Wisconsin Dells: The State’s Top Destination for Summertime Fun

They call it “The Water Park Capital of the World” for good reason, and when it comes to the Midwest nowhere compares to Wisconsin Dells for providing the ultimate in summertime entertainment.

Whether with kids and family, a bachelor or bachelorette party or with your buddies on an awesome golf trip, the Dells is the type of place you can plan on coming back to every summer and never do the same things twice – unless, of course, you want to.

My wife, Kelly, and I recently spent an early-summer weekend in the Dells with our kids, Charlie (5) and Quinn (4), and while we took full advantage of the time we had there we left wishing we could spend another week.

Charlie’s 5K schoolyear ended on Friday at noon. After last year’s massively successful end of the year / beginning of summer weekend away in Brainerd, Minnesota, we had to get something on the books. This time we never even told them anything was planned. In fact, when I dropped them off at daycare in the morning I left saying I’d forgotten Charlie’s lunch and would be back at noon to bring it for him. When Mom and I both showed up, they knew something was going on.

They played the guessing game the entire hour and 45-minute drive, and when they saw the first water park come into view as we approached the Dells we knew we’d hit the jackpot.

Quinn finding out we’re spending the weekend at a water park!

Though flooded with guests from across the Midwest, the check-in process at The Wilderness Resort was surprisingly quick and painless, and we were in our pool-view suite and off to one of the resort’s six onsite water parks in no time.

While the guest rooms at The Wilderness are comfortable and have everything we’d need for our stay (two queen-size beds, a seating area, two TV’s, a bathroom, mini-fridge and balcony), it’s the resort’s amenities that make it such a hit with visitors to the area.

Between its New Frontier, Wild West and Glacier Canyon regions, the resort offers endless entertainment including all the water parks, three arcades, several mini golf courses, climbing walls, laser tag, ropes courses, go-karting, bumper boats, zip lining, firepits, the Take Flight Theater aerial adventure ride, paint-your-own pottery, playhouses, gift shops and numerous bars and restaurants situated across the property.

Our vacation

We started the action off on day one at the Lake Wilderness Water Park, which turned out to be the kids’ favorite at The Wilderness [though we didn’t get a chance to check out the Lost World at neighboring Glacier Canyon, which looks awesome!].

The kids had a blast on the smaller waterslides, especially Charlie and me on the winding, tandem one, and Quinn on the shorter chutes.

We hopped between the pools and hot tubs all afternoon, grabbed appetizers and summertime cocktails at the poolside bars and enjoyed mid-80’s heat in one of the best summer settings around.

What we loved most about the water parks at The Wilderness is their parent-friendly setup. Rather than having a single, massive outdoor water park where it’s easy to quickly lose sight of the kids (like at Noah’s Ark or Mt. Olympus, for example), these satellite ones are situated throughout the property and are – while still sizable – smaller, and with hot tubs, splash pads and seating/lounge areas interspersed conveniently so Kelly and I could relax in a hot tub while watching the kids play in a splash pad, or bomb down a kid-friendly waterslide while never leaving our line of vision. Coupled with teams of life guards, we felt much more at ease with this setup than we have at other Dells resorts, and it was especially a lot easier on my wife Saturday morning when she had both of the kids by herself while I was away playing golf at nearby Wild Rock.

The Lake Wilderness outdoor water park

Following swim time on Friday evening we hit up the Camp Social food hall, upstairs from guest registration. Charlie got a massive slice of Detroit-style pizza from Daily Dough, Kelly and I had delicious burgers from The Burger Bar (excellent burgers!) and Quinn enjoyed her taco bowl from Tacolicious. With the Sonic the Hedgehog movie playing on a massive projection screen we ate at an indoor picnic table and found the experience perfectly laid back and convenient for a couple parents with way-too-exhausted children.

Hitting up the Glitter Gulch Arcade on our way back, we fit in one more bonus hour of family fun time before returning to the room and calling it a night.

If you’re like us with little kids, getting them to sleep at night can be a major challenge. With their tanks on empty and bellies full, though, we had no problems getting them asleep and ready for the following day of fun and adventure at The Wilderness Resort.

Thank God, by the way, as they passed out by 9 on Friday night so I could get a little sleep before waking up at 4 am to have WiscoGolfAddict.com Contributing Writer Brian Murphy pick me up on his way to Wild Rock.

We were on the course, which neighbors the property but is a five- to ten-minute drive, (or shuttle ride during more normal hours) with drones in the air by 5:00.

For the most part, early hours have been a challenge to photograph lately in the Midwest as Canadian wildfires have led to excessive air pollution and muted sunrises. While the lighting wasn’t 100% ideal, we did enjoy sporadic time periods when the clouds seceded and let way to a beautiful, rosy hue.

Link to WiscoGolfAddict review of Wild Rock Golf Club

With a 6:50 tee time, our photo season ran its course a little too abruptly as the sun created incredible shadows while we packed our gear away. I had to hit up the 15th again, though – one of my favorite par threes in the entire state – one last time to see if it would start to pop and it did.

The incredible playground that is the 15th at Wild Rock

Full course review for Wild Rock coming soon

Wild Rock is one of the most underrated courses in Wisconsin, in my opinion. It had been since the Writer’s Cup of 2018 that I’d played it, and this Hurdzan/Fry gem is even better than I remembered.

Me, Dan and his son, Peter, and Brian at Wild Rock Golf Club

Full course review for Wild Rock coming soon

Following golf I met the family back at The Wilderness, where they spent the morning getting coffee and donuts onsite, swimming at the New Frontier Outdoor Water Park and exploring the sprawling resort.

We had one more surprise in store for them, though: One of my favorite things to do in the Wisconsin Dells region, boating.

Mema and Bepa (my parents) drove up from Hartland for Saturday afternoon to meet us at the Upper Dells boat launch and cruise the scenic Lake Delton. If you’ve never been and enjoy boating, it’s an absolute must (boat rides and rentals are also available through numerous sources).

Lake Delton, from above The Wilderness Resort

Connecting to the Wisconsin River, boating in the Dells means being encumbered on all sides by natural beauty: Massive bluffs, gulches, opportunities to cliff-jump or just relax on all-sand beaches and sandbars are everywhere. Other than the commercial jet boats that fly by and create excessive wake, it’s one of my absolute favorite spots to get out on the water.

We spent a little time at the beach half-way through the excursion, letting the kids swim and making new friends.

Working up quite the appetite, we stopped at the Grateful Shed on our way back to the hotel. This is a really cool little spot for food and fun, by the way. The Grateful Shed consists of five food trucks in an enclosed restaurant/bar setting, allowing patrons to order whatever type of food(s) they’re into. I got wings and a pizza from Koki, for example, as well as cheese curds from The Grateful Melt. The kids and Kelly got tacos from Pasqual’s Cantina and my parents got food from Amigos Dells BBQ Ribs & Chicken. We stepped outside afterwards to relax in adirondack chairs around a fire pit. If you’re looking for somewhere really chill and not too expensive for a meal, I do recommend this place.

Charlie and Quinn in the picnic bus at the Grateful Shed

Other great dinner spots I can personally suggest in Wisconsin Dