A Beginner’s Guide to the Wisconsin Dells

The Wisconsin Dells is one of my favorite weekend getaways in the state, regardless of the time of year. Whether you’re camping and appreciating the natural beauty of the area, having a blast at an outdoor or indoor water park, or going to all the touristy shops you can shake a stick at, there’s something in the Dells for everyone. Here are a handful of my recommendations:

Noah’s Ark

Noah's Ark Water Park Sign

Noah's Ark Water Park Map
Noah’s Ark Water Park Map

Noah’s Ark is the largest Water Park in the U.S., with over 70 acres of water slides, lazy rivers, children’s play areas, and wave pools. Yes, those things were all plural. An entire day (or even two) could be spent at Noah’s Ark. On a busy summer day if you get there from morning to close, you’d probably have time to go on each slide or water ride once and then hit a couple favorites a second time. Here are a few tips to get you started:

First, never pay full price for tickets. Normal ticket prices will run you about $45/person, whereas you can purchase them online in advance or at a retailer in the Dells for $35 or less. At times I’ve been able to snag them for $23 apiece.

Secondly, I do recommend buying a locker even though they come with a hefty price tag. Last summer (2016) a small locker cost about $10. However, for the price comes peace of mind; you’ll have a place to store your car keys and any other valuables that you don’t feel comfortable leaving in the car. It’s also nice to put a credit card or a little cash in there for snacks or whatnot.

To save money in the park, I like to bring lunch and park near one of the picnic areas within the parking lots. Not only that, but you may also avoid long lines for food inside the park. Just make sure to get a stamp before you leave so you can get back in.

As for the water slides and other activities, there is plenty for all ages, including many for adults who are not faint of heart. I recently had the experience of the floor coming out from under my feet in the Scorpion’s Tail, falling 10 stories and going through a loop. If that’s a little too much for you to handle, try the Black Anaconda: a 2-3 person ride that’s half water slide, half roller coaster. To have fun with a larger group, head to Flying Gecko (formerly Dark Voyage), Congo Bongo, Time Warp, or Kowabunga. These rides feature giant yellow tubes that can seat four adults. Don’t worry if you don’t have a party of four; they’ll pair you with strangers and you’ll quickly bond over the experience.

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Lastly, Noah’s Ark employs young adults from all over the world to work at the park. They seem to have a blast and I’ve heard they all stay in nearby hotels that have been turned into dormitory-style residences. Oddly, if you want to meet people from different walks of life, the Wisconsin Dells in the summer is a good place to do it. If you’re lucky, you can also find out where they’re partying that night.

Noah's Ark Water Park Tiki Bar Drinks
Noah's Ark Water Park

Upper Dells Boat Tour

This area is not only known for its water parks, but also for its gorgeous rock formations along the Wisconsin River. Wisconsin Boat Tours offers jet boat tours, haunted tours, and ferry tours of the upper or lower dells. My husband and I recently took the two-hour Upper Dells tour, which takes you through the “narrows” of the river to Witch’s Gulch and Standing Rock. The boat lets you off at Witch’s Gulch, where you can take a short walk through the narrow, colorful canyons and peer at the water below. You’ll then have an opportunity to see a trained dog jump across Standing Rock; to read about its significance, click here: https://catherinesherman.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/leap-of-faith-in-the-wisconsin-dells/

Dog jumping across Standing Rock

Witch's Gulch in the Wisconsin Dells

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Though the tour is $30/person, I felt it was well worth it for the stunning scenery that is far more difficult to access without a boat. On a logistical note, I was a bit confused when I went to buy tickets online and noticed that you could not select a departure time. After calling, I found out that they don’t sell tickets for set times but that boats typically leave every 30 minutes. On a sunny day, plan on waiting 30 minutes or at worst, an hour. The departure location depends on which boat trip you’re taking; check their website or ask them to make sure you’re headed to the correct one.

Upper Dells Boat Tour

Face Rock on Upper Dells Boat Tour

Witch's Gulch Rock Formations

Witch's Gulch in the Wisconsin Dells

 

Witch's Gulch in the Wisconsin Dells

Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area

Pewit’s Nest is a beautiful 40-foot deep gorge featuring several small waterfalls. The trails go above the gorge rather than through it; be cautious since there are no railings. Some visitors swim at Pewit’s Nest but this is ill advised since there’s no safe entrance into the water and the currents can be dangerously strong. However, a short hike on the designated trails offers some of the best views in the state of Wisconsin. For tons of additional hiking, visit the nearby Devil’s Lake State Park.

Pewit's Nest, Baraboo Wisconsin

Mt. Olympus

For the uninitiated, the Wisconsin Dells is not only home to some of the best outdoor water parks in the nation, but they have also mastered the art of the indoor water park. Best enjoyed in the dead of winter, these indoor water parks are connected to hotel rooms so you don’t have to step a foot outside. Mt. Olympus may not be the most luxurious of the bunch, but for the discounted rate they have plenty of water slides and hot tubs to stay entertained. Check their website for deals; certain times of the year they offer free resort credits or unlimited food (mostly burgers & fries). For those with kiddos, Mt. Olympus also has a small indoor amusement park, arcades, and other activities. Their outdoor activities (a larger water park and amusement park) are also well-established for a summertime visit.

Horse in front of Mt. Olympus

The Cheeze Factory

If you’ve read my post about my favorite vegan-friendly restaurant, you may already recall how much I love the Cheeze Factory. Not to be confused with the Cheesecake Factory (which my husband often calls it), the Cheeze Factory is a vegan diner with a range of options likely to please carnivores as well. A couple of my favorites are the mock tuna salad sandwich and the faux hot dog. Most menu items have a gluten-free option available as well.
Meal at the Cheeze Factory in the Wisconsin Dells

Mexicali Rose

Mexicali Rose is a gem of a restaurant located on the Wisconsin River. My favorite is having a meal on their outdoor patio on a nice day, sipping a margarita and snacking on chips & salsa. Their veggie fajitas are fantastic and personally, the leftovers last me another decent-sized meal. As a bonus, the staff are super friendly. Our waiter saw my husband and I looking at a Noah’s Ark map and asked if we had any questions. Turned out he used to work there!
Meal at Mexicali Rose in the Wisconsin Dells

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A Beginner's Guide to the Wisconsin Dells

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