Complete Guide to Governor Nelson State Park

Complete Guide to Governor Nelson State Park

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Governor Nelson State Park was initially named after a former Wisconsin Governor, Gaylord Nelson. It covered 422 acres just outside of Waunakee, Wisconsin, in Westport and located in the northern region of Lake Mendota.

Complete Guide to Governor Nelson State Park

The park is in full view of the Wisconsin State Capitol building while in Madison. It has gone through many developments and has been altered to suit the relaxation and unwinding needs of everyone who visits.

Complete Guide to Governor Nelson State Park

The park features many amenities, including a boat launch, beaches (for both humans and dogs), a lake, creek, effigy mounds, skiing and hiking trails, and areas for camping and picnic. However, the park does not allow for overnight camping and, as such, is considered a day park.

Dorn Creek!

Governor Nelson State Park has a creek that gives you the advantage of exploring more of what nature offers… please remember that this park is more of a preserve so you should practice “leave no trace” in earnest here with both plants and wildlife.

Camping in Governor Nelson State Park

Governor Nelson State Park Fun Fact

I got this gem off of Wikepedia:

A portion of the site of the park originally hosted a boys’ camp called Camp Indianola. Orson Welles was a camper at the camp in his youth. The camp closed in 1967.

I think that is fun – and remember a Girl Scout camp experience in the early 70’s that wasn’t too far away.

Camping in Governor Nelson State Park

This is by far one of the more interesting parts of the park as you get to enjoy the best of nature while co-existing in it. However, they may not allow you to camp overnight, but the day experience is just as good.

Governor Nelson State Park is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

You really need to know that and find places to park your camper or RV nearby as you simply can’t camp here. We like:

KOA Madison
4859 County Road V
De Forest, WI 53532
Local Phone:
Toll Free: 800-562-5784
Email: madisonwikoa@centurytel.net

–> Check out our Crazy Camping Girl Etsy store – new items are added weekly!

Governor Nelson State Park Activities

When it comes to Governor Nelson State Park, the fun is limitless, and there is so much for you and your friends and family to engage in. There are numerous parks in and around Wisconsin that provide the ultimate relaxing experience, and at this very park, the amount of activities to participate in is pretty much countless. Here are a few of the activities you can engage in…

Governor Nelson Water Sports

Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend the 500-foot sand beach will be marked with buoys for swimming. No lifeguards are on duty. No boats, sailboards, or personal watercraft are allowed within the marked swim area and boaters must go slow-no-wake, within 100 feet of the swim buoys.

Governor Nelson State Park Fishing

At Governor Nelson State Park, you can indulge in the fishing game, and interestingly, they have some of the most interesting fishing options…

Governor Nelson State Park Fishing

* Ice Fishing – This is one of the more classical ways of fishing where you catch fish through the ice with spears other than going on a boat and throwing your nets. It creates an intriguing experience like no other. Just get the necessary tools, and you are good to go!

* Inland Lake / River – Are you the traditional type of fisher who likes to sit by the lake or row along the river with your hooks in hand? Well, no worries, as the park creates an avenue for you to enjoy a special moment with your friends and family. Unwind as you enjoy the cool breeze dazzling across your face.

You have the advantage of catching a variety of fish such as, but not limited to: Lake Trout, Catfish, Northern Pike, Panfish, Smallmouth Bass, Rainbow Trout, Walleye, Crappie, Coho Salmon, Muskies, Bluegill

A fish cleaning station is available in season, for everyone’s conveinience.

Governor Nelson’s State Park Swimming

Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend the 500-foot sand beach will be marked with buoys for swimming. No lifeguards are on duty. No boats, sailboards or personal watercraft are allowed within the marked swim area and boaters must go slow-no-wake, within 100 feet of the swim buoys.

We will talk more about dogs in a bit, but your dog gets to take a dip and cool down in their own special area for swimming too! There is a set beach area for your pups to run and bounce around and a cool picnic area in close range…next to the Morningside

Make sure you download our FREE Wisconsin State Parks Bucket List Printable!

We put together a Wisconsin State Parks Bucket List Free Printable for you – to keep track of all the state parks and nature areas you visit. Get it here: Crazy Camping Girl FREE Wisconsin State Parks Bucket ListDownload

Governor Nelson State Park Boating

What’s more exciting than knowing a park gives you the advantage of a boat launch? Well, at Governor Nelson State Park, you have the privilege of experiencing this luxury. The park has a four-stall boat launch.

Go kayaking on the lake with your friends and family while you try to relax and unwind and enjoy the scenic view of the environment around you. Interestingly, the park is in close range for options to rent kayaks, so checking the information center will provide all the details you need.

