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Cool Off in the Waterpark Capital of the World: Wisconsin Dells

Updated on June 12, 2008

Midwest vacation destinations are hot this year, if you live close enough to drive to one of the great places to visit in the Midwest that you can drive there without taking out a second mortgage to fill the gas tank! While gas is high, airline tickets are simply out of the vacation budgets for many families this year. Midwest family vacation options offer a lot of natural beauty as well as attractions, depending on where you decide to travel. Midwest destinations tend to be family friendly and you can pack in more than one Midwest family vacation spot into one trip.

The Wisconsin Dells area has suffered some damage in 2008, but most resort areas are back open!

History of Wisconsin Dells

The first amusements at the area now known as the Wisconsin Dells started over 150 years ago when a few visitors enjoyed a rowboat ride on the Wisconsin River. They came for the scenery, which was like none other in the region. Sandstone bluffs that tower high over the river. Next came steamboat tours began, hiking trails, and souvenir shops. All this by 1890. During the 1930's and 40's more attractions were gradually established. Then in 1946 Mel Flath brought the DUCKS to the Dells and an institution was born. These WWII land-to-water vehicles were used for land and water tours of the area. Crowds were drawn to the attractions added in the 1950s: the Tommy Bartlett ski show, Storybook Gardens and Fort Dells. Although it has a long and successful history as a vacation destination, the Dells reinvented itself in 1994 when the Polynesian Resort Hotel enclosed their water park, making it the first indoor water park in the country and transforming the Wisconsin Dells into the waterpark capital of the world! But there are many, many more things to do besides ride the chutes at the waterparks.

What To Do at the Wisconsin Dells

The cool thing about a Wisconsin Dells vacation is that you get modern amusements as well as classic Americana style leisure activities.

River Cruising

The Wisconsin River is the real life version of those lazy rivers you'll find at the water parks. Take a slow ride along the Upper Dells on a double-decker riverboat. Relax and enjoy the guided tour, but plan to get off the boat to explore caverns at Witches Gulch, or watch a dog jump from bluff to bluff at Stand Rock, where H.H. Bennett captured his son jumping mid-air (the first stop-action photo) in 1888.


You must pick up a pair of Minnetonka moccasins while you're in the Wisconsin Dells area. You'll find them, and lots more, at Parson's Indian Trading Post, one of the world's largest retailers of Native American.

Movie Watching

Nothing brings back childhood like a family trip to the drive-in. Load up the kids and take the whole family to the Big Sky Twin Drive-In Theatre, just outside downtown Dells. In case you don't know the drill, you watch the movie from your car (or lawn chairs next to it) while the sound comes through your radio. It's old school high tech! (Remember those old speakers on the window?)

DUCK Riding

This is a classic Dells excursion you don't want to miss. You'll see all the natural glory of the Lower Dells while being entertained by the drivers' family friendly comedy.

Tommy Bartlett Ski Show

This is another not-to-be-missed event. You'll not believe what these talented professionals are capable of!

More to do:

  • Eat fudge
  • Play mini golf
  • Drive a go-kart
  • Visit the waterparks
  • See the Circus World Museum
  • Stay in the Seth Peterson Cottage (the only Frank Lloyd Wright structure you can rent!)


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