The 9 Best Things to Do in Janesville, Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors

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The 9 Best Things to Do in Janesville, Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors

You haven’t discovered the outside until you’ve been to the Janesville, Wisconsin area located about 90 minutes Southwest of Milwaukee.  I visited Janesville for the first time last summer and found the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts.  With its location on the Rock River and proximity to the Ice Age Trail, there is an endless variety of activities, including kayaking, hiking, and biking.

The city is also home to the Rotary Botanical Gardens, a stunning 20-acre site with over 4,000 plant varieties.  Whether you’re looking for a peaceful afternoon on the water, a scenic bike ride, or a chance to connect with nature, Janesville has it all.  With its small-town charm and abundance of outdoor activities, Janesville is the perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Get Out On the Water

A day in the Janesville area must include water!  From the beautiful lakes to activities on the Rock River, you will not struggle to find something to do on or in the water in Janesville.  Here are some of my favorites!

1 – Go Kayaking with Driftaway Paddle Company

If you’re new to kayaking, Driftaway Paddle Company in nearby Edgerton is the perfect place to start your adventure.  They offer rental kayaks and all the necessary equipment for a fun and safe experience on the water.

Two kayakers paddle side-by-side

Clark at Driftaway Paddle Company is knowledgeable and experienced and was terrific with this first-time kayaker!  He put me at ease and was super helpful in getting me in and out of the kayak.  Believe me, I had no idea what I was doing, but once I was on the water, I fell in love!

Clark gave us great information on getting in and out of the kayak, paddling technique, and safety.  He had several options available for us to try and even got this Hip Grandma up on a stand-up paddleboard, which still shocks me!

If you’re an experienced kayaker or paddleboarder, no worries!  Driftaway Paddle Company also offers tours and experiences for those who know what they’re doing!  In fact, he left our session to head for a tour down the scenic Yahara River with a group of knowledgeable paddlers, so know you’re in good hands with Driftaway Paddle Co, no matter your skill level!

6407 W. Caledonia Rd, Edgerton
(608) 295-4348

A man on a stand-up paddleboard rides alongside a woman in a kayak
An aerial shot of a kayaker in a bed of lilly pads
a drone shot of 3 kayakers on a lake

2 – Be Dazzled By the Amazing Rock Aqua Jays

The Rock Aqua Jays is a water ski show team.  Founded in 1960, they are one of the world’s most successful water ski show teams.  The Rock Aqua Jays have won over 60 national and international championships, including 21 U.S. National Championships. They even set a world record in 2022 for the largest pyramid, which had 80 people in it.  They are also the only water ski show team to have performed in the People’s Republic of China.

The Rock Aqua Jays perform twice weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at Traxler Park in Janesville.  The shows are free and open to the public!  And if you’re wondering about the setup, don’t worry – the park is beautiful and accessible.

There are aluminum bleachers and plenty of space for everyone, with no curbs or barriers for those who depend on a wheelchair!  The stunning show was a delightful surprise for this Michigan girl who had no idea this kind of skiing could take place on a river! 

600 N. Main St, Janesville

The Rock Aqua Jays perform with 3 large pyramids of people wearing purple and teal and wearing skis

3 – Make Your Adventure on a Rental Pontoon

For a day of fishing, swimming, or sunning on Lake Koshkonong or the Rock River, treat yourself to a boat rental from Floating Toy Pontoon Rental in nearby Edgerton (don’t miss a stop at the Fulton Store for breakfast and their locally famous cinnamon rolls before picking up your boat).  The staff is friendly and informative, and the rental units are in excellent condition and ready for your day of fun with no worries.

723 East Ellendale Road, Edgerton
(608) 921-9453

Get Your Exercise On!

4 – Explore the Ice Age Trail

The Ice Age Trail is a 1,200-mile National Scenic Trail that winds through Wisconsin.  The trail got its name from the glaciers that carved out the landscape of Wisconsin during the last Ice Age.  The glaciers left behind various unique features now home to different plants and animals, making for a beautiful and challenging hiking experience.

A sign for the Ice Age Trails with greenery in the background.

In Janesville and Milton, these nature trails pass through their downtowns and through several parks along the Rock River.  The trail has several access points, including Riverside Park, Brittingham Park, and Rock Cut State Park.  A day on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a great way to experience the natural beauty of Wisconsin and learn about the state’s geological history.

The Ice Age Trail is great for hiking, biking, and snowshoeing.  It is also a popular spot for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.  You may get a peek at a hawk, an owl, or one of the many deer, coyotes, or foxes that live in the area.  The trail is open year-round, so choose your exploration method based on the weather!

