Have you ever been to Wisconsin Dells? Have you ever experienced the madness? We have. Several times. It’s chaotic. It’s quirky. It’s touristy. It’s loud, hot, busy, fun, exciting, expensive, visually assaulting and arresting at the same time. You want it, it’s there. And it’s all set in a beautiful natural and scenic bluff country town along the Wisconsin River. Quaint reminders of simpler times remain, now completely dwarfed by gargantuan waterparks and rollercoasters. This week, I thought I’d do it a little differently. Instead of a broad description of the experience and highlights, I’m going through the entire cacophony of sight and noise that is the “Dells”, A through Z.
A is for Attractions. Every type you can think of. If you’ve been, then you know. But if not, this list will break down what you can expect. But just know ahead of time that you’ll never make it out here unscathed. Sure, the waterparks are the biggest draw, but you are guaranteed to see things you’ve never seen before. They are crammed into every nook and cranny possible. Good luck walking 5 feet downtown without the kids wanting to spend money on something!
B is for Beer. Wisconsin is a major player in the nation’s beer game, with big hitters like Miller, Pabst, and Spotted Cow coming from the state. But the town of Wisconsin Dells is rife with pubs, bars, and breweries. Trust me, you’ll be glad after a long day of stimulation. Sprecher, Port Huron Brewing, and Wisconsin Dells Brewing are all here (we liked Dells Brewing the best), and nearly every restaurant and resort in town offers a place for exhausted parents, bachelor/bachelorette party groups, and craft beer geeks to have a cold one.
C is for Cheese. Wisconsin is the nation’s second-largest cheese producer after California, so it’s no surprise that Wisconsin Dells features several cheese shops. The popular Market Square Cheese Shop features one of Wisconsin’s common mascots, the mouse with a cheese triangle out front, and two restaurants that specialize in Mac and Cheese can be found in town.
D is for Duckboats. You know, those amphibious open-air bus things that tourists cram into to drive around town and then right onto the water? Yeah, they’re here. One company alone has 90 of them in their fleet. And they actually are a neat experience as they whisk you away down a rocky gorge out onto the Wisconsin River, with its steep sandstone outcrops and scenic waterways. They’re fun, once.
E is for Excursions. There are no shortage of day-trips to fill your week in Wisconsin Dells, and you won’t have to search long for one that suits your interests. Popular excursions include regular and duck boat tours along the Wisconsin River, horseback rides, jet boat adventures, trolley tours, fishing expeditions, canoe and kayak rentals, and dinner cruises to name a few.
F is for Flamingo. The Flamingo Motel, along a busy strip of waterparks, restaurants and other tourist traps in the central area of the Dells is one of the most iconic resorts in town. It’s been there since the early days and has morphed from a small, single parcel motel to a multi-building resort complex with its own small pools and access to nearby Noah’s Ark Waterpark.
G is for Golf. There are plenty of golf courses in the area. Trappers Turn, Coldwater Canyon, and Spring Brook are a few, and the courses in the area range from family-friendly to championship-style. But the Dells is far more known for mini golf. Putt-putt golf. Pirate’s Cove is the largest and best-known, with its pirate ships, waterfalls, and other pirate lore throughout. But there are dozens of other courses around town.
H is for Hiking. Believe it or not, some spectacular hiking can be found in the Wisconsin Dells area. Mirror Lake State Park has some beautiful, easy hikes past sandstone outcrops along the lake, and Devils Lake State Park features more challenging hikes up steep bluffs to landmarks like Balanced Rock and the Devil’s Doorway.
I is for Indian. Wisconsin Dells has a lot of history dating back to the Winnebago Tribe days, and many businesses in town pay homage to this history. You’ll find places like the Indian Trail Motel, the Blackhawk Motel, Big Chief Go Karts, and the Winnebago gift shop, selling things like moccasins and dreamcatchers.
J is for Jellystone. There are over 3,200 campsites in and around Wisconsin Dells, ranging from primitive state park sites to the most luxurious RV resorts in the state. But the most iconic campground is the historic Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Campground and Resort. The beautiful acreage along Mirror Lake features Yogi Bear-themed activities and all levels of lodging.
K is for Kalihari. The Kalihari Resort, the Dell’s second largest, is one of three Kalihari Resorts in the US. The complex is a staggering 230,000 square feet, with an African Safari theme. Besides one of the largest indoor waterparks in the world, the Kalihari complex features a movie theater, a bowling alley, a six-story ferris wheel, rock climbing walls, colossal waterslides, and everything else you’d expect. It’s massive.
L is for Lumberjacks. The Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty features a logging theme, replete with Bunyan and Babe statues and likenesses out front and inside alike. Grab a lumberjack breakfast or hit the buffett before checking out a real lumberjack show, featuring axemen battling it out in crosscutting competitions, log rolling, and chainsaw carving.
