If you’ve ever spent the winter in Madison, you know that many days are cold and snowy. That doesn’t mean that you need to stay cooped up at home — with the many free activities going on around town, it’s easy to enjoy the cold months.


Make the most of Madison’s heavier snowfalls with a day of sledding. Bundle up, grab a sled, and get your heart rate up at a local park. The best sledding hills in Madison are located in areas that tend to have a high level of snow buildup; one of the most popular is Elver Park, which even offers sled rentals and lighting for fun after dark. Other Madison sledding hills include Aldo Leopold Park, Olbrich Park, and Warner Park.

Sledding. Photo courtesy of Scott on Flickr.

Cross-Country Skiing

With its gently rolling hills, the Madison area is perfect for cross-country skiing. Many trails around the city are free to use, including those at Cherokee Marsh South Conservation, Door Creek, Turville Point Conservation. If skiing isn’t your thing, bring a pair of snowshoes and enjoy a quiet walk through the forest.

Cross country skiing.

Ice Fishing

If you love to fish in the summer, there’s no reason to stop when the snow falls. With its cold winters and abundance of local lakes, Madison is a popular spot for ice fishing. Fish for perch in Lake Mendota, panfish in Lake Waubesa, or bass in Lake Kegonsa. 

Ice fishing.

Take a Tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol

Enjoy a respite from the chilly weather with a tour of the State Capitol building that sits in Madison’s center. Your guide will take you throughout the building, offering a fascinating commentary on art, architecture, and history. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the 200-foot dome and the enormous holiday tree. Tours are free and available every day of the week. Reservations aren’t necessary for groups of less than 10; just check the schedule online and show up to the information a few minutes in advance.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Teemu008 on Flickr.

Go on a Guided Walk at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum

Home to more than 170 species of birds and a wide range of ecological communities, the University of Wisconsin Arboretum is a fascinating spot for families and nature enthusiasts. Naturalists offer guided programs throughout the winter — take a walk through the grounds, learn about local creatures, or participate in a hands-on activity. Most activities are free; some require a reservation.

The University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Richard Hurd on Flickr. 

Walk Through the Lights in Olin Park

Every winter, Olin Park hosts the Holiday Fantasy In Lights, a spectacular display of Christmas lights. The event is free to everyone and runs from mid-November through early January. Bring hot chocolate, dress warmly, and enjoy the glow of the lights on the freshly fallen snow.

Wintertime in Madison, WI. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.


Madison might be cold in the winter, but there are plenty of activities to keep you warm and entertained. Whether you’re searching for a winter workout or a fun family outing, this busy city has you covered.

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