A First-Time Traveler's Guide to the Wisconsin Dells


For years, the Wisconsin Dells has been a go-to family vacation destination throughout the Midwest. Situated right in the middle of America's Dairyland, "The Waterpark Capital of the World" boasts some of the nation's best waterparks, in addition to some other unique destinations. While the number of attractions can be overwhelming, here are a few tips to get the most out of your trip to the Dells.

1. Know When to Go
Arguably the most important tip for traveling to the Dells is timing. Because of how close it is to several metro areas (Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Milwaukee to name a few), summer weekend crowds can get in the way of an enjoyable family getaway. In turn, use those vacation days and go during the week or try a weekend in a non-peak weekend (anytime after Labor Day and before Memorial Day). Not only will you beat the traffic, but hotel rooms during these times cost a lot less. Do be aware, though, that some attractions close during the winter months.

2. You Can't Go Wrong With the Waterparks
While the price tag may be startling at first, many of the waterparks in the Wisconsin Dells offer great values if you do your research. At each of the major waterparks (Kalahari, Noah's Ark, Mount Olympus, WIlderness and Great Wolf Lodge), waterpark passes are typically included with your hotel stay. In addition, the wide variety of attractions at each resort means plenty of things to keep the kids occupied. Of course, waterpark passes can also be purchased separately if you stay the night outside the resort.

3. Try The Local Restaurants
Paul Bunyan's Cook Shanty restaurant in Minocqua, Wisconsin, is known for its logging camp decor and all-you-can eat meals.Don Smetzer/Alamy‚Äč

Avoid the chain restaurants and give the local flavor a try. For breakfast, Paul Bunyan's Northwoods Cook Shanty is a long-running hotspot, but get there early to get ahead of the crowds. Some lunch and dinner options to definitely consider are Moosejaw Pizza, Monks Bar and Grill and MACS - Macaroni and Cheese Shop.

4. The Long-Running Attractions Are Usually The Best
When looking for things to do, stick with the places that have been around the longest (there's a reason they've been in business this long). Especially in recent years, many businesses have tried to replicate what the long-standing attractions have done for decades. While this may not always be true, long-standing attractions like the Original Wisconsin Ducks, Dells Boat Tours, Lost Canyon Tours and Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf are the way to go.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Venture Outside the Dells
There's a lot to do in the Dells, but that doesn't mean the surrounding area is devoid of attractions, either. The International Crane Foundation -- a very underrated attraction that lies between Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo -- is a zoo and research facility that has led the international effort to save these endangered birds. Some other excellent stops in the area include Devil's Lake State Park, Circus World and Baraboo Candy.

Bonus Tip -- Take the Car Ferry
If you are coming from the south (i.e. southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa) and want to travel in a unique way, try the Merrimac Ferry. This free car ferry carries up to 15 vehicles at a time on a seven-minute journey across the Wisconsin River. In operation since 1924, the ferry route is listed on the US Register of Historic Places.

Michael Benson is a life-long Illinois resident and an avid traveler throughout the Midwest.