Hiking at Governor Nelson State Park

Governor Nelson State Park has a cool 8.4 miles of trails with numerous nature-engulfed benefits to enjoy. These trails include areas such as oak woodland and Savanna and mesic and wet prairies. Along the trails, you will also enjoy various wildflowers that bloom along the way and different kinds of animals.

You can also stay informed as you tread the pathways as there are viewing platforms and information panels. There are numerous trails to choose from, including…

Governor Nelson State Park hiking

Morningside Trail

Morningside Trail covers 2.4 miles and runs along the northern end of the park through restored prairies. It is used for many purposes during winter, including skiing, snowshoers, and pet-walking (must be on a moderate-length leash).

Oak Savanna Trail

You’ll cover an estimated 1.8 miles along this trail, which starts close to the park office and extends through prairie and Savanna. You can be sure to enjoy lots of scenic views and nature’s best as you stroll along.

Redtail Hawk Trail

The Redtail Hawk Trail sits in the park’s center and leads directly to the Oak Savanna and Woodland Trails. It stretches across an estimated 1 mile.

Woodland Trail

The Woodland Trail sits along the southern end of the park and is among the most-forested regions of the park. It covers a 1-mile stretch and has an impressive 358-foot mound and several other conical mounds in close range. Get your gears on and take a grand tour of the best that nature has to offer.

Governor Nelson State Park Hunting

Please note, there is no hunting and trapping allowed in the park. For more information, please see: Hunting and trapping in Wisconsin State Parks

winter in peninsula state park

Governor Nelson State Park in Winter

A visit in the winter is a little different than the summer but all the more adventurous. Activities range from snowshoeing to cross country skiing – both diagonal-style and skate skiing.

Snowshoeing at Governor Nelson State Park

Who said you couldn’t take a stroll through the snow without sinking? Well, snowshoeing is great at the park and is usually done across the Morningside Trail. It is a 2.4-mile trail loop and can also accommodate your pets once they are on a leash.

Cross Country Skiing at Governor Nelson

Here is another winter activity that will be worth your while as you travel to this feature-filled park. However, you have to keep checking with their information desk to know when these activities are in full swing. Cross-country skiing covers various options, including groomed trails, flat and hilly trails, open trails, and wooded trails.

Here is the Governor Nelson Trail map with winter usage

Just see the map above to see them.

Governor Nelson State Park and Dogs

Let’s start with the obvious: dogs shouldn’t be left unattended and you should pick up the poop. Waste should be disposed of in dumpsters or trash receptacles.

Dogs are allowed in most campgrounds, trails, roads, and outlying areas of the parks. They must be on a leash no longer than 8 feet at all times, if they are not under control at all times, they can be seized and subject to local laws pertaining to stray animals.

ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t micro-chipped. If you do lose your pet you can contact the Dane County Humane Society at (608) 838-0413.

Rabies could be a thing as there are wild animals like raccoons your pooch could come in contact with so make sure your pooch has all current vaccinations.

Pets are not allowed in the following places:

  • Buildings
  • Picnic areas and picnic shelters
  • Beaches
  • Playgrounds
  • Marked Nature Trails
  • No Pets are allowed on the ski trails when they are snow-covered.

Of course, if your dog is a service animal, those rules do not apply.

Governor Nelson State Park boating

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Day pass or annual pass, it gets you in any Wisconsin State Park. YES, there are discounts for Wisconsin residents.

Get it here –> Wisconsin State Park Pass Info

Governor Nelson State Park Events

The park is open to many activities and events as it is a day park for you to enjoy with your friends and family. Interestingly, being on hundreds of acres, the park gives the advantage of hosting many personal events such as weddings, birthday and anniversary parties, and so much more.

In addition to the events you desire to host, there are several other general events you can look out for, such as fireworks, fishing derbies, reenactments, volunteer days, and so much more. The schedule changes a lot, so it would be best to consult the information desk to plan your way around when going camping easily.

Golfing at Governor Nelson State Park

There is no actual golf course here, but several in the area if you are looking for something to do beside immersing yourself in 442 acres of nature.

  • Glenway Municipal Golf Course of Madison is 4 miles away
  • Odana Hills Golf Course of Madison is 5 miles away
  • Nakoma Golf Club of Madison is 5 miles away
picnicking at Governor Nelson State Park

Directions to Governor Nelson State Park

Getting to Governor Nelson State Park is relatively easy and hassle-free as once you enter County M, you will notice the entrance to the park along Lake Mendota’s shores, on the northern side of Madison. 

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