If you live in the Midwest you are likely aware that the Wisconsin Dells are known to be a fun summer escape and you are dreaming of sunny days splashing at a water park right now.
The Wisconsin Dells are best known for their water parks, but their countless attractions, family friendly hotels and restaurants, and gorgeous natural beauty make them the ideal summer vacation spot for any family. My family was lucky enough to live about 15 minutes away from the Dells for three years and when the weather starts to warm is when we most miss the great variety of fun it has to offer.
In finding your bearings, it is helpful to note that Lake Delton is the town adjacent to Wisconsin Dells. This is where many hotels are located and various family friendly spots. The two towns run into one another so when people refer to the Dells they are often talking about the collective area of both towns.
Baraboo, WI is a nearby town (about 15 minutes) which holds Devil’s Lake. This is often considered the Dells area by out of towners.
We have included things in all three towns in the information below, but focused primarily on the Dells/Lake Delton area.
A Weekend in the Wisconsin Dells with Kids
Here are our top picks for Where to Stay. Where to Eat. and Where to Play:
Having lived locally, we do not have a ton of experience staying in local hotels. However, between our hotel stays and those of family and friends we recommend the following:
- Great Wolf Lodge : if you are looking for something with a waterpark, we had a great experience here. It is significantly smaller than the Kalahari located across the street. The Great Wolf Lodge has a restaurant and huge indoor waterpark. There are various family friendly room options and the price is reasonable for the area. I like that the waterpark is only for hotel guests as well. This makes it a little less crowded even during the busy months. The Kalahari is a play hotel. There are indoor and outdoor waterparks, a movie theater, and indoor theme park with mini-golf, etc. I personally find it a little loud and overwhelming, but there is certainly plenty to do. The activities however are open to the public so you can utilize them even if you are not a guest. If you hit a patch of rainy days, make note that this is the only movie theater in the area.
- The Wilderness : This one is another huge hotel that has more of a resort feel. There is everything from golf to zip-lining here. I haven’t stayed here, but everyone I know who has greatly enjoyed their stay.
- There are various “normal” hotels in the area as well. If you want to get out an explore the Dells, I’d look for a regular hotel with a pool.
There are so many, many restaurants in the Dells it can be a little overwhelming. Here are our favorites:
*Favorite: Cheeze Factory Restaurant. This is an oddly named vegan restaurant. I won’t deny that part of why I love it is that my son with a dairy allergy can eat everything, but it is incredible breakfast and lunch food.
*Italian Food: Sarento’s in the Dells. Good selection of Italian staples.
*For the View: Ravina Bay. On a warm summer night, sit on the patio by the lake. You might even get a peek at the Tommy Bartlett Water Show
*Burgers: Monk’s. There are several locations around the Dells area.
*Lunch: Broadway Diner in Baraboo. Cute restaurant with good food. Close to both Circus World and Devil’s Lake.
*Coffee: There is a Starbucks in the Lake Delton, but we loved the Coffee Bean Connection in Baraboo. Great drink selection (including fruit only smoothies for the kids) and a little coloring space in the corner to keep kids occupied while you rest and chat. Recommend a stop on the way to Circus World or Devil’s Lake.
*Pack Lunch Food. Especially if you are headed to the Waterparks, I would avoid purchasing lunch.
There is an overwhelming number of things to do in the Dells area, especially in the summer. We tried almost everything at least once during our 3 years in the area and here are the ones we would do over and over again!
The Original Wisconsin Ducks (Wisconsin Dells)
One of the most unique forms of transportation around and a classic Dells attraction. See the beautiful dells area from a Duck ride. We went on this ride with our children when they were about 14 months old. They obviously did not appreciate the somewhat humorous tour guide or the natural beauty of the Dells – but we did and they were meanwhile fascinated by the Duck itself. They also loved the part when we spirited onto the water with a splash and proceeded to motor around the lake. My daughter was pretty sure that she wanted to swim with the fish, so this is certainly a 1on1 type activity with young children. That being said, it was an enjoyable ride. Be sure to look for the Real Wisconsin Ducks if you find yourself in central Wisconsin.
Riverside and Great Northern Train Ride (Wisconsin Dells)
If your kids like trains, this is a sweet little train ride through the woods on a child sized train. To ride on a full scale train, a half an hour drive to North Freedom can afford you such a ride.
Noah’s Ark or Mt Olympus (Wisconsin Dells)
The Dells are called The Waterpark Capitol of the World so you really shouldn’t visit in the summer without visiting one. Here’s our thoughts on the two most popular.
Circus World (Baraboo WI)
This is a fun, albeit touristy attraction near the Dells. Young children will delight at the animals, playground, carousel, and shows. I am not personally a huge circus fan, but this is a fun attraction and my kids are huge fans. The Ringling Bros at one point owned pretty much the entire town of Baraboo and they are still quite present in the town. Walking through downtown Baraboo you can spot the Ringling Theater and several other historic buildings with their name on the front.
Our twins adored the big top show and the huge collection of wagons. Both of which surprised us. They did however find the merry-go-round terrifying and were of course too little to ride on the animals but there was a lot to explore. It is doable at this age, but I would most recommend it for two year olds and up. We returned the next summer and it was an entirely different experience. Here are our favorite things to do at Circus World…
- Climb in and out of the animal cage wagon.
- Visit the elephant house and pretend to be stomping elephants.
- Play on the circus themed playground.
- Feed the animals.
- Watch the Circus in the Big Top.
- Ride on the Merry Go Round.
Devil’s Lake State Park. (Baraboo WI)
This is my absolute favorite spot in this area. It is beautiful. There are lovely hiking trails, boats to rent, and beaches along the gorgeous lake. However, it gets insanely busy here on the weekends during the summer. Although I highly recommend a visit, it is best to go during the week. If you only have a weekend to spend, I would visit Devil’s Lake Sunday. If you can stay a day or two on either side of the weekend, Monday or Tuesday are usually the quietest times at the park. Even with some crowds, Devil’s Lake is worth the trip. (Read More)
Parfrey’s Glen (Baraboo WI)
If you have extra time this is a beautiful place to hike. We first visited in winter and found it breathtaking. We had to walk across an icy stream to reach the glen and waterfall, but it was worth the trek. We have since returned in warmer weather and although possibly even more difficult to reach, more than worth it. Of the hikes we have done with children on our backs, this is one of the more challenging. It is possible, but recommended only for more confident hikers. There is some creek crossing and some brief rock climbing. Again, nothing super challenging or we would not have tried it with infants on our backs – but not just a walk on a path. When travelling with little ones, it is especially important to make sure that everyone is appropriately dressed for the weather. The hike took us about an hour with a break at the waterfall to stare in awe and give the kids a chance to get out and move a bit.
Country Bumpkin Farm (Baraboo)
This is a cute pick-your-own farm, farmer stand and place to play with kids. We loved picking blueberries and pumpkins here. My kids most enjoyed the play space with the mini tractors and animals to pet – there are additional fees associated with this part of the farm.
- Knuckleheads: Games, bouncer, climber, bowling. Good for children ages 2+.
- Kalahari: Mini-golf, ropes course, movie theater. Better for older children. 4+
There you have it. A perfect vacation waiting for you. Now it’s time to put those dreams of warmer weather into action and start planning a summer trip to the Wisconsin Dells!