Located about 55 miles north of Madison, the city of Wisconsin Dells is known as the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” but visitors will find a bevy of other attractions to occupy their time, from boat tours of the scenic Wisconsin River to historical landmarks and museums. The term “dells” is derived from the name that 18th-century French explorers gave the area on the earliest maps; it refers to the unique gorges with rock formations sculpted by glacial meltwater that can only be found in a handful of places in the world — one of which is along the Wisconsin River.
A bustling downtown district — lined with independently owned shops, restaurants, motels and ice cream shops near the riverfront — is surrounded by a lush, rugged countryside that first caught the eye of tourists in the late 1800s. The city today still thrives on a burgeoning tourism industry. With a little something to pique the interest of everyone in the family, from thrill-seekers to nature lovers and everything in between, Wisconsin Dells is every bit as endearing as it is entertaining. This guide offers just a taste of the top things to do in one of the Badger State’s most memorable vacation destinations.
Dells Scenic River Walk
A riverfront stroll along this quarter-mile paved walkway in the downtown district is a must-do for a glimpse of the stunning sandstone bluffs that give Wisconsin Dells its name. The Dells Scenic River Walk is free and open year-round. Visitors recommend coming here to take family photos, thanks to the lovely scenery. Although the path is short, it features several benches, game tables and interpretive signs explaining tidbits about the area’s history, culture and geology to entertain you along the way. During the winter holiday season a massive tree adorned with strands of lights charms travelers; accompanying the Tree of Light are 70 additional holiday trees lining the trail.
This is also a nice place to watch the tour boats drift by on the river while you enjoy an ice cream cone. You could also grab a burger or beverage at the River Walk Pub, located at the south end of the trail, which offers an outdoor beer garden patio. Continue your river-themed experience at The Vue, a boutique hotel boasting waterfront views from the rooms, hot tub, outdoor deck and new boat dock.
Address: 100 Block Broadway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Downtown Wisconsin Dells
Beyond the river walk, downtown Wisconsin Dells is a destination for shops, restaurants, arcades and museums. The Original Wisconsin Ducks tours begin here and families may want to check out Wizard Quest, where kids and adults can battle the wizard and dragon in a series of competitions. You can grab some fudge at Wisconsin Dairyland Fudge or find a sweet treat at Goody Goody Gumdrop, offering more than 1,000 different kinds of candy. What’s more, this downtown area boasts the world’s only root beer museum, an old-fashioned portrait shop, breweries, bowling at the Chalet Lanes & Lounge, ax throwing and a wedding chapel.
Great Wolf Lodge Water Park
The main attraction at the flagship location of this popular wilderness-themed resort is the 76,000-square-foot indoor water park, which operates at a balmy 84 degrees year-round. The massive aquatic complex houses colorful waterslides, heated swimming pools, a wave pool, hot tubs (including one for adults only), a lazy river and much more. Here you’ll find one of the top-rated waterslides in Wisconsin Dells: The Howlin’ Tornado, the world’s first enclosed ride of its kind, drops groups of daring souls 53 feet and swirls them around a giant funnel. When it gets warm enough, Great Wolf Lodge opens the Raccoon Lagoon outdoor water playground for kids, surrounded by sun loungers.
An overnight stay at the 436-room lodge includes complimentary access to the water park. Other on-site activities at this Great Wolf Lodge location include a live-action MagiQuest experience, Build-A-Bear Workshop and arcade games, for which additional fees apply. Travelers call this resort a great place for younger kids but say the rides can be on the small side for teenagers.
Address: 1400 Great Wolf Drive, Baraboo, WI 53913
[See: The Top Wisconsin Dells Resorts.]
H.H. Bennett Studio & Museum
Step into the historic studio of Henry Hamilton Bennett, a photographer who helped put Wisconsin Dells on the map for tourists with his landscape images promoting the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Built in 1875, his storefront and studio — the oldest operating business in town — are now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, allowing visitors to take a step back in time and learn about Bennett’s life and photography. Historical exhibits also span the Indigenous people of the Ho-Chunk Nation who once lived where the H.H. Bennett Studio stands and the area’s development into one of the first tourist destinations. The museum houses artifacts such as cameras and other equipment, as well as original photography from Bennett, including his iconic stop-action shot of his son jumping between two towering rock formations in 1886.
