Madison Area Winter Freebies: Fun, Free Activities for the Whole Family

Cabin fever setting in? Whether you love winter or are counting the days until spring, here are some fun free activities to fill your family’s late winter days. All of these activities are free, ongoing, and don’t require registration. 

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but I hope it’s a good start. If you know of other free events and activities that happen on the regular and don’t require registration, please share in the comments!

Walk in a Winter Wonderland

Learn about winter ecosystems, the secret language of trees, and try a scavenger hunt! Bundle up the whole family and spend an afternoon at the UW Arboretum. Most Sundays at 1 p.m. there are guided walks, suitable for families. On select Sundays, Family Nature Programs begin at 1:30 p.m., especially aimed at kids 3 to 11. View the whole schedule here.

Dinosaurs and More

Have a kiddo obsessed with fossils, dinos, or rocks and minerals? A trip to the UW Geology Museum is a great way to spend a chilly day. The museum is open most weekdays and Saturday mornings. Expect a ton of fossils, dinos and reptiles, some gorgeous sparkly rocks, and more!

Night at the Museum

The first Wednesday evening of the month is Free Family Night at the Madison Children’s Museum. Everybody is welcome! Also, if you’re a new, first-time parent, another way to access the museum at no cost is through their First Time Parent membership for new parents and their child up to 18 months.

Put the Story in History

The Wisconsin Historical Museum is hosting a series of free story times, ideal for ages 2-5, featuring books that celebrate diversity, friendship, and community. Story times are generally held at 10:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. More details here.

Yoo Hoo! Don’t Forget the Zoo

Yes, we all know the Henry Vilas Zoo is free, but it’s easy to forget it’s a year-round operation. Visiting in winter is a whole different experience. It’s more chill (literally and figuratively), but with plenty of indoor exhibits, there’s space to warm up. And since it’s free, feel free to stay as long (or as short) as you like. Even a half-hour visit to say hi to the polar bears can make for a fun winter excursion. 

Kids, Community, Coffee

Madison Area Parent Support (MAPS) has a ton of great groups, especially Sprouts!, an all ages playgroup, which is held most Monday mornings at MAPS Base Camp from 9 to noon. Let the kids play while you have a cup of joe and chat with other parents and caregivers. Learn more!

Explore the Outside Inside

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has lovely paths and trails which are open daily year-round, from dawn to dusk. But, inside the center, more fun stuff awaits! New Nature Nooks in the Nature Center lobby feature educational and interactive experiences for kids, especially younger ones. Learn about different native habitats and have some hands-on fun! Nature Nooks are open weekdays from 9-4 and on weekends from 10-2. 

Watch Cars (Radio Controlled) Race (Indoors)

My kiddo loved visiting Tracks Hobbies! Tracks has an indoor raceway where they host practices and races of radio controlled cars. Spectators can join in the fun for free! Definitely check their schedule ahead of time and plan to sign a waiver, even if you’re just watching. Zoom zoom!

Amelia Cook Fontella is a writer, teacher, designer, and entrepreneur. She lives in a cozy little house on Madison’s east side with her husband Rob, kiddos Frankie and Luisa, and a puggle named Starla. Amelia has an MFA in creative writing and regularly teaches in the Madison area, including her own Get Inspired Workshop classes. Amelia and Rob own Green Table Media where they help small businesses and community organizations tell their stories. Amelia adores traveling the world, exploring things in her own backyard, going swimming, and just about anything to do with creativity, writing, and the arts. She’s good at finding other people’s lost things and makes a mean brandy slush.


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