Lake Wingra, Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Wisconsin - Southern Savanna Region -

Lake Wingra is a 320-acre lake in the Yahara River Chain of Lakes that flows through Wisconsin’s Southern Savannah Region. Located in the heart of downtown Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city, Lake Wingra provides a wealth of recreational opportunities and a healthy dose of nature to the city’s many inhabitants. There is no private property along the nearly four miles of shoreline; instead, Lake Wingra is surrounded by two parks, the campus of Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum. The combined public lands offer a variety of ways to enjoy the water and shoreline. A swimming beach is located at Wingra Park, as is the only public boat launch, fishing piers and picnic areas. The park also rents boats, with rowboats, canoes and kayaks dominating the boating scene.

Although connected to the larger Yahara River Chain of Lakes and draining into Lake Monona, boat passage between Lake Wingra and the rest of the chain isn’t possible by water. Only canoes and kayaks can access the lake via a water route, one that involves a portage around the small dam. A boat rental concession at Wingra Park rents paddleboats, kayaks, canoes and rowboats. Gasoline motors are not permitted. The concession also provides a small marina where privately-owned sailboats and craft can be kept in rental slips. As an added service, Wingra Park holds children’s day camp activities during the summer focused on fishing, water and boating skills, beginning limnology and boating safety activities. One particularly popular camp session is geared toward teaching stand-up paddle-boarding.

Lake Wingra’s name comes from the Ho-Chunk word for ‘duck’; the lake has been a major stopping point for migrating waterfowl throughout its history. It is also a desirable fishing lake, holding bluegill and other panfish, walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass and an abundance of muskellunge. Muskie fingerlings are regularly stocked by the Department of Natural Resources. The muskies use Lake Wingra as a spawning ground, swimming up Wingra Creek to leap the low dam at the lake’s outlet. Each spring, locals come to watch the Muskie Run, cheering for the most successful attempts. Extensive wetlands around the lake harbor a wealth of native amphibians, waterfowl and small marsh mammals. Miles of walking trails within the large Arboretum’s grounds permit runners, walkers, bird watchers and nature lovers access to a wide variety of ecological systems being restored in the area. Visitors enjoy cycling, scenic viewing locations and the large Longnecker Horticultural Gardens. Arboretum grounds include several areas of forest, savannahs, prairies and marshes, all geared toward providing habitat for native birds, plants and animals.

Lake Wingra’s central location is a natural hub for other activities in the immediate area. Of particular interest to those with children, the Henry Vilas Zoo is located just outside Vilas Park on the northern side of the lake. A rarity among zoos, Henry Vilas Zoo is free to access, a condition of the gift of the land donated by the Vilas family in memory of their young deceased son, Henry. Beginning in 1904, the Vilas family donated land, then funds to improve the site for public use, with the zoo being established in 1926. The nationally-acclaimed zoo is supported in part through the efforts of several community groups and offers many special events during the year. Lake Wingra can be reached via the metropolitan bus line, making it easily accessible to all.

Lake Wingra’s long history shows many changes caused by natural and human intervention. The lake, along with others in the area, were created by glaciation thousands of years ago. Glacial deposits formed a ridge that forced water to percolate underground, emerging in a number of springs at what became Lake Wingra. Extensive wetlands made building near the lake nearly impossible as Madison grew up around it. Originally the lake drained by slow water passage through Gardner Marsh at the east end of the lake. As boating and outdoor recreation became popular around the turn of the last century, the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association made ‘improvements’ to the lake to increase boat access. They dug a canal from Lake Wingra to Lake Monona for boat access, but the action reduced water levels in Lake Wingra. Their next step required building a small dam as a water control measure and installing a boat lock. Within a few years, it became obvious that the boat lock was seldom used, so it was covered with an observation platform.

Meanwhile, a failed development attempt built a levee along the eastern shoreline to drain Gardner Marsh for building lots. This was ultimately unsuccessful, and Gardner Marsh is now a nesting waterfowl refuge and part of the Arboretum. The Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association had meanwhile accumulated parkland via the Vilas family and other donors, resulting in the majority of the lakefront becoming public lands. The dam was rebuilt in 2010, minus the boat lock, and keeps water levels stable except for the rare periods of excessive rain when Lake Monona’s water level rises to meet it.

Today, various citizens groups, including the Friends of Lake Wingra, work to improve water quality and teach water users about good conservation practices. Because multiple municipal and private wells have lowered the water table in the area, only one large spring is now providing fresh ground water to recharge the lake. Additionally, as less permeable surfaces exist in the area, more water enters the system via surface drainage, bringing with it possible pollutants such as lawn fertilizers. Efforts to reverse these changes have resulted in Lake Wingra’s water quality starting to improve with less seasonal algae bloom and better water clarity. The presence of two colleges offer unique opportunities for students to be trained in limnology and environment based on the readily-available lake for testing and experimentation. Madison residents, too, are learning good environmental stewardship to protect their beloved water resources.

Visitor to Madison will find this an exciting university city with plenty of nightlife, gourmet restaurants, unique shopping and exciting sports, particularly hockey. They will also find Madison a mecca for water sports and nature activities such as those showcased at little Lake Wingra. Madison holds all types of lodgings such as hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts. Real estate for sale is not uncommon, although its location near a major university tends to keep prices higher than average. Still, the muskies return to Lake Wingra every year-and so should you.

Things to do at Lake Wingra

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Birding
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Lake Wingra

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye

Lake Wingra Photo Gallery

Lake Wingra Statistics & Helpful Links

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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