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front

Here are some interesting facts about the Ice Age Trail:  It is the longest National Scenic Trail in the contiguous United States.  The trail is a work in progress, with only about 600 miles of trail completed to date, and it is expected to be completed by 2030.

A lake scene with a dock an the water and beautiful greenery in the background

5 – Rent an E-Bike

The Ice Age Trail is also a great place to bike.  There are several bike trails, ranging from paved to gravel.  No worries if you don’t have your bike with you on your visit!  I’ve got you covered.  Stop in to see Julia & Jaysen at Velocity Multi-Sport at one of their two locations in Janesville.  This husband/wife team will hook you up with the perfect bike rental.

As for me, I chose a cruiser e-bike, and it was the best biking experience I’ve ever had!  Their e-bikes come equipped with powerful electric motors that make pedaling a breeze, allowing you to cover more ground and see more of the city.

Jaysen fitted me with the correct bike and gave me some basic instructions on how to use the electric functions before we headed out.  If a cruiser isn’t your style, know that Velocity has various bike styles, including mountain bikes, so that you can choose the perfect bike for your adventure.

The staff at Velocity are knowledgeable and passionate about e-bikes and are happy to offer tips and advice on the best local trails and routes for your ride.  They also provide helmets and locks with every rental, ensuring your safety and security while you explore.

One of the great things about renting an e-bike from Velocity is the freedom to explore Janesville at your own pace.  You can take a leisurely ride along the riverfront, stopping to take in the sights and sounds of the city, or head out on a more extended adventure to explore some of the area’s beautiful parks and natural areas.  With an e-bike, you can cover more ground than you would on a traditional bike without getting too tired, and that scores an A plus for this Hip Grandma!

1327 N. Wright Rd, Ste 180, Janesville
(608) 352-0649

115 N. Jackson St, Ste 130, Janesville
(608) 373-1551

The author poses next to an electric cruiser bike.

6 – Discover Unique Art on the Public Art Trail

One of the special events that Janesville hosts annually is called Art Infusion.  During this annual September event, you can enjoy watching chalk artists at work at the Chalk Art Competition.  You will also get to watch amazing artists from all around the U.S. as they add unique new murals and other art to Janesville’s landscape and historic buildings.

A large mural on the side of a building in Janesville, WI

If you aren’t lucky enough to visit during the Art Infusion event, then treat yourself to a walking tour around town.  You will find stunning murals, statues, sculptures, and historical markers telling the story of Janesville’s unique and compelling history.  The work is incredible.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself just gaping at some of these murals.  I did!  Can you imagine?  I’m sure people in town wondered what this pink-haired stranger was doing standing and gawking at a wall.  I visited in 2022, and five new works have been added.  I can’t wait to get back and see the new pieces.

The Janesville website shows a listing of locations of the Public Art, or you can stop in at the office on Main street to pick up a printed map that will guide you through all of the fantastic artwork.

Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Ste 11 – 20 S Main St, Janesville
(608) 757-3171

A large mural painted on the side of a building

Relax and Savor the Summer Vibes

Sometimes the best way to get outside and have a good time is by relaxing and soaking in nature, the beautiful blue skies, and summer breezes.  Check out these excellent options to relax and take in the great outside at your own pace.

7 – The Beautiful Rotary Botanical Gardens

If you’re looking for a place to soak in nature’s beauty and relax, carve out at least half a day to explore the Rotary Botanical Gardens.  This botanical garden covers 20 acres of land and was founded in 1989 by the Janesville Rotary Club under the drive of retired orthodontist Dr. Robert Yahr.  The gardens were created on the site of a former landfill, and the Rotary Club, along with other service organizations, worked to transform the area into a beautiful and inviting space.

An image of the entrance to the Rotary Botanical Gardens

The Rotary Botanical Gardens is a great place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.  You will find a variety of plants from around the world and many themed gardens throughout the space, including English Cottage Gardens, a Japanese garden, and a children’s garden.

Each year the Rotary Gardens chooses a theme and asks local artists to contribute a work within the theme.  At the end of the season, the pieces are auctioned as a fundraiser for the gardens.  When I visited in 2022, the theme was turtles (the 2023 theme is Ladybugs).  I was amazed at the creativity of the many turtles placed throughout the gardens.  Every artist begins with the same blank canvas and can create whatever fun things they desire!  The variety of turtles was stunning and reminded me how unique everyone is, even though we all come in a basic human form.  I know; I’m getting all deep here.