Although visitors say this attraction is a great place to learn about the history and culture of the region, making it one of the top things to do in Wisconsin Dells for adults, some caution it might not hold as much interest for young kids. Patrons who want a unique souvenir can sign up to have an old-fashioned tintype portrait “struck” using the wet plate method of Bennett’s time. Note that the H.H. Bennett Studio is a seasonal attraction, typically open from late May through the end of October and closed for the offseason. For accommodations nearby, the White Rose Hotel offers Victorian charm just two blocks from the museum.
Address: 215 Broadway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Some visitors claim there isn’t a bad seat in the house at this state-of-the-art dinner theater that provides one of the top evening entertainment options in the area. Owners Anthony and Joseph Tamaska have more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry, including producing one of Chicago’s most successful interactive shows, “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.” They chose Wisconsin Dells as their latest theater endeavor after spending memorable summers there during childhood. The facility hosts a range of musical tributes (think Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac and Dolly Parton), comedians and musicals that promise fun for the whole family, especially if you catch a show amid the winter holiday season. Those who purchase the “Dinner & Show” admission will be served a three-course meal prior to showtime, though some recent patrons felt the food was subpar; tickets for the show only are also available. Stay at La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Wisconsin Dells, only a mile away from Palace Theater, for a 10% discount on tickets.
Address: 564 Wisconsin Dells Parkway S., Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Tommy Bartlett Exploratory
What started in the mid-20th century as a water-ski show on Lake Delton is now a hands-on science center boasting more than 175 exhibits to pique the curiosity of visitors young and old. This iconic institution has several main attractions, from the Giant Lever, designed to enable patrons of any size to lift a 5,000-pound vehicle, to the High Wire SkyCycle, a circus-style bike ride across a tightrope. The museum is also home to an authentic Russian space station core module — one of just three ever made, though not the one in orbit from 1986 to 2001 — which guests can walk through to experience a day in space life. While travelers agree the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory is a fun place for all ages to spend a few hours, some admit the facility feels a little outdated. The museum is open year-round, but hours fluctuate seasonally, and the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Wisconsin Dells is conveniently located across the street.
Address: 560 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Open November through March for winter activities like downhill skiing and snow tubing, this family-friendly resort is located about 20 miles southeast of Wisconsin Dells. A visit to Cascade Mountain, considered one of the country’s best small ski areas, is a top thing to do during the colder months. Lift tickets for children 12 and younger are free with the purchase of an adult pass, and lesson options range from personalized instruction for the whole family to a group lesson just for kids, giving adults a couple hours to ski on their own.
Guests are impressed by the quality and variety of runs at this small ski hill, where almost a dozen chair lifts offer access to 48 trails for all skill levels, as well as terrain parks to get your adrenaline pumping. Visitors say everyone will also get a kick out of zooming down the snow tubing hills or taking advantage of the opportunity for night skiing during extended hours on holidays. Cascade has six food and drink locations, but travelers warn the items can be limited and pricey. For a quick commute to first chair, the Days Inn by Wyndham Portage hotel is just 4 miles south of the resort.
Address: W10441 Cascade Mountain Road, Portage, WI 53901
Noah’s Ark Waterpark
More than 50 waterslides as well as pools and playgrounds make up this sprawling aquatic complex, situated on 70 acres near the shores of Lake Delton, less than 3 miles south of downtown Dells. Noah’s Ark Waterpark has activities for every age, from towering slides to shallow splash pads, with themed sections such as the Safari Jungle Area. Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss a plunge down the Point of No Return body slide, which plummets 10 stories in five seconds.
Guests rave about the activity options, especially the wave pools. Adults can also relax with a leisurely float down two lazy rivers or by lounging in a cabana with a cocktail from the Kahuna Bar. If you get waterlogged, check out the 4D theater. Book a stay at one of the Noah’s Ark partner hotels, like the Wingate by Wyndham Wisconsin Dells Waterpark, for free admission to the park. This seasonal attraction is open roughly from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Address: 1410 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Wisconsin Deer Park
Animal lovers of all ages adore this top attraction for its endearing encounters with wildlife and promise of serenity about a mile from downtown. Guests flock to the Wisconsin Deer Park from mid-April through October to feed, pet, mingle or take photos with more than 100 animals, including three species of deer, elk, bison, goats, lemurs, llamas, emus and more. Visitors are encouraged to fill their pockets with specialized deer feed — which can be purchased at the gift shop or at stations throughout — before setting out for a stroll on the scenic trails around the 40-acre property.
