3 Standout Madison Meeting Options That Will Get Your Group Outdoors

March 19, 2019

The Madison area’s 200 parks, 13 beaches, five lakes and 200 miles of biking and hiking trails make it easy for groups to get outdoors.

With both land and lake activities abounding in its wealth of dedicated open-space, taking advantage of the Wisconsin capital’s year-round offerings are a way to truly experience Madison like a local.

“[Our] outdoor experiences and opportunities allow meeting attendees to more deeply engage in the destination and with each other while partaking in the things that make Madison, Madison,” said Janine Wachter, director of convention and event services at Destination Madison. “It allows [groups] to create long lasting memories and deepens their learning of each other, themselves and continues to carry out the richness of the meeting content beyond the meeting venue walls.”

Olbrich Botanical Gardens Provides an Urban Escape

Set on 16 acres, Olbrich Botanical Gardens features outdoor gardens, an indoor conservatory and spaces for private functions.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Credit: Focal Flame Photography
Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Credit: Focal Flame Photography

The outdoor gardens are landscaped with Midwest-hardy plants while the Bolz Conservator, a 50-foot-high glass pyramid filled with more than 650 tropical plants, a waterfall, birds and orchids, gives visitors the chance to experience the tropics without leaving Madison.

Especially unique to the property is the Thai Pavilion and its surrounding garden. The pavilion is the only one in the U.S. and was built in Thailand, disassembled and shipped over.

The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Olbrich was chosen as the site for reconstructing it because of its garden setting.

For tours of the indoor and outdoor spaces, groups can choose to do a self-guided visit or opt for a guided tour. Guided tours are led by garden docents and last 45 to 60 minutes.

“Olbrich Botanical Gardens offers group tours and two Essential Madison Experiences [hands-on adventures designed by Destination Madison] that take visitors deeper into the story of the Gardens, topping it off with a cocktail infused with garden ingredients,” Wachter said.

Olbrich has three rooms inside the botanical center that are available for rental year-round. Each space overlooks the Outdoor Gardens.

The rooms can accommodate groups of 10 to 200 people.

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The Atrium features glass walls and a vaulted glass ceiling. This venue is on the lower level of the botanical center building and can host up to 120 attendees.

Evjue Commons, the larger of the two meeting rooms, also features a vaulted ceiling as well as a glass wall and doors that lead directly to a terrace.

Upstairs is a meeting room that has a capacity for 65 people. From May through September, the outdoor gardens can also be used for private gatherings.

As of spring 2019, Olbrich Botanical Gardens is undergoing an expansion project that will add new classrooms and new greenhouses.

Active Experiences at the Wisconsin Union

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Union, with two locations, offers events, activities and meeting space for students, faculty, the Madison community and visitors.

The Memorial Union is located in the heart of the campus and is a multi-use building with dining, recreation and a variety of meeting spaces. Union South is on the south side of campus and also offers dining options and event spaces as well as a theater and The Wisconsin Union Hotel and Club Suites, a boutique hotel with 60 guest rooms and six suites.

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Memorial Union
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Memorial Union

The Wisconsin Union offers a variety of outdoor activities for groups. On land, groups can choose from a guided snowshoe trek, hike or private yoga class.

In the warmer months, groups can take advantage of the nearby lakes with teambuilding activities such as the SUP Squatch Adventure, which uses an eight-person standup paddleboard with participants working as a team to propel and steer the large board.

The Union can also arrange for lake rentals and equipment as well as paddling games and paddling lessons with a kayak, canoe or standup board. And for the paddle-confident groups, a yoga class on the water can add some zen to the program.

The Wisconsin Union can also customize outdoor activities for groups.

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According to Destination Madison, the city is the bike capital of the Midwest, boasting more bikes than cars. There are biking trails throughout the area and Madison BCycle, a bikeshare program that has over 35 stations and 350 bikes throughout downtown that can be used by locals and visitors.

“The Madison area [including the nearby city of Fitchburg] is well known for bicycle friendliness, said Rob Gard, director, PR and communications for Destination Madison.

“Madison is one of five platinum bike cities in the country, with more than 240 miles of bike trails and roadways," he added. "Visitors can rent a BCycle and ride from station to station while enjoying these trails."

Madison Lake Cruises Get Groups on the Water

For a different view of downtown Madison, lake cruises are available and offer views of the State Capitol, University of Wisconsin campus and scenic shoreline.

Betty Lou Cruises has both public and private boating options on Madison’s Lake Mendota and Lake Monona from late April through mid-October.

“The Betty Lou Cruise takes guests on a two-hour boat tour of Madison,” Wachter said. “Participants can learn about Madison’s history while enjoying food and drink on the boat deck and roof."

Groups can hop aboard either of the company’s four yachts for a private charter, day or night.

On Lake Mendota, the vessels leave from Mariner’s Inn and can accommodate up to 42 guests. The Lake Monona yachts have a capacity for 50 people and are moored at Machinery Row.

Madison CVB Contact Information

Destination Madison

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Kate Cripe | Former Content Developer, Departments/Features

Kate Cripe worked with Meetings Today for over eight years as a Sales, Marketing and Content Coordinator. She then moved to the editorial team where she writes and edits feature, destination and news articles.