Get Madison Magazine delivered to your office or home.
Gift subscriptions now available!Subscribe Now
It may feel like summer is screeching to a halt, but our family soaks in our favorite warm-weather activity well into September. Swimming—freshwater swimming, to be more specific—is a summer-fun staple that we seek out like no other activity. As farmers, we often finish the day hot and dirty and in need of a family activity to tire out our wild brood and cool down our tired bodies. We splash around in our favorite swimming spots all days of the week and seek out wide open water even if it means getting home late. Here are five spots we love:
Salmo Pond County Park | Cross Plains, free
This spring-fed pond is a former quarry with remarkably clear water. The swimming area has a sand and rock bottom with a shallow entrance making a wonderful play area for all ages. A gradual drop-off into cooler water is great for open-water swimming. We love to head to Salmo Pond on weeknights for a picnic dinner when the swimming area is almost always empty. In addition to swimming, there is great shoreline fishing for trout, bass and pan fish.
Yellowstone Lake State Park | Blanchardville, free with state park sticker
An hour southwest of Madison, this reservoir lake has a long, shallow sand beach. If you’re up for the adventure, you can cliff jump on the south side of the lake. Climbing out and jumping back in at least five times is advised for maximum fun! There is camping in the state park and great hiking trails to spend an entire weekend. Yellowstone Lake is also great for canoeing and fishing. Don’t forget to get ice cream from the concession stand!
Fireman’s Park Quarry Pond | Verona, daily passes (lifeguards on duty)
The most developed swimming hole on the list, Fireman’s park is a former limestone quarry with a diving board, waterslides, locker room and snacks for sale. Bring fishing poles to drop a line from the pier. The shallow sand beach is perfect for little swimmers while the deep center of the pond is great for endurance swimming (triathlon athletes practice here!). We love Fireman’s park for sandcastle building and the playground fenced into the swimming area.
Stewart Lake County Park | Mount Horeb, free
Established in 1935, this is Dane County’s oldest county park. As a dammed-up, spring fed lake, Stewart Lake offers cool, clear water for swimming, fishing, kayaking or canoeing. There is a sand beach at the main park entrance along with a playground and bathrooms. Our favorite swimming spot is across the lake, accessible by walking over the dam bridge and hiking through the wooded trails along the eastern shore. From here, you can jump off the cliffs into the deep water or climb down the natural rock steps to the water—it’s more than 10 feet deep here! There are also a few miles of rolling hiking trails to explore.
Devil’s Lake State Park | Baraboo, free with state park sticker
This swimming venue is saved for last because Devil’s Lake is simply the best place to swim near Madison. Our family spends a lot of time swimming in this lake, sometimes multiple times a week. Geologically, Devil’s Lake is a fascinating anomaly. Five hundred-foot cliffs on two sides and sweeping, deep forests on opposite ends surround the ancient lake. Both the north and south shore beaches offer clean, shallow, sand-bottom swimming opportunities. But the real gem of the lake is the Tumbled Rocks trail swimming access. You can walk into water off of small rocks or jump off of boulders. Either way, the west side of the lake is the ultimate swimming location. The half-mile hike in from either the north or south shore makes swimming from the boulders even more of an adventure. Insider tip: Visiting on weekdays and Sunday evenings are the best way to avoid crowds.
Summer is winding down, but there are still five solid weeks to flex our summer muscles by swimming in some of the most beautiful natural areas that southern Wisconsin has to offer. We also don’t let a chilly summer or early fall day stop us from splashing and floating around in our favorite places. You might even see our wild little family rinsing off of the dust from the farm at Salmo Pond or taking a leap at Devil’s Lake.
Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins is a manager at Vermont Valley Community Farm, a trail runner, a freelance writer and the blogger behind The Ultra Farmer.
Longtime, downtown Madison retail mainstay, The Sacred Feather, is set to close its doors...Read More »