The seasons bring different delightful experiences, such as majestic antlers on bucks in late summer and fawn births in late spring. Autumn showcases a beautiful background of colorful foliage before the animals are moved to a secluded area of the park to rest during the winter closure. Continue your eco-adventure with an overnight stay at the Natura Treescape Resort, located just across the road, featuring an outdoor lagoon water park.
Address: 400 County Road A, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Original Wisconsin Ducks
This classic tour operator has been guiding folks around some of the top sightseeing spots in the Dells since 1946 in unique all-terrain vehicles. This type of amphibious six-wheeled truck was first invented during World War II with the code name “DUKW” — later simplified to “duck” — to transport troops and supplies by both land and sea. Today duck boats make for a great tourist outing, especially on a trip to Wisconsin Dells.
During the one-hour tour with Original Wisconsin Ducks, guests will be shuttled along an exclusive network of trails through a forest of ferns, down the Wisconsin River, up Dell Creek and over a dam into Lake Delton. Along the way the drivers — who travelers consistently commend for being funny, friendly and knowledgeable — point out numerous notable landmarks such as Pulpit Rock, an impressive sandstone formation, and Dawn Manor, a historic Civil War-era house. The season for duck tours typically runs from mid-March through mid-November. The Hilton Garden Inn Wisconsin Dells, located next to the popular restaurant The Del-Bar, is about a mile south of the tour office.
Address: 1890 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
This outpost of the Ripley’s franchise empire — which started in 1918 as a newspaper cartoon — is a self-described “odditorium” with three floors of exhibits and illusions to challenge the imagination. Throughout the dimly lit facility (which travelers warn may not be fully accessible for wheelchairs or strollers), patrons are posed with a variety of scenarios and objects designed to make you question whether things really are as they seem. Keep your eyes peeled for the hidden rooms and buttons in disguise that, when pressed, reveal more oddities along the route through the 11 galleries. As one of more than 100 Ripley’s attractions around the world, this eclectic funhouse is one of the most unique indoor attractions in Wisconsin Dells.
Address: 115 Broadway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Visitors appreciate being able to find something for everyone at this theme park behemoth. The Dells location of Kalahari Resorts boasts both indoor and outdoor water park areas, plus the Tom Foolerys Adventure Park on dry land, which includes but is not limited to: a bowling alley, a climbing wall, an indoor zip line, virtual reality experiences, escape rooms, a carousel and arcade games.
The indoor water park features 125,000 square feet of rides, slides, pools and playgrounds for every age group. If speeding down a slippery tube isn’t your thing, take a shot at the Crocodile Cove activity pool or sign up for a lesson on the Flowrider surf simulator. Adults may want to lounge and mingle at the Mud Hut Swim-Up Bar or the numerous hot tubs and spas tucked throughout the complex. The outdoor water park, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, offers even more slides and recreation such as a water tree fort. Overnight guests of the accompanying resort receive complimentary access to the water parks, plus free towel rentals; adventure park admission costs extra. Day passes to each outlet are also sold individually.
Address: 1305 Kalahari Drive, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Timbavati Wildlife Park
More than 400 animals from all over the globe are housed in this 25-acre zoological attraction located about a mile south of downtown and across the street from the Wisconsin Deer Park. Guests can observe and interact with more than 75 species, from African lions and penguins to Bengal tigers and red pandas. Visitors fondly recount personable animal encounters such as feeding giraffes and kangaroos or riding a camel. Timbavati Wildlife Park recommends allowing three to five hours to thoroughly explore everything it has to offer, including the Safari Train Ride, which passes through sprawling meadows with rhinos, ostriches and antelope. Another traveler favorite is visiting the on-site nursery, where guests can watch park staff care for a variety of baby animals.
To avoid ticket fees, you may opt for a stay at hotel partners such as the Natura Treescape Resort and The Vue to get free admission. Keep in mind that the train rides cost extra on top of park admission, although combination deals are also available. For a behind-the-scenes experience with the animals at Timbavati, up to five people can participate in a 1.5-hour private guided tour, as long as you schedule it in advance.