The gardens are also a great place to learn about plants and gardening and hosts various educational programs and events throughout the year.  The gardens also offer rental space for weddings and other occasions. 

Finally, I must talk about the Story walk area.  Each season, they choose a book and create a walk-through garden that brings the story to life with plants, sculptures, and artwork.  Bring your kiddos or grandkids and spend a morning or afternoon immersing yourself in the story.  Then head for the gift shop, where you can pick up a copy of the book to bring home and re-live your adventure again and again.

1455 Palmer Dr, Janesville, WI

a turtle shape painted with a sparkly rainbow design and on display at the Rotary Botanical Gardens.
A picture of the book, "Except Antartctica" on display at the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville
a Turtle at the Rotary Botanical Gardens on display in 2022

8 – Find a Janesville Hidden Geocache Treasure

Have you discovered geocaching?  If you haven’t tried this fun treasure-hunting game, you’re missing out on some good, free fun!  All you need is a GPS-enabled device.  Hint – your Smartphone is probably GPS-enabled.  All you have to do is use your phone to navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.  Geocaches are typically hidden in outdoor places but can also be indoors.

When you find a cache, you’ll find a logbook where you can enter your information, and many caches have tiny treasures for you to take with you.  And, of course, part of the fun is leaving your treasure behind for the next hunter to find.

But what does this all have to do with Janesville?  Great question!  Janesville boasts 200+ caches hidden within a five-mile radius of downtown and 500 more within a 15-mile radius.  Pack a picnic, or plan to stop at one of the wonderful restaurants in Janesville on your adventure, and you can keep busy hunting treasure for a whole day!

You can find coordinates for all the hidden treasures in and around Janesville at  Remember the basic rule of geocachers everywhere: leave no trace as you hunt for treasure!

multi-colored background with the words "let's be friends" printed on top with "click here to join the facebook group"

9 – Music at the Marv

After you’ve enjoyed a delicious evening meal (May I suggest Lark in downtown Janesville), you may want one last outside experience to finish your day.  Music at the Marv is the perfect way to end your day, and it’s FREE!

Head to the Marvin W. Roth Community Pavilion in Courthouse Park on Main Street.  The City of Janesville hosts this free summer concert series every Tuesday evening from June to August.  The concerts feature live music from various genres, including rock, pop, country, and blues.  The bands are all local and regional, and they are always a great time.

For the best experience, arrive early to choose your best spot.  Bring a chair or blanket.  You can bring a picnic dinner, a cooler with drinks or snacks, or support a local vendor by purchasing food and drinks from the on-site food trucks.  The concerts are family-friendly and accessible (the grassy area is slightly hilly), and they are a great way to wrap up a day spent exploring Janesville’s Great Outdoors!

51 S. Main Street, Janesville

Other Fun Things to Do Around Janesville

I didn’t get to see and do everything when I was in the Janesville area, so I will be back!  If you have more time than I did, check out this bonus list of things you can see and do in the Janesville area. 

  • Visit Northleaf Winery for a delightful wine tasting with a chocolate pairing (perfect girls’ night)!
  • Tour the Milton House Museum in nearby Milton, owned by the Milton Historical Society, and a stop on the Underground Railroad.  The Milton House is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Visit one of the many golf courses in and around the Janesville, Milton, and Edgerton areas.
  • Check out Palmer Park, a 164-acre park with various amenities, including tennis courts, a playground, a picnic area, a pet area, scenic views, and a visitor information center.
  • Take a tour through the Lincoln-Tallman House, where Abraham Lincoln spent a night before becoming U.S. President.

Wrapping it All Up

Janesville, Wisconsin, is steeped in rich history and culture, but it’s also a great place to experience the great outdoors.  In fact, their slogan is “Janesville:  Wisconsin’s Great Outside.”  With its many parks, trails, lakes, and natural areas, there’s a way for everyone to enjoy being outside.  And trust me.  I am an indoor girl, and I loved Janesville!  Pack your bug spray just in case, and you’re good to go!

Whether you’re looking for excellent entertainment, a challenging outdoor adventure, or a look at the arts, you’ll find it all in Janesville.  And with its friendly people and welcoming atmosphere, you’ll love your visit!  Tell them the Hip Grandma sent you!

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PIN image for post entitled 9 best things to do in Janesville Wisconsin with pics of waterskiiers, a woman with a bike, a painted turtle and a wall mural

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