Check Out the Yahara River This Summer

The lakes are swell, but local aquatic activity doesn't stop there

Madison’s lakes have drawn people here since the retreat of the glaciers. Often overlooked, however, is the lakes’ source and outlet—the south-flowing, wildlife-rich Yahara River watershed.

A pretty half-day float begins at Token Creek County Park, above Highway 51, and meanders through Cherokee Marsh State Wildlife Area. Paddlers can catch a glimpse of bright wood ducks, dun-colored cranes and maybe a sunbathing turtle. They’ll also see large tracts of new emergent vegetation—fish and wildlife habitat that’s being restored. Takeouts in this area include Cherokee Conservation Park and the Highway 113 bridge.

Things get busy on Mendota, Monona and Waubesa, so paddlers should consider sticking close to shore. If you put in toward the bottom of the chain, Fish Camp Boat Launch provides easy upstream access. Or paddle along Lake Kegonsa’s tree-lined shores. Private nonprofit Capitol Water Trails keeps this stretch obstruction-free; see their maps here.

John Motoviloff is a cook and outdoorsman.

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