Address: 2220 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Dells Boat Tours
This long-running tour operator manages a fleet of 17 steel ferries that parade visitors up and down the Wisconsin River, giving them an up-close view of the unique rock formations. The tours run from mid-April to early November and consist of two main options, whether you want to see the scenic views of the Upper Dells (the area above the Kilbourn Dam) or landmarks of the Lower Dells (below the dam). The two-hour Upper Dells tour offers entry into Witches Gulch, a visitor-favorite narrow canyon hike only accessible by boat, as well as Stand Rock, where you can see a trained dog make the cliff leap from H.H. Bennett’s famous photo. The Lower Dells tour, which lasts about an hour, delves into the history of the river, including stories about the area’s Indigenous inhabitants, while you float alongside picturesque cliffs. If you visit between late May and mid-September, you can also choose to embark on a romantic Sunset Dinner Cruise, featuring an open bar and live music, as well as a stroll through Witches Gulch.
Taking a boat tour is the only way to access this popular natural attraction, which is tucked into a narrow slot canyon on the Wisconsin River. According to a Native American origin myth, while the river bed was formed by a giant serpent, this gorge was carved by a smaller serpent fleeing its path. Local legend states that in the 1800s the photographer H.H. Bennett named Witches Gulch, perhaps due to the curious rock formations or the eerie fog that collects in the crevasse; he also built a walkway for tourists at this spot. Today a 2-mile loop trail zig-zags on a wooden boardwalk through the canyon, which is so narrow you can touch both walls at once in certain spots. This short, scenic walk takes you along steep sandstone walls covered in moss through a heavily wooded area, where towering trees seem to grow right out of the rock. Despite the spooky name, visitors say the trail is easy and peaceful with beautiful views of the river. The Ghost Boat offers a “haunted” tour of the canyon after dark to reveal spooky stories about the area — but note it’s not recommended for young children.
Chula Vista Resort
This comprehensive family-friendly resort spans more than 200,000 square feet, showcasing both indoor and outdoor waterslides and rides near the banks of the Wisconsin River’s Upper Dells region. Guests say the water parks at Chula Vista Resort can keep kids of all ages entertained, with plenty of activity options for everyone from toddlers to teenagers. Open year-round, the Lost Rios indoor water park features kiddie play areas and slides, a lazy river, and rapid races for older kids to challenge their friends over and over again, all outfitted with jungle decor for a truly tropical atmosphere. In the summertime, guests will discover even more thrilling activities at the outdoor Adventure Lagoon, including a wave pool and plummeting 80-foot drops. Visitors can purchase day passes to access the facility on weekends or get complimentary entry any day of the week by booking a stay at the accompanying hotel, though some past patrons say the Chula Vista rooms could use updating.
Address: 1000 Chula Vista Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Circus World Museum
Located 13 miles south of Wisconsin Dells in the neighboring town of Baraboo, this museum dedicated to circus history and culture is ideal for circus fanatics, families with young children and those who are simply looking for a unique way to spend a few entertaining hours. From 1884 to 1918 this National Historic Site was originally the winter home of the Ringling Bros. circus production and now houses seven buildings of exhibits and memorabilia. While Circus World is open from March through September for self-guided visits, the best time to visit is in summer, when the facility boasts a full daily schedule of events including guided circus wagon tours, clown costuming and traditional circus performances with live animals. Elephant and pony rides are also offered at select times in this period from May through August. Visitors rave about the performers and animals, adding that the historic carousel should not be missed and the exhibits are full of interesting information.
Address: 550 Water St., Baraboo, WI 53913
This mega-resort set on 600 acres flaunts a mind-boggling multitude of aquatic attractions to explore. Wilderness Resort’s wide variety of indoor and outdoor water parks are all only accessible to overnight guests of the on-site lodging properties. Visitors can enjoy the massive indoor wave pool at the Wild WaterDome, whose glass ceiling provides ample natural light for sunbathing. An enclosed skywalk offers a shortcut for dripping guests to move into the Klondike Kavern park, where they’ll find a 400-foot lazy river, a family raft ride called The Hurricane and the Claim Jumper Challenge, a unique combination of waterslide and video game. Those are just some of the many water park offerings, though the outdoor attractions are only open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Areas geared toward adults are also available at the parks, with amenities like a swim-up cocktail bar or indoor-outdoor hot tub. Landlubbers won’t be bored, either, thanks to plenty of other activities to choose from: laser tag, a zip line, mini golf, go karts, escape rooms and much, much more. Many visitors return to Wilderness Resort year after year for the variety of activities and quality of service, suggesting at least three days here to soak it all in — or even a full week.
