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Preserve Audio Tour and Class of 1918 Marsh Audio Field Trip

Explore the Preserve with the help of your cell phone or portable media player. Tune in to our audio trail to hear stories about the cultural and natural history of the Preserve.  

Water Walk Video Series: A Virtual Tour of Wisconsin's Yahara Watershed

Take a virtual tour of the Yahara Watershed with the Water Walk video series produced by the the UW-Madison Water Sustainability and Climate project for the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Better yet, view the video series on your mobile device while walking the shore of Lake Mendota on the Lakeshore Path.

Plan a visit to the Lakeshore Nature Preserve !

Whether you have just an hour or a whole day, exploring the Lakeshore Nature Preserve lets you re-connect with yourself—and with nature.

One of the most important purposes of this website is to help you broaden and deepen your knowledge of the Preserve, so take some time to wander around this website and you'll discover plenty of new places in which to wander in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve!

Have a favorite place in the Preserve that we haven't listed? We'd like to hear about it !

learning in the Preserve

Quick Picks
Kids' visits
New visiting ideas
1 hour visits
2-4 hour visits
Accessible visiting
Get help with visits

Helpful hints

Making a 1 hour visit ? Try one of these five ideas

  • Take the classic Picnic Point walk. Park your car or bike at the base of Picnic Point and walk the Lakeshore Path to the tip. Stop at benches along the way to take in the view. Make sure to do the "portage walk" across The Narrows from shore to shore—though the portage will take you only about 15 Fall walkers in Picnic Pointseconds! Stop for a peaceful gaze on either side of the portage. A drink at the bubbler tops off the classic Picnic Point walk.
  • Discover Raymer's Cove. Drive to the Raymer's Cove parking lot off of Lake Mendota Drive near Eagle Heights. Take the stairs down to the water's edge, where the sandstone cliffs meet the lake and the waves lap a pebbled beach. It's especially beautiful at sunset. Stroll up and down the Lakeshore Path on either side of Raymer's Cove for peaceful views and great wildlife viewing.
  • Just driving and viewing? From Memorial Union, take Observatory Drive and pause at the Observatory Hill pull-out. Follow Observatory Drive to Walnut St. Turn right and follow Walnut Street along University Bay. Turn right at University Bay Drive and drive through the Class of 1918 Marsh and past the stone entrance wall to Picnic Point. Turn right at Lake Mendota Drive and tour through the woods and natural areas of Eagle Heights. Take Eagle Heights Drive back to University Bay Drive.

Staying for a 2-4 hour visit? Here are more ideas

  • Make it a Preserve picnic. To reserve a picnic site with a fire pit, call 262-2511. Buy a picnic lunch from the Memorial Union deli, cafeteria, or Rathskellar. Then hop on the FREE Campus 80 Bus from the west side of Memorial Union. Ride it all the way to Picnic Point or to the last stops in Eagle Heights Apartments. Once you're there, enjoy your picnic and then explore the trails, community gardens, and restorations before taking the bus home. Campus 80 bus stops occur all along the route on Lake Mendota Drive.

Got kids? Picnic Point is the place to go!

  • picnicking on the lawn at the entrance to Picnic PointGot little children who love to romp on grass? The big lawn inside the entrance to Picnic Point is a great place to experience dandelions and nature with a snack on a blanket while you watch all ages running and walking on the trail below.
  • Like poking along the water's edge? It's easy to find lake-level shorelines on Picnic Point. You can get right to the edge of shallow water where you can play with sticks and see wildlife from secondary trails off the main trail. If you want sand to play in and rocks and washed-up logs to investigate, walk a ways toward the tip and then take the first major path to the left (north) to find the old beach house and the sandy beach that extends along the north shore. If you want more sand, sun, and rustic toilets, continue east along the shore to visit the the Narrows—where Picnic Point becomes so thin that you can see both the University Bay and Lake Mendota at the same time. Please note: No swimming is permitted in the waters along the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Swimming is allowed at the Memorial Union swim pier.
  • Want to try an old-fashioned pump and picnic? If you want to drink water from an old-fashioned hand-powered drinking fountain (we call them "bubblers" here in Wisconsin), continue just past the Picnic Point beach to the old pump on your left at the top of the hill. Kids love to work the pump to have a cool drink! If you'd like, reserve a fire circle ahead of time or take your chances at finding an unoccupied site and enjoy a picnic. That is, after all, how this place got its name!
  • Does your child have a special interest in nature? Check out the field trips offered by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Or check out the insect photo album, and see what the kids can discover. See also the hints in the next section for a wildlife visit and check out the "turtle tunnel."

