh, lies the serene and somewhat mysterious Lost City Forest. This forest, distinguished by its ancient trees and simple dirt paths, exudes a sense of tranquility, punctuated only by natural sounds and the distant hum of traffic from the nearby Beltline. Despite its name, the ‘Lost City’ does not refer to its secluded ambiance but rather its history rooted in a bygone housing development.

In the early 20th century, as Madison was expanding rapidly, developers envisioned a modern residential area on the south side of Lake Wingra. The Lake Forest Land Company undertook this ambitious project, laying concrete foundations and establishing roads and sidewalks. However, the dream never materialized, as the marshland’s instability caused the foundations to sink, and the Great Depression’s economic impacts led to the company’s bankruptcy and the abandonment of the development.

Today, the Lost City Forest is a reminder of what might have been, a place where visitors can stroll through the arboretum at no cost, reflecting on the area’s unique past and the ‘ghosts’ of the houses that were never completed. The arboretum further enriches this experience by offering annual tours and discussions about the Lost City, typically around Halloween, allowing visitors to connect with this intriguing slice of Madison’s history.

Lamp House

The Lamp House, a hidden architectural gem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1906, is discreetly nestled in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. Created for Wright’s friend Robert Lamp, this compact house is an elusive treasure, often overlooked even by locals, despite its proximity to the State Capitol. Its unassuming presence, hidden amidst older structures and the shadows of new developments, adds to its mystique.

Robert M. Lamp House

Photo by Flickr

Wright’s design for the Lamp House showcases elements of his Prairie School style, making it stand out among its surroundings. The house’s layout also served as a preliminary model for Wright’s later work, particularly evident in his publication “A Fireproof House for $5000.” Despite its historical and architectural significance, the Lamp House’s condition shows signs of neglect, attributable to its status as an unoccupied property. Nonetheless, it remains a crucial, albeit underrecognized, piece of architectural history.

For those interested in visiting, the Lamp House is accessible via a specific route from the State Capitol. It’s situated within a residential block and is best viewed from N. Butler Street, where a narrow path between two houses leads to a closer view. As of early 2015, the house is privately owned and rented out, so visitors should be mindful of its status as private property.

Elvis Karate Fight Plaque

On June 24, 1977, an unusual incident occurred involving Elvis Presley in Madison. As Elvis was traveling from the airport to the city, he witnessed a street fight at what used to be a Skyland service station. Spontaneously, Elvis exited his limousine at a red light near the scene and confronted the fighters with a karate stance, a skill he was known for.

A plaque in Wisconsin commemorating the time that a saggy, soon-to-be-dead Elvis hopped out of his limo and stopped a street fight by standing in between those involved in a karate stance.

Photo by Flickr

The fighters, recognizing the iconic star, ceased their brawl and instead opted to shake hands with Elvis. The King ensured peace was restored and took the time to greet several bystanders. This event occurred just 52 days before Elvis’s death and was reported by Thomas Still for The State Journal, highlighting it as Presley’s most notable public scuffle since his “Jailhouse Rock” days.

A plaque was erected to mark this unique event at the former location of the gas station. It featured an image of Elvis holding a guitar and posed in a karate stance, with a description of the incident. However, as of July 2019, the detailed description of the incident has been removed, but the plaque and the image of ‘Karate Elvis’ remain in place.

For those interested in visiting, this plaque is located near the parking lot of Schoepp Motors, close to the intersection of Stoughton and Washington. Visitors should be aware of “No Parking” signs in the vicinity, particularly near the FCC Antenna building.

L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum

The L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum in Madison stands as a vibrant testament to the wonders of science, offering an immersive experience for visitors of all ages. As you enter the museum, you’re greeted by over 70 interactive physics displays and experiments, which range from the familiar, such as a large Newton’s Cradle, to the more unusual and equally captivating exhibits.

Established in 1918, the L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum is one of the pioneering collections of its kind, with each exhibit crafted by university faculty, staff, and students. This hands-on approach is aimed at igniting wonder and curiosity in visitors, regardless of their age.

Despite its remarkable contents, the museum maintains a low profile, tucked away in two modest rooms within Chamberlin Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its presence is often unnoticed by students and faculty who regularly pass by, due to its subtle entrance and location along a busy corridor. However, those who have discovered its treasures consistently recommend a visit to explore the intriguing phenomena of the universe.

Visitors planning a trip to the museum should note that it is located on the second floor of Chamberlin Hall. Admission is free, and it’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep in mind that the museum operates in tandem with the university’s schedule, so it’s best to visit when classes are in session.

John Muir’s Alarm Clock Desk

During his time as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1860s, John Muir, later known as the “grandfather of American environmentalism,” showcased his mechanical genius in a unique way. Struggling to wake up for his morning classes, Muir designed an ingenious alarm clock combined with a study desk. This remarkable device not only assisted Muir in getting out of bed by literally sliding him onto the floor, but it also helped organize his study schedule.

Muir’s contraption was a marvel of ingenuity, comprising a clockwork mechanism that linked a bed and a desk. Upon activation, it gently ejected the sleeping Muir to the floor and lit a lamp to start the day. The clock then managed his study time efficiently, cycling through his books on Latin, Greek, mathematics, botany, chemistry, and geology, allowing a specific duration for each subject before moving on to the next.

Before his university days, Muir, who had moved from Scotland to Wisconsin with his family, honed his technical and woodworking skills at Fountain Lake Farm. His talent for creating barometers, thermometers, clocks, and other devices was evident early on. He even earned tuition money by showcasing his inventions at the Wisconsin State Fair.