Address: 511 E. Adams St., Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
One of the main geographical features of the Wisconsin Dells region is the 249-acre Lake Delton, which offers tons of outdoor activities like fishing, boating and paddling. The village of Lake Delton has several quaint public parks, and for access to this lake you’ll want to head to the Lake Delton Public Beach, a small but scenic part of the southwest shoreline with restrooms and picnic amenities, or the public boat ramp a little more than a mile further south. Near the boat launch is Dells Watersports, where you can rent ski boats, kayaks, WaveRunners, paddleboards and more for a day of fun in the sun. The Priegel Pier for fishing sits on the north end of the lake adjacent to Kaminski Park; lucky anglers will find a variety of fish species under the water’s surface, including largemouth bass, walleye and catfish.
Visitors and locals alike also adore this village’s Newport Park, located just north of the lake along the Wisconsin River and Dell Creek, for its lovely views and relaxing atmosphere. Newport Park is equipped with picnic tables and shade, as well as its own boat launch and fishing pier, but the undertow in this section of the river can make it dangerous for swimming. Also note that dogs are not allowed in any public parks in the village. Just half a mile from Lake Delton’s public beach, Delton Grand Resort & Spa provides an elegant respite overlooking the lake after a long day of recreating.
Dine at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty
For a classic family-style breakfast, lunch or dinner, Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty is the destination. Known for its homemade buttermilk doughnuts, this cabin-themed restaurant has been a favorite in the area for more than 60 years. Recent guests say the food is good and plentiful, service is fast and the atmosphere is fun.
Address: 411 State Highway 13 S., Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Mirror Lake State Park
Granting access to a more serene side of the Dells, this 2,200-acre oasis is known for its natural beauty and quiet surroundings. The park is an outdoors paradise with terrain for year-round activities from skiing and snowshoeing to hunting and hiking. Paddlers flock here to float the cliff-walled waters of the lake, aptly named for its famously calm surface. The park maintains more than 19 miles of hiking trails and 9 miles of mountain biking trails, most of which close to hikers and cyclists in the winter for skiing or maintenance. Visitors recommend the 2-mile Ishnala Trail on the north end of the park for an easy trek that features beautiful views of the lake as you cross the Mirror Lake Gorge via a 150-foot bridge to connect to the Echo Rock Trail.
Also on the northern side of the park is the Mirror Lake Pine Oak Forest, a designated state natural area featuring lush habitat for bird-watching, with species such as the ruffed grouse, pileated woodpecker, barred owl, pine warbler and many others. Tent and RV campsites are available to reserve for an additional fee on top of daily vehicle admission, or you can spend the night at the Seth Peterson Cottage, the first Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure in the world offered for rental occupancy.
Riverside and Great Northern Railway
Stop here to take a scenic steam train ride through the Wisconsin countryside and along the river on an authentic 15-inch gauge railroad. Located about 2 miles north of downtown Dells, this living museum houses actual features of the original railyard, including a preserved 30-foot turntable and boiler shops from a bygone era. Visitors applaud the friendly volunteers and old-fashioned feel of the experience.
The Riverside and Great Northern Railway is open from May through October, with more limited availability before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. On weekends in the fall, families gather to experience the museum’s popular pumpkin trains, on which children get a gourd to take home after their ride. An on-site snack shack sells refreshments, or you can pack a picnic to further enjoy the serene setting before or after your ride. The nearby Sherwood Forest Campground & RV Park offers an equally wholesome experience, with RV sites and cabins for rent, as well as a heated pool and splash pad.
Address: N115 County Road N., Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
Enjoy a tasty adventure at the Grateful Shed
This indoor food truck destination promises year-round fun. Offering a taste of the Wisconsin food scene, the Grateful Shed has multiple food trucks serving an array of eats and sweets such as burgers, tacos, milkshakes and more. There’s also a bar serving adult beverages including local drafts, plus a variety of live music by Midwest artists and beyond on scheduled evenings. Recent visitors say the place has a fun atmosphere and mix of food options, but it can be a bit pricey.
Address: 1470 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
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