11 places to enjoy the weather and picnic in Madison

This time may mark the final stretch of summer, but the sun is still shining and the city has a number of family-friendly parks to visit.
Tenney Park, featuring a pond, lily pads and a bridge overlooking the lagoon in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo by Richard Hurd/Courtesy of Creative Commons License
Tenney Park

This time may mark the final stretch of summer, but the sun is still shining and the city has a number of family-friendly parks to visit. Plus, picnics under color-changing fall leaves sounds like a dream. Check out any one of these for a picturesque view and a nice picnic.

B.B. Clarke Beach Park
B.B. Clarke Beach Park is a quaint, hidden gem. It offers a more private, intimate setting in a residential neighborhood. Watch the sunset over Lake Monona with a snack in hand. Parents looking to bring their families don’t have to worry — there are changing rooms there, but dogs and alcohol are not permitted. 835 Spaight St.

Bernie’s Beach Park
Grab a towel, a book and your picnic basket! Bernie’s Beach is a dainty, welcoming area for families and friends. With a view of the Capitol and lake — along with smooth sand to dip your toes in — it’s hard to beat. The beach doesn’t close until 10 p.m., so take your time and let loose. 901 Gilson St. 

Brittingham Beach Park
Go for a walk off the pedestrian path at Brittingham Beach Park, which offers a beautiful view of Monona Bay. There, you’ll find boat rentals, picnic tables and an inclusive playground. Note that dogs and alcohol are not permitted. 701 W. Brittingham Place

Capitol Lawn
For a fun Saturday outing, head to the Dane County Farmers’ Market to purchase some of the best cheese the dairy state has to offer. Then, head up to the Capitol Lawn to make a charcuterie board. Get creative and add some fruit, olives, jam, crackers and hot, spicy cheesy bread for a tasty mix of sweet and savory. Enjoy the views around the Square as visitors greet local vendors from all over Wisconsin. Capitol Square

James Madison Park
Breathtaking views of Lake Mendota captivate every visitor at James Madison Park. Some friends battle it out on the basketball court, tan or play in the sand. The more than 12-acre James Madison Park is a classic picnic area for people of all ages. There is plenty of space to roam around, read at a picnic bench or sprawl on the grass — just don’t forget your sunscreen. Better yet, stay until the evening to watch the sunset. Keep in mind that alcohol is prohibited here. 614 E. Gorham St. 

Olin Park
Known for its easy access to bike trails around Lake Monona, Olin Park is a well-liked, traditional place for a picnic. See the large expanse of land for a scenic view of the capitol and the brilliantly blue water, but don’t miss out on its other outdoor amenities, including a playground, a boat launch, a soccer field and walking paths. 1156 Olin-Turville Court

Olbrich Park Beach
Olbrich Park welcomes visitors to gather at a picnic table and rent a kayak or canoe. Make a day of it and stop by the Olbrich Botanical Gardens before enjoying what is one of Madison’s biggest lakefront parks. If you’re hoping to grab a pint of beer, stop at The Biergarten at Olbrich where you can bring in your own picnic supplies or enjoy some fresh cheese curds and pretzels for a hassle-free picnic. 3527 Atwood Ave.

Orton Park 
A gazebo, basketball court and grassy area encompass Orton Park. Kids frequently visit the park, named after a former Madison mayor and state supreme court justice Harlow S. Orton. Despite its small size, there are multiple benches to sit, stretch and relax. On the way there, pick up a pastry, a sandwich or a loaf of bread for your picnic at Madison Sourdough. 1114 Rutledge St.

Spring Harbor Beach Park
For those looking to enjoy an overlook of Lake Mendota far from the busy noise at Memorial Union, this may be the right place. Situated right by Spring Harbor Middle School, it’s small but quiet. The greenery sets a peaceful tone, ideal for reading and finding some peace during a hectic week. 1918 Norman Way

Tenney Park
With a panoramic view of Lake Mendota, Tenney Park is a beautiful spot. Spanning 37 acres, the park is also where the city welcomes everyone to join in a monthly, free guided nature walk. Rent a kayak or try fishing, take your tennis partner out or hit the volleyball, pickleball and basketball courts. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. 1414 E. Johnson St.

Vilas Park
Vilas Park offers the best of both worlds for finding some serenity or taking part in the fun. Kids can play and swing. There is also a walking path that circles around the area and plenty of space to spread a blanket out and take a breather. Vilas Park is also close to ZuZu Cafe, where you can grab a quick bite of Mediterranean food or get something to go for your picnic. Afterwards, you can always take a stop to see the animals at the free Henry Vilas Zoo. 702 S. Randall Ave.

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