However, Muir’s life took a turn in 1864 when he left Wisconsin to work in a Canadian sawmill and rake factory, and later, as a foreman in an Indianapolis carriage factory. A factory accident in 1867, which temporarily impaired his vision, profoundly changed his path. This experience led Muir to abandon his mechanical pursuits and dedicate his life to exploring and preserving nature, ultimately laying the groundwork for the American conservation movement.

Today, Muir’s alarm clock desk is a part of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s collection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Displayed in a glass case, it not only tells the story of Muir’s early mechanical ingenuity but also marks the beginning of his journey towards environmental advocacy.

Picnic Point Beach House

Tucked away along a side trail at Picnic Point, you’ll find a peaceful beach adjacent to a beach house with a design reminiscent of the works of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While many mistakenly believe that Wright himself designed the house, this misconception only enhances its allure. The beach house stands out with its unique design, contrasting with much of today’s modern architecture.

Originally built in 1968, the beach house’s purpose was to serve as a bathroom and changing facility. However, it never opened to the public due to an algae bloom shortly after its construction. Since then, it has been repurposed for storage. This intriguing structure remains relatively unknown as it is located off the main trail leading to the end of Picnic Point, with many visitors opting for the more popular route and missing this hidden gem.

The beach house overlooks a small cove on Lake Mendota, positioned next to some climbable bluffs. This less frequented beach provides tranquil views of the lake, away from the usual crowds found at other spots along the shoreline.

For those interested in visiting this secluded spot, it requires a bit of a hike. Starting from the gate at 2000 University Bay Drive, take the first left after the grassy area and follow the path. The beach house, marked by a touch of abandonment and graffiti, is a part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which is maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Preserve offers well-marked trails to all points along the lakeshore, making it an ideal location for a swim, picnic, or simply to relax by the water.

Vitense Miniature Golf

Founded in 1955 by professional golfer George Vitense, Vitense Golfland in Madison stands out for its three 18-hole miniature golf courses. Located just outside this college city, the facility offers a unique blend of mini-golf experiences. Two outdoor courses feature themes inspired by Wisconsin and California, while an indoor course celebrates the city of Madison.

George Vitense’s vision when he acquired this former farm was to create a golf experience enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities. Over the decades, Vitense Golfland has lived up to this vision. The courses are filled with fiberglass characters, classic mini-golf obstacles like windmills and lighthouses, and themed settings. Adding to the fun are interactive elements like slides, climbing walls, and ziplines that guide players to the next hole, including a distinctive hot dog-shaped tube slide.

In addition to miniature golf, Vitense Golfland offers a variety of other activities. Visitors can enjoy a 9-hole real golf course, a driving range, a climbing wall, batting cages, golf simulators, volleyball courts, and more, making it a comprehensive entertainment center.

Otis Redding Memorial Plaque

Otis Redding, the soul music legend, is remembered for his immense talent and the tragic circumstances of his death. Redding’s fame peaked posthumously following a fatal plane crash over Lake Monona in Wisconsin. A plaque, located at a picturesque overlook, commemorates the site of this heartbreaking event.

On December 10, 1967, despite severe weather warnings, Redding and his band were determined to reach their scheduled performance in Madison, Wisconsin. Undeterred by the rain and fog, they boarded their private Beech Model 18 aircraft. Tragically, the plane crashed into Lake Monona, just four miles from Madison, resulting in the loss of all on board except one. The exact cause of the crash remains unclear, but it led to the untimely death of a rising star in the music world.

Redding’s legacy was cemented just days after the accident when his iconic song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” topped the Billboard chart, becoming his first and only number-one single. To honor his memory, the Otis Redding Memorial Fund installed a plaque in a rooftop garden overlooking the lake. The site, featuring benches for reflection, invites visitors to contemplate Redding’s legacy and the fact that the Madison show was the only performance he ever missed.

Royal Thai Pavilion

The Royal Thai Pavilion, located in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, stands as a striking symbol of Thai culture and craftsmanship, gifted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Thai Government. This magnificent golden structure is a rare sight, being one of only four such pavilions located outside Thailand and the only one on the mainland of the United States. Remarkably, it was constructed by Thai artisans using traditional methods, which means no nails or screws were used in its assembly.

The pavilion’s roof, adorned with numerous ceramic tiles, holds a deeper significance. Community members inscribed prayers and heartfelt messages on the underside of these tiles, many of which were written in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. These messages add a layer of emotional depth to the structure.

The pavilion is also surrounded by elements that connect it to Thailand, including a pavement line pointing towards Bangkok, a serpent-shaped pathway, and various sculptures. Complementing the pavilion, the garden features a range of tropical plants, enhancing the overall experience and ambiance of this culturally significant landmark.


In conclusion, Madison, Wisconsin, offers a vibrant tapestry of year-round outdoor activities that cater to a wide array of interests and preferences. From serene nature walks and immersive wildlife sanctuaries to adrenaline-fueled adventures and urban explorations, Madison truly has something for everyone. This guide has highlighted the best of Madison’s outdoor offerings, demonstrating that whether you’re a local or a visitor, there’s always something new and exciting to discover in this dynamic city.

The allure of Madison’s natural beauty, combined with its rich cultural tapestry, has led many who visit to consider making it their permanent home. The city’s blend of urban convenience with the tranquility of nature makes it an ideal place for those looking to balance a vibrant lifestyle with the peacefulness of the outdoors.

For those who find themselves captivated by Madison’s charm and decide to relocate, numerous trusted moving services in Madison are available to help make the transition smooth and stress-free. Madison is not just a destination, for many, it becomes a beloved home.


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