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Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

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Did You Know … ?

  • More than 2,000 land-to-water vehicles known as Ducks, now used for sightseeing, were used in the Normandy Landing (1944).
  • There are more than 16 million gallons of water in the Dells waterparks.
  • America’s largest outdoor waterpark is Noah’s Ark Waterpark (70 acres, 5 million gallons of water, three miles of waterslides).
  • The International Crane Foundation is the only place in the world where one can see all 15 species of cranes.
  • Wilderness Resort has America’s largest indoor/outdoor waterpark — equal to 12 football fields.

Of bluffs and waterparks

Wisconsin Dells is the name of a town in south central Wisconsin, but it also is the name of a popular tourist area that encompasses a particularly picturesque piece of the Wisconsin River plus another town and a lake, both called Lake Delton. Wisconsin Dells (the area, that is) covers 19.5 square miles and is home to fewer than 6,000 permanent residents.

The region is a top tourist destination for two core reasons — the natural attractions surrounding the river and its famed waterparks.

For more than 150 years, tourists have come to the Dells for the scenery, especially the towering sandstone cliffs that hug the banks of the Wisconsin River here. A local photographer, H.H. Bennett, helped draw attention to the area’s natural appeal by hanging his photos in railroad stations to the south. His most famous shot shows his son leaping from one rock ledge to another.

Today, visitors can see Bennett’s studio — plus spend quite a lot of time ogling steep-walled canyons, whether on horseback or via horse-drawn carriage, whether on a sightseeing boat, a land-to-water vehicle or aboard a jet boat. Tourists are sure to spend time recreating some of Bennett’s photos, too, although not the most famous one.

Waterparks are more recent, but numerous, large and varied enough to earn for Wisconsin Dells the moniker, Waterpark Capital of the World. There are more than a dozen waterparks or sites with water activities. These sites boast more than 200 waterslides, some considerably more challenging than others. The near-vertical Scorpion’s Tail at Noah’s Ark Waterpark is a case in point.

The Dells also offers options for fishing, sometimes in manmade lakes, as well as a wine trail. Developers have added other attractions and activities with choices ranging from golfing and a lumberjack show to a theme park with extreme rollercoasters.

The area’s stock of accommodations is extensive with hotels for most budgets as well as resorts associated with some of the waterparks. For the outdoorsy sort, the area has 19 campgrounds with nearly 3,200 campsites. At the resorts or elsewhere, visitors have access to gaming, supper clubs, Vegas-style entertainment and spa services.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Consider riding one of the extreme rollercoasters at the Mount Olympus Outdoor Theme Park.
  • If an experienced rock climber, enjoy your sport amid the quartzite ranges in Devil’s Lake State Park. While in the park, also hike the east bluff to see Balanced Rock and Devil’s Doorway, a couple of natural oddities.
  • Book the seven-mile, 55-minute roundtrip aboard a restored century-old train operated by the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. Pay extra (and bring protection for your hearing) to be the sole passenger during your trip to ride in the locomotive cab.
  • Sample one or more of the zipline tours on offer in the Dells.
  • Leave the kids at home and head to Noah’s Ark Waterpark for the Black Anaconda, described as America’s most thrilling water coaster, and Scorpion’s Tail, a near-vertical looping waterslide.
  • Decide if it will be parasailing on the Wisconsin River or wakeboarding on Lake Delton.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Look for and pay your respects at the site of the Kingsley Bend Indian Mounds at the side of Highway 16 south of Wisconsin Dells. The mounds are owned and maintained by the Ho-Chunk Indian Nation.
  • Take a winery tour. Include the Wollersheim Winery, which was founded by a Hungarian count in the 1840s and is now a national historic site.
  • Join one of the seasonal guided tours to see examples of all the world’s crane species at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. Hike the facility’s nature trails and shop in the foundation’s gift shop.
  • At Mirror Lake State Park, rent a kayak and make good use of it.
  • Visit the H.H. Bennett Studio museum, the photographer’s original studio in Wisconsin Dells to see how his photographs helped make the Dells famous. Use markers on the floor to test your leaping ability and determine if you could have been the model for the famous shot of his son jumping from one bluff to another.
  • Ride in a horse-drawn carriage through Lost Canyon, a milelong stretch of gorges so narrow the guides have to talk the horses through some passages.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See the Wisconsin River and the sandstone bluffs that flank the water from one of the World War II amphibious vehicles now known as a Duck.
  • Dial down the stress big time with a day of river tubing.
  • Plan a night out at one of the Dells’ classic supper clubs. Gaming and Vegas-style entertainment are available, too.
  • Book the family at one of the resorts with a waterpark, then get your fill — in the best sense — of the waterslides.
  • Attend the Dells Lumberjack Show. Take a sunset dinner cruise on the Wisconsin River.
  • Play golf and take on the challenges of the natural landscapes here. Or, go fishin’ in the Wisconsin River.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau at www.wisdells.com