M is for Motels. Part of the fun of experiencing the Dells is all the old-school motels. You know the type. Vintage neon sign, U-shaped building with rooms you drive right up to. Fenced-off pool area in the middle of the parking lot, maybe a small waterslide. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, this was the pinnacle of a kid’s summer vacation. Now, you’ll earn their ire if you bring them there instead of one of the giant waterparks around town.
N is for Nig’s Bar. Smack dab in the middle of the old historic part of town is a classic dive bar, set inside an old bank building, called Nig’s. A retro sign from the 60’s beckons thirsty vacationers to come in and “Have a Swig with Nig,” named after Nigel, who opened the bar all those years ago. It hasn’t changed much and probably won’t anytime soon.
O is for Oddities. And not just the roadside kind that HighwayHighlights.com loves (although there are plenty of those too). Wisconsin Dells is home to a great deal of plain old oddball things. Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn’t. You’ll see street performers, bizarre buildings, goofy slogans, and the best people watching anywhere on earth.
P is for Poseidon. Mount Olympus, one of the biggest hitters in the Dells’ Waterpark game features a Greek Mythology theme. There’s a giant Trojan Horse, rollercoasters named after Greek figures Hades, Cyclops, and Zeus, and the best wave pool in town, Poseidon’s Rage. A nine-foot wave pounds out every five minutes, with many smaller undulations following, and people love it.
Q is for Quirky. There is a lot of “quirk” here. Weird, bizarre, fun, and offbeat. Some examples include the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, Mr. Marvel’s Wondertorium, Wizard Quest, and the mysterious Upside-down White House.
R is for Roadside Attractions. The Dells is home to probably the largest concentration of fiberglass statues in America, most of which came from nearby F.A.S.T. Corporation in Sparta, WI. You’ll find mice, frogs, dinosaurs, moose, birds, fish, and everything in between. Almost every business has one.
S is for Shopping. The original downtown area of Wisconsin Dells is packed to the gills with things to spend your money on. You’ll find dozens of t-shirt/souvenir shops, candy stores, old-timey photo booths, rocks, jewelry, and any other trinket you could possibly desire. Bring lots of cash.
T is for Tommy Bartlett Water Show. Dating back to 1952, the nightly water spectacle on Lake Delton is a variety show featuring jet ski/jet boat tricksters, daredevil stunt artists, acrobatics and the iconic waterski-team pyramid. It’s another one of those things you should at least check out once.
U is for Us. As in you, me, us, them, everyone. All are welcome here. There’s no dress code. All walks of life exist here. Just like any other major US landmark or attraction, you’ll hear different languages and accents, see every age group there is, meet young seasonal workers from different countries at the shops and shows, encounter friendly and unfriendly faces, every shape and size. It’s one of the great cross-sections of humanity. It’s the American Midwest at its finest, for better or worse.
V is for Variety. As in, there hardly exists a place in the US with a bigger variety of ways to spend money. You can gamble at a casino, drop coin at a gentlemens club, ride go carts, play mini golf, shop, tour, enjoy theme parks, museums, science exploratoriums, boat tours, haunted houses and laser tag. You can camp, hike, stay at a B&B, hit one of the many breweries and wineries, hang glide, try an escape room, tour Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, feed alligators, pet deer, play video games at VR parks, become a wizard, survive a zombie outbreak, throw axes, go on a guided fishing trip, have a spa day, pan for gold, kayak, go bowling, create custom-made signs, hell, you can even get married. If you’re bored here, it’s your own fault.
W is for Water. There are over 16 million gallons of water inside Wisconsin Dells’ waterparks. W is also for Waterslides, Wave Pools, Wisconsin River, and Wilderness Resort, the town’s largest. It’s the waterpark capital of America. They’re everywhere. Bring your swimsuit and sunblock, ride the hurricane or the lazy river. That’s what it’s there for.
X is for “Xtra.” As in extra cash. Nothing is cheap here. You will underestimate the amount you’ll spend. I can guarantee that. Bring plenty.
Y is for Youngsters. The Dells is aimed at kids, much like Disneyworld, Six Flags, or Valleyfair. They are omnipresent, as expected, so if that’s not your thing, maybe try Branson or Vegas. But, if you’re looking for a fun family vacation, this is it.
Z is for Ziplining. The Bigfoot Ziplining Tours are one of the more popular attractions in the Dells. You’ll also find several other outfitters who specialize in ziplining and ropes courses as well, but the Bigfoot theme sets this one apart. Even the Wilderness Resort has its own zipline course. Give it a go!
So there you have it. This all takes place within the confines of Wisconsin Dells/Lake Delton, a town of only about 6,000 people. It goes year-round (indoor waterparks bring in visitors through all seasons), and a nearby ski area offers more winter fun. This place has so much to do it will make your head spin almost as fast as your wallet empties. And if all this isn’t enough, nearby Baraboo has some quirky things to do too.