AttractionsIn an area with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Frank Swanson
While manmade diversions have stolen the spotlight away from the area's natural scenery, don't miss the namesake Wisconsin Dells: rugged bluffs topped with pine trees along the Wisconsin River. And there's no better way to view these lovely formations than on a AAA GEM-rated Dells Boat Tours cruise, which includes stops at Witches Gulch, a cool and narrow side canyon shaded by trees, and Stand Rock, a stone slab supported by a narrow rock column whose profile has become synonymous with the Dells.
The man often credited with first making the Dells famous is H.H. Bennett, a pioneering 19th-century photographer who snapped a dramatic stop-motion picture of his son in mid-leap from a cliff ledge to the top of Stand Rock, a photo published around the world. His 1875 studio along with his historic photos are preserved at the H.H. Bennett Studio.
Ducks, the World War II trucks named for the military acronym “DUKW,” have enjoyed a long second career as amphibious tour buses, and Wisconsin Dells has not one, but two fleets of the sturdy antiques. Original Wisconsin Ducks Inc. vehicles are white with dark green trim while Dells Army Ducks sport camouflage colors. Both take visitors on a journey through woods and along back roads climaxing with a splashdown into the scenic Wisconsin River.
Noah's Ark Waterpark specializes in outdoor water fun on a huge scale. The 70-acre park bills itself as America's largest, a claim easily believed as you lose yourself among all the slides, wave pools and lazy rivers. In case you forget which Dells water park you're visiting, the colorful statues of elephants and giraffes along with rides named Black Anaconda, Stingray and Go Gator should jog your memory. There's even an ark-shaped building at the entrance.
If your tastes in family fun veer more towards those of the Addams Family, then Ripley's Believe It or Not! has all the macabre and bizarre items you could want, including shrunken heads, a two-headed calf skeleton and an extremely unpleasant-looking iron maiden. Poster-size versions of Robert L. Ripley's syndicated cartoons describe other amazing and amazingly strange objects the adventurer uncovered during his world-spanning travels.
You won't find any shrunken heads at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, but you and your family can while away hours among its vast collection of hands-on puzzles, games, computerized toys and virtual reality exhibits. Something you shouldn't miss: a tour of the MIR Space Station core module, a rare remnant of the Soviet and Russian space programs.
Although impresario Tommy Bartlett passed away in 1998, the water-ski show he launched on the shores of Lake Delton more than 50 years ago still wows the crowds. Over the decades, clowns, jugglers, comedians and acrobats have joined the Tommy Bartlett Show, which now concludes its evening performance with a high-tech laser light tribute to America.
Named for a region in Africa famous for its rare white lions, Timbavati Wildlife Park shows off specimens of the light-furred cats among other exotic critters including giraffes, kangaroos, macaques, tigers and zebras. You can touch and feed some of the animals at the park's petting zoo or for an even closer encounter, try the camel rides.
Outside of the Dells themselves, the most spectacular scenery you'll find in the area lies within Devil's Lake State Park, a AAA GEM attraction near Baraboo. Here you can hike along a network of trails atop boulder-strewn bluffs soaring 500 feet above a spring-fed lake to reach such picturesque formations as Balanced Rock and the Devil's Doorway.
Also in Baraboo, the International Crane Foundation, a AAA GEM, tells a fascinating success story of how breeding programs have helped the whooping crane edge away from the brink of extinction. You won't forget the image of reintroduced flocks of the large white birds being led on a new migration route by an ultralight plane. All of the other 14 crane species are represented at the park as well.
Running away to join the circus may seem like a bad career move now, but if you still love the pageantry of this classic American entertainment, head to Baraboo's GEM-rated Circus World. Circus traditions live on in performances and stage shows during the summer and in historical exhibits—including a meticulously restored and brightly painted collection of circus wagons—throughout the year.
Somewhat farther afield but worth the 38-mile drive from Baraboo is Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, a AAA GEM attraction in Spring Green. In a bucolic setting of lush, rolling farmland and woods stands the house and school the innovative architect built in 1902. Tours of the rambling, low-slung structure with its distinctive projecting eaves begin nearby at the futuristic visitor center that Wright designed as a restaurant in 1953.
Spring Green's other architectural attraction—a AAA GEM as well—is The House on the Rock. What started out as an unusual Asian-influenced modern house built atop a 60-foot-tall sandstone pinnacle, evolved under the leadership of its creator, Alex Jordan, to include a dizzying array of collected objects displayed within warehouse-style buildings. Highlights include a gigantic carousel illuminated by 20,000 lights, several extremely intricate self-playing music machines and a 200-foot-long diorama showing two battling sea monsters.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Wisconsin Dells, WI
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Members save 5% or more and earn Marriott Bonvoy™ points when booking AAA/CAA rates!Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Wisconsin Dells
511 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965