Whether you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping adventure, relaxation, history, natural attractions, entertainment, delicious food or just an escape from the ordinary, you’ll find it when you visit the Wisconsin Dells. This self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World also boasts the Wisconsin River, sandstone rock formations, museums and plenty of other entertaining sights and attractions to fill a vacation with happy and exciting memories. “The Dells” is a convenient drive from three major Midwest hubs: one hour from Madison, less than two hours from Milwaukee and three hours from Chicago.
Where to Vacation in Wisconsin? The Delightful Dells
What to Do
Soak In the History
Wisconsin Dells gained attention as a tourist destination in the late 1800s, thanks in part to photographer H.H. Bennett, who drew sightseers with his images of the area’s Wisconsin River and its striking sandstone formations. Today, visitors can explore this history in downtown Wisconsin Dells at the H.H. Bennett Studio, located on Broadway near the corner of River Road. Drive past the studio, take a right on River and another right on Wisconsin Avenue where you can park for free. Then walk over to learn about Bennett’s innovative photography techniques, his extensive photos of the Ho-Chunk tribe and more.
See the City by Water
Visitors who want to capture their own photos of the Dells can do so aboard one of several river cruises, such as Dells Boat Tours, which depart from the dock one block west of the H.H. Bennett Studio. A trip on the Upper Dells portion of the river flows through Witches Gulch, a narrow passageway between the rocks, and along to the base of Stand Rock. For a more pulse-pounding option, try a WildThing Jet Boat Tour, which speeds through the river canyon and whirls passengers around on a dizzying 11-mile excursion.
Make a Splash
The Wisconsin Dells boasts the world’s largest concentration of waterparks, so no trip would be complete without exploring at least one. Head to Noah’s Ark Waterpark, the country’s biggest, which covers 70 acres and features a more than quarter-mile-long waterslide/rollercoaster combo, two slides with near-vertical plunges, the world’s largest bowl ride and tons of other attractions to keep you cool.
Enjoy Entertaining Sights and Shows
Drive 13 miles south via County Road A to neighboring Baraboo to visit Circus World, located at the original winter headquarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus. Explore exhibits and daily performances ranging from a collection of more than 200 magnificently restored circus wagons to live tiger shows to a Big Top Circus featuring mesmerizing aerialists and hilarious clowns.
For a taste of the region’s logging history, try the Dells Lumberjack Show, which pits rugged men against each other in exciting events like log rolling, speed climbing and axe throwing.
At night, check out one of the many live entertainment shows in the area, such as the iconic Tommy Bartlett Show two miles south of Wisconsin Dells in Lake Delton. Now in its 64th season, this event not only spotlights its stunt team of water-skiers, but also includes comedians, jugglers, motorcycle stuntmen and a balancing act.
Where to Eat
In west Wisconsin Dells, start off your day family-style at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, where waiters in red plaid serve enough all-you-can-eat breakfast to satiate hungry lumberjacks and vacationers alike. For lunch, dig into a family favorite like Mama’s Mac at MACS Macaroni and Cheese Shop in either downtown Wisconsin Dells or neighboring Lake Delton.
Since the 1930s, supper clubs have been popular destinations in the northern Midwest for drinks, dinner and entertainment. Despite being categorized as a “club,” travelers needn’t worry about getting a table; these typically family-owned restaurants are not exclusive, but welcoming. Today, Wisconsin boasts 350 supper clubs, including the long-established House of Embers Supper Club, where the hickory-smoked ribs take center stage.
If you prefer "casual fine dining," try Del-Bar, a Wisconsin Dells staple since the late 1930s. Del-Bar features exceptional char-broiled steaks and an array of Wisconsin craft beers on tap. Both establishments are centrally located on Wisconsin Dells Parkway.
Where to Stay
If you’re taking an adults-only trip, consider lodging at Sundara Inn and Spa on the southeastern side of Lake Delton. Its intimate atmosphere and award-winning range of spa services make for a luxurious getaway with a secluded vibe that belies its location one mile from the Wisconsin Dells Parkway.
Families can get great deals by staying at one of the waterpark resorts, such as Mt. Olympus Water Park and Theme Park Resort on the Wisconsin Dells Parkway, where park passes are included with accommodations. Mt. Olympus also offers camping and “glamping” experiences, with tent sites, cabins and even treehouses in addition to plush hotel rooms.
Where to Take a Day Trip
To get away from the crowds, spend a day or two at Elkhart Lake, a scenic two-hour drive east of Wisconsin Dells via State Highway 33 East and U.S. Highway 151 North.
This historic resort town offers a quiet alternative to the excitement of the Dells, with its crystal-clear lake, wine tastings, theater performances, beaches and parks. However, it's not too quiet. The town hosted road races on the main roads during the 1950s and now pays homage to that history with Road America, an active track serving as the nation’s preeminent permanent road course ranked one of the top racing circuits in the world.