Looking for something really different? New visits

  • Combine a visit to the Preserve with beautiful gardens and an ice cream ! Buy a UW ice cream at the Memorial Union and start your walk along the Lakeshore Path. At the Porter Boathouse, take a left and walk south, away from the lake, up Babcock Drive. Visit the Allen Centennial Gardens. If you missed the ice cream at the Union, you have another chance! (Or get a second dip?) From the Allen Gardens, continue to the intersection with Linden Drive, take a right, and buy an ice cream cone from the famed Babcock Hall Dairy. To take the high road home to Memorial Union, head back north on Babcock Drive and turn right (east) on Observatory Drive, taking in the view at the crest of Observatory Hill by Washburn Observatory.
  • butterfly, photo by Glenda DennistonLike butterflies? Bring your camera and walk from Picnic Point to the Biocore Prairie in July when the prairie flowers are attracting butterflies. Check out our butterfly photo album and try to identify new ones.
  • Hike to the Preserve's highest point for a great view. Tackle the uphill Eagle Heights Woods trail from the intersection of Lake Mendota Drive and Eagle Heights Drive. At the top of this glacial drumlin, you will reach the north end of two magnificent linear Indian mounds and a circular mound. This is the highest point on the south side of Lake Mendota.
  • Need to scuff autumn leaves on a crisp day? Walk the wide trail from Biocore Prairie through Caretaker's Woods in September and October when the maple leaves are at their best for scuffing with tennis shoes.
  • crane, photo by Glenda DennistonWatching for wildlife? Turn toward campus at the Picnic Point parking lot and walk or bike the Lakeshore Path to Willow Creek. In spring and fall, enjoy the flocks of migrating water fowl. Watch for painted turtles migrating back and forth across the path between University Bay and the Class of 1918 Marsh. Look closely, and you should be able to find the special tunnel that's been constructed under the road to help turtles make this trip successfully! In summer, watch the redwing blackbirds singing and defending their nests in the cattails of University Bay, muskrats swimming along the shore, and baby toads on the path. Even in winter, you'll see birds in this area if you look for them carefully.
  • Do you live at Eagle Heights? Walk over to Frautschi Point and explore the Big Oak Trail and the butterflies in the new savanna restorations. If you're lucky, you'll be able to visit with Volunteer Steward Glenda Denniston while she's hard at work caring for nature and photographing or identifying the birds, butterflies, and other animals of the Big Oak Trail. Learn more about volunteer opportunities here.
  • Interested in prairie and savanna ecological restorations? Visit the upper Bill's Woods, Big Oak Trail, and Biocore Prairie restorations. Since the 1990s, volunteers and students have been restoring woods, prairies, and a former cultivated field to enhance native plant establishment. Before heading out, you can read about these restoration projects on this website to understand the stewardship projects that are going on in the Preserve.
  • Need to get out of the house in the winter? A drive to Picnic Point along Lake Mendota Drive or University Bay Drive after a new snowfall has some dramatic scenery! Bring your skis or snow shoes or hiking boots: touring the trails of the Preserve through the evergreens and thickets of Picnic Point and Frautschi Point is magical after a snowstorm. The dark tree trunks hold patches of new snow as you catch glimpses of the frozen lake through the branches. You'll get a better view of Lake Mendota from the crest of the bluff in Eagle Heights Woods at this time of year than at any other. The trails of the Preserve go quiet and still right after fresh snow fall. But be careful—the snow gets slippery, especially when it's been compressed into ice by visitors.

    Quick Picks
    Kids' visits
    New visiting ideas
    1 hour visits
    2-4 hour visits
    Accessible visiting
    Get help with visits

    Helpful hints

Visiting with limited mobility?

  • accessible trails and pathsVisit the Interactive Map. Select the WAYFINDING button and click on the "Paths" layer text. ROLL your mouse over the BLUE oval to highlight the wheelchair-accessible trails in the Preserve (shown as dark line in the map at right, click to enlarge.)
  • Check out our parking page for close-in parking. Also browse the map for bench and fire circle locations for stopping along the way.

Or...choose your own adventure

To find a place:

  1. Browse the Interactive Map. Click the WAYFINDING button to see roads, parking lots, bus stops, and trails.
  2. Check out the 360-degree panoramic photographs of 5 different places.
  3. On each of the "Most Visited Places" web pages, a "Getting There" section shows how to find your destination—and gives you fascinating stories about the Preserve's history and current restoration activity.

group preapres to take the campus tree walk in 2002To find the nearest parking lot:

  1. See our Parking page.

To reserve a fire circle or conduct an organized event:

  1. Visit the Permits page.

Other Questions?

  1. We're happy to help! Contact the Lakeshore Nature Preserve staff by phone or email.


Helpful tips for a great visit

  • WALKING: Visitors are encouraged to explore the many trails of the Preserve between the eastern boundary near the Union Terrace and the western boundary in Eagle Heights Woods.  Please remain on marked paths to prevent erosion and the spread of invasive species.  A good map of trails is available here.
  • BEACHES:Please note: Swimming is NOT permitted in the waters along the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Swimming is permitted at the Memorial Union swim pier.


  • RESTROOM FACILITIES:  Rustic toilets are located just west of the Narrows. Modern flush toilets are located near Parking Lot 131 near the intersection of Lake Mendota Dr. and University Bay Dr. See locations on the interactive map under WAYFINDING > Visitor Amenities.
  • PARKING:  See our separate page on Parking.
  • EMERGENCY CALLBOX:  An emergency callbox is located at the Limnology Building entrance to the Lakeshore Path, at Frautschi Point, and at the entrance to Picnic Point.
  • DRINKING WATER: A bubbler is located near the Narrows on Picnic Point.
  • SECURITY:  For any security issues in the Preserve, phone 911.

always check beach and ice conditions in the PreserveIce safety information

Is it safe to go out on the frozen lake? The Dane County Sheriff Department Lake Patrol, 284-6878, can give people the "official word."  Visit the Marine and Trail Enforcement page of the Dane County Sheriff and read the Ice Ordinance at http://www.danesheriff.com/ice.htm .

Swimming information

Please note: The university does not provide lifeguards at Preserve beach areas and water quality is not monitored. Swim at your own risk.

Public Health Madison and Dane County can tell you if Spring Harbor or Memorial Union beaches are open and safe for swimming. Visit their website at http://www.publichealthmdc.com/environmental/water/beaches/.





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