Wisconsin Dells: Way More Than Just Waterparks
If you’re from Minnesota or have lived in it for any period of time, chances are you’ve heard of Wisconsin Dells—the self-proclaimed “Waterpark Capital of the World.” Though many like to poke fun at our neighbors to the east, this Midwestern region is a very popular destination for a quick and easy getaway. Open year round for both outdoor and expansive indoor waterparks, even the coolest temperatures don’t keep families from the bevy of waterslides, pools and sprayers. But now more than ever, people have been looking to the Dells for much more than just its famous waterparks.
Outdoor Activities Near Wisconsin Dells
If your version of getting outside doesn’t include hundreds of screaming kids and families on waterslides, the Wisconsin Dells area also happens to be home to three state parks, including Devil’s Lake, Rocky Arbor and Mirror Lake. With more than 9,000 acres, Devil’s Lake is the largest state park in Wisconsin. Located southeast of the Dells, it is best known for its 500-foot quartzite bluffs with breathtaking views, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and impressive quartzite rock formations including Cleopatra's Needle and Elephant Rock.
Rocky Arbor is located just northwest of the Dells and, though small in size, the park boasts 89 campsites and beautiful exposed sandstone rock walls. Mirror Lake is located southeast of the Dells and is named after a narrow reservoir with sandstone flanks. The Seth Peterson Cottage, which was designed by world-renowned Frank Lloyd Wright, is nestled in the park and is available for both tours and event rentals. In winter, there are plenty of cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails in the Dells area, and if you prefer downhill skiing, snowboarding or tubing, both Cascade Mountain and Christmas Mountain are full-service ski resorts located nearby.
Shopping Outlets and Malls
If your version of cardio involves putting on miles at the mall, there is a wide variety of shopping options to keep you busy well beyond the end of your trip. The Outlets at the Dells are a bargain hunter’s dream, with popular brands ranging from Banana Republic, Coach, Columbia, Michael Kors and Nike, along with some local flare including Dells Moonshine Co. and Drink Wisconsinbly. Downtown Wisconsin Dells has something for everyone in the family and features old-time portraits, handblown glass shops, antiques and delectable fudge.
For those preferring an activity that is a little more unique, the Wisconsin Dells Craft Mall and Wisconsin Dells Antique Mall—both housed in oversized barns—are home to more than 300 vendors and are the perfect places to hunt for hidden treasures. Some favorite local souvenir shops also include Doo Hickey’s Souvenirs and Gifts, Goody Goody Gum Drop Candy and Market Square Cheese. Other top-notch cheese and sweet shops in the Dells area are Carr Valley Cheese and Baraboo Candy Co.
More Things to do Outside the Waterparks
Aside from some of the largest and most impressive waterparks in the country, Wisconsin Dells has countless entertainment attractions—including some that are truly out of this world. According to some diehards, you haven’t really been to the Dells if you haven’t taken a ride on one of its famous Duck Boats. Originally launched in 1964, the world’s first Duck Tour was launched in the Dells. The Duck Boats traverse four miles of scenic wilderness trails and then make their way into the waters of the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton. It’s a thrilling ride and a tradition that transcends generations.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in Wisconsin Dells features three floors full of 11 galleries ranging from illusions and hidden rooms to eclectic collections and cavernous tunnels. This odditorium is truly worth a visit. Located just south of the Dells, the International Crane Foundation wildlife refuge is the only place in the world where you can see all 15 species of cranes (yes, there are 15!). The foundation’s mission is to conserve and protect cranes worldwide, along with the environments that they depend on. Another must-see stop is the New Life Lavender & Cherry Farm, which offers a relaxing experience for visitors including lavender shopping, a custom essential oil blending bar and farm-to-table wagon tours showcasing the farm’s 12,000 lavender plants and 800 species of wildflowers. And you can’t leave without sampling its homemade lavender ice cream!
Local Fare to World-Class Dining Around the Dells
Many Minnesotans associate Wisconsin with dive bars, beer and cheese, and while it does pride itself on all of the above, the state has a wide range of other dining options in and around the Dells. Wisconsin has a storied history with supper clubs, which are typically fine-dining restaurants located in picturesque rural areas of town. Guests start the evening with a pre-dinner drink—the Wisconsin Old Fashioned is a traditional drink that most supper clubs offer. Then, a formal multicourse dinner is served on white linen tablecloths. Sounds fancy, right? The supper club experience is intended to be an event rather than simply a meal. In the Dells area, a few supper clubs that particularly stand out include the Ishnala Supper Club, The Del-Bar and Field’s at the Wilderness. Located in Mirror Lake National Park and voted as Wisconsin’s No.-1 supper club, Ishnala truly captures the essence of the outdoors and incorporates it not only into the building and its materials but also the overall dining experience.
Other fun cuisine options for rustic dining throughout the Dells include River’s Edge Pub and Grub and Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co. Locally owned Moosejaw is an excellent kid-friendly choice and features three spacious levels, a microbrewery with 12 microbrews on tap, an arcade and pizzas with fresh dough made daily. The Dells Distillery is a 1920s Western-themed bar and restaurant with a large array of specialty tater tots (think Cajun shrimp tots and pizza tots, for example) and barbequed meats, along with in-house liquor. A Dells getaway isn’t complete without a trip to the award-winning Brat House Grill, which is housed in an 1850s historic church and is known for having some of the best brats in the state of Wisconsin.
What pairs better together than Wisconsin cheese and wine? There are several impressive wineries located a short distance from the Dells area, including Fawn Creek Winery, Broken Bottle Winery and Prairie Hawk Winery. At Fawn Creek, you’ll find live music every Saturday and Sunday, and Prairie Hawk offers a remarkable assortment of red, white and fruit wines, as well as ciders and mead.
Spas and Salons for R&R Near the Dells
Ahh... rest and relaxation—everyone needs to unwind sometimes, right? Wisconsin Dells’ Sundara Inn & Spa consistently ranks at the top of many lists for adult-only tranquility and is perfect for a couple’s getaway or a weekend with the girls. Since opening in 2003, Sundara has focused on being a sanctuary from stress and a place to reconnect. It has an electronics-free policy in common areas, along with designated areas for quiet conversation.
This world-class spa features an indoor/outdoor, swim-up pool bar, a salon, indoor and outdoor soaks, massage and facial services, a salt treatment room, an infinity edge pool, meditation rooms and the ever-popular purifying bath ritual. The purifying bath ritual is a five-step, self-guided treatment that can be done before spa services or at any time. It is designed in a circular path and can be completed as many times as needed, beginning with an exfoliating rainfall shower, body mist and steam room, cooling rainfall shower, a hot jet pool infused with essential oils and finally, a cool plunge—all intended to clear the mind, among other benefits. Sundara also features an adjoining 18-hole championship golf course, Wild Rock Golf Club, complete with on-site health-focused dining and daily wellness activities. Additional spa options near the Dells include Wild Sage Med Spa, Sun Mountain Spa, Spa Serenity and Spa Kalahari & Salon.
New at Wisconsin Dells in 2022
Wisconsin Dells is always expanding and looking for new ways to bring the fun, and this year is no exception. This summer, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort will open Medusa’s Slidewheel, America’s first rotating waterslide. The Land of Natura, a natural adventure park, is opening in the summer as well, and will feature America’s largest floating waterpark along with the longest canopy tour. Later in the fall, Wild West Waterpark at the Wilderness Resort will open two new dueling waterslides. And Downtown Wisconsin Dells will also be opening its new 35,000-square-foot Elm Street Plaza with water features, in-ground geysers and stages for nightly entertainment, farmers markets and other events throughout the year.