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Lake Mendota
Sailboats on Lake Mendota.JPG
Boats headed toward south shore (downtown Madison).
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Location Dane County, Wisconsin,
United States
Coordinates 43°06′24″N 89°25′29″W / 43.10667°N 89.42472°W / 43.10667; -89.42472
Type Natural freshwater lake
Primary inflows Yahara River
Primary outflows Yahara River
Catchment area 562 km2 (217 sq mi)
Basin countries United States
Max. length 5.62 mi (9.04 km)
Max. width 4.11 mi (6.61 km)
Surface area 9,740 acres (3,940 ha) (39.4 sq. km)
Average depth 12.8 m (42 ft)
Max. depth 25.3 m (83 ft)
Water volume 500 million cubic metres (18×10^9 cu ft)
Residence time 4.5 years
Shore length1 21.6 mi (34.8 km)
Surface elevation 259 m (850 ft)
Frozen December 20 (average freezing date)
Settlements Madison, Middleton, Shorewood Hills, Maple Bluff, Westport
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Mendota is the northernmost and largest of the four lakes in Madison, Wisconsin. The lake borders Madison on the north, east and south, Middleton on the west, Shorewood Hills on the southwest, Maple Bluff on the northeast, and Westport on the northwest.


Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are separated by an isthmus, known as the Madison Isthmus. The Madison Isthmus is home to much of Madison, WI. While the lakes are separated by dry ground, they are connected by the Yahara River. The banks of the lake contain expensive luxury homes and condominiums, but also contain protected natural areas and parks, including James Madison Park, as well as university housing, the UW Student Union and a handful of hotels and restaurants. Summers bring boaters out in force, especially on the weekends, though Lake Mendota is rarely crowded. There are several boat launching sites and two major marinas serving the lake. On a typical summer day, the lake is filled with those engaging in water sports, including fishing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, canoeing, wind-surfing, kayaking, and sailing. With an average freeze date of December 20, Lake Mendota is used in the winter by sports enthusiasts for ice-boating, ice-skating, ice fishing, cross country skiing, ice hockey and snowkiting.

The Wisconsin State Capitol building and much of the state government is located in this narrow stretch of land, as much as the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus is situated along the southern shore of Lake Mendota. In the early 20th century, Chancey Juday and Edward A. Birge founded an influential school of limnology there as a component of the university. The university's Hoofer Sailing Club operates at Memorial Union.


The city of Madison maintains five beaches on Lake Mendota, three of which are staffed with lifeguards.

Lake study

Lake Mendota has been called the most studied lake in the United States, with the UW–Madison Center for limnology resting on its southern bank. The lake has a remote sensor buoy, affectionately known as David Buoy, that is part of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network. It has Surface Area of 3,988 ha. Maximum depth: 24.9 m. Mean depth: 12.5 m. Volume: 500M m^3. Surface elevation: 259m. Shore Length: 34.8 km. The pH of Lake Mendota: 8.3-8.4. Specific Conductance of 407.8 mS/cm. Dissolved Organic Carbon as 5.3-5.7 mg/L.

On September 11, 2009, the invasive spiny water flea (Bythotrephes longimanus) was discovered by the limnology class at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, making it the third known inland lake to harbor this species in Wisconsin.

Lake Mendota as seen from the University Bay landing in the Fall of 2008


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