In Depth“One more time! Please?” You can bet that somewhere in Wisconsin Dells a boy or girl is making just such a plea for another turn on a waterslide, rollercoaster or go-cart track. There are more kid-pleasing attractions in this south central Wisconsin community than you can shake a candy apple on a stick at, and even when temperatures plummet, the summery fun continues inside the area’s indoor water parks. And as if that weren’t more than enough for a family vacation already, ski and acrobatic shows, dinner theaters and animal parks round out the various diversions here.
At first glance you might wonder why this small town without a skyline to speak of—unless you count the towering steel skeletons supporting the tracks and tubes of thrill rides—has lured travelers for more than a century, way before the first amusement parks were built. The answer lies along the Wisconsin River, which flows through the center of town. A catastrophic flood many thousands of years ago cut a channel (French-Canadian fur trappers called such features dalles or dells) through soft sandstone 150 feet deep in places, leaving behind fantastic rock formations along 15 miles of the river’s length.
Complementing the imitation Greek temples, medieval castles and garish amusement park signs competing for highway-side real estate here are the dells’ natural landmarks, many with names every bit as fanciful as those of the man-made attractions: Witches Gulch, Steamboat Rock and Giants Shield, to name just a few. Boat tours highlighting these picturesque sights have been a chief draw since the 1870s, and today high-speed jet boats and vintage World War II amphibious vehicles known as Ducks offer exciting alternatives to the traditional leisurely scenic cruise.
The same ice age forces that shaped the dells also created nearby Devil’s Lake, set amid 500-foot-high bluffs in Baraboo, and tree-lined Mirror Lake in the town of Lake Delton. Both are centerpieces of state parks and both offer fun in the outdoors ranging from fishing, off-road biking, hiking, canoeing and camping in summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Speaking of skiing, three downhill ski areas are within a 20-mile radius of Wisconsin Dells: Christmas Mountain Village, 6 miles west of downtown; Cascade Mountain in Portage; and Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac.
Offering both an abundance of scenic natural beauty and human-engineered thrills, Wisconsin Dells makes it nearly impossible for anyone to respond to “One more time?” with anything but an enthusiastic “Yes!”
Wisconsin Dells, WI
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511 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy. Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965