Wisconsin Dells gets its name from the stretches of river valley chiseled through 150-foot-high honey-hued bluffs, but that’s not what draws millions to this south-central Wisconsin tourist mecca. They come for the waterparks: “The Dells” boasts the largest single waterpark, the largest indoor waterpark, and largest number and variety of waterparks anywhere in the nation—21 at last count.
And the waterparks are merely the aquatic anchor of a full-fledged family vacation destination with an exhausting array of kid-pleasing attractions: amusement parks, go-kart tracks, boat tours, water-ski shows, circus acts, haunted houses . . . It’s made this small city the state’s No. 1 tourist destination.
It all began with the natural attraction of those sandstone bluffs. Visitors were stopping in the Dells as early as 1850 to tour serpentine side canyons and towering escarpments by row-boat. Riverboats, amphibious “ducks,” water-ski shows, and the rest all eventually joined in too. The Ducks—immense WWII landing craft—are still a hugely popular attraction, trundling along downtown streets and then plowing right into the Wisconsin River for a tour of its rock formations. Traditional boat tours, too, offer views of the Dells’ fern-draped canyons and pillars of stone.
Anyone with kids will find it hard to deny the simple pleasures of the waterparks. Noah’s Ark is America’s largest, an eye-popping 70- acre array of 36 waterslides, two wave pools, two artificial rivers, and rides like “Flash Flood.” Resorts in the area have built their own versions. The result is nearly two dozen indoor water-parks, including the Kalahari Resort’s 125,000-square-foot creation that includes a 570-foot-long roller coaster, and Great Wolf Lodge, with its 12-level tree house and water jungle gym.
The elegant Sundara Inn & Spa is a organic-style inn hidden away in the pines on 26 acres. Services at the well-known spa include “purifying rituals” such as aroma steam and rainfall showers. Turns out, there are water attractions in the Wisconsin Dells for adults, too.