The Dells are located in southern central Wisconsin (map). The city takes its name from the Dells of the Wisconsin River, a scenic, glacial-formed gorge that features Cambrian sandstone formations. The Dells are well known in Wisconsin as a summertime playground of waterparks, hotels, restaurants, and creative amusements. Visitors will quickly learn there is no shortage of things to do in Wisconsin Dells.
The Dells are a town of less than 20 square miles with a resident population of about 6,500. Despite the small town atmosphere, visitors dropped $1.3B last year on room, food, retail, and recreation, etc.. In the state of Wisconsin, the Dells are kind of a big deal.
Central Wisconsin has beautiful geography, interesting history, and good vibes. The late-Spring weather is fantastic and Wisconsin folks are incredibly nice.
We’d never heard of the Dells until auspiciously stumbling across it in our travel research. As part of our Spring 2022 road trip we spent nine days in the Dells and had a wonderful experience. The following are what we found to be the best things to do in the Wisconsin Dells. We hope you enjoy reading about it!
Alex Jordan was a college grad struggling to find motivation. He bought a piece of property with a rocky hill on it and built a residence at the highest point. In 1959, folks in the community took notice, and a short while later he was giving $0.25 tours. By the 1970’s, Jordan was clearing $100K monthly and investing every dime back into ever-growing cathedral. House on the Rock is a one-of-a-kind museum with collections and creations that blow the mind.
Noah’s Ark is the largest waterpark in the USA. The park features two wave pools, a fantastic water coaster (Black Anaconda), two lazy rivers, an assortment of water thrill rides (Scorpions Tail, Time Warp), and countless waterslides. Imagine the best waterpark you’ve ever witnessed and add about 20% more rides. That’s Noah’s Ark. We recommend buying tickets online to avoid the gouging at the gate.
Few, if any, architects have reached the level of renown achieved by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed more than 1,000 homes, offices, and other structures over the course of his 70-year career. His most notable works are: Falling Water, the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, the Marin County Civic Center, and his Taliesin and Taliesin West residences. Taliesin, his childhood home-turned-architect school, is located in Spring Green, WI.
If you would like to learn more about Incredible Things to Do in the State of Wisconsin, check out our recent article!
Devil’s Lake is the most visited state park in the state of Wisconsin. Not only is this the perfect summertime retreat to put the boat in the water, but the hiking all around the lake is fantastic. Treat yourself to breathtaking vistas and rock formations (like the above Devil’s Doorway), as you ascend and descend the trails circumnavigating the lake.
One of the best things to do in Wisconsin is to take a boat ride on the Wisconsin River through the Dells. The Dells is a stunning gorge carved out by ancient glaciers in middle-Wisconsin. Dells Boat Tours have been giving tours on the river for decades. Tours run from mid-March to mid-November. You can choose between the upper and lower Dells — the upper includes a hike into Witch’s Gulch, a highlight.
Wisconsin’s preeminent botanical garden is located in Madison. At Olbrich Botanical Gardens you can stroll through 16 acres of outdoor display gardens and an indoor, tropical conservatory. One of the outdoor garden highlights is the above pictured Thai Pavilion. Other highlights include: The Rose Garden, Perennial Garden, Sunken Garden, Herb Garden, and Tower Garden.
On August 4, 1939, workers from a limestone quarry blasted into the underground caverns. Cave of the Mounds is less than 50′ deep and 1/3 of a mile long, which means it doesn’t take long to see it. What makes this one of the best things to do in Wisconsin Dells is there are no barriers separating you from the ornamental features of the cave. Get as close as you like to the stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, and cave bacon — very few caves allow this.
Between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells is Mirror Lake State Park, a 2200 acre park with a lake and cliffside hiking trails. The famous Ishnala Supper Club is a lodge-style, fine-dining restaurant nestled in the trees above an intimate lakeside setting. A well-established institution in the state of Wisconsin, Ishnala is popular and forms a line long enough to fill every table in the restaurant before opening.
Another incredible Wisconsin location is Door County. Click the link to discover your next new favorite place!
For 50+ years, the Wisconsin Deer Park has offered families and children of all ages the unique opportunity to explore, enjoy and feed over 100 deer and other wildlife. Feed the deer by hand, take photos to your heart’s content, pet the animals, and interact with the natural world in a way that you never thought possible.
The town of Wisconsin Dells is a tourist trap. The litmus test? They have a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. They also have ghost tours, escape rooms, axe throwing, mediocre science museums, and enough cheesy restaurants to fill Witch’s Gorge. In addition to these schleppy excursions the town has is a lovely walk along the river that gives a preview of the Dells Boat Tour. If you insist on walking through the town and burning some dollars, we think Wizard Quest is worthwhile.
Founded in Baraboo, WI, in 1884, the Ringling family of circus owners and performers became synonymous with the American circus, building the largest and most famous circus in the world by the 1930’s. The Al. Ringling Theatre, AKA, America’s Prettiest Playhouse, is a performing arts center providing culture, entertainment and education in a historic renovated theatre.
Wisconsin Dells is one of those towns where fanfare is aimed like a laser at the touring fodder. These types of places can be shameful, where every business is reaching for your wallet. While they provide modicum of merry in the moment, the way home is filled with resentment.
We never felt ashamed of ourselves in the Dells. The hustle stopped short of insult — the town knew where to draw the line. In spite of the schleppy nature of the town, the strip is home to a few noteworthy things. Even more important is, the best attractions are found outside of town in the surrounding areas.
You cannot go wrong spending your day at Noah’s Ark, the House on the Rock, or taking a riverboat tour. There are many things to do in the Wisconsin Dells and we recommend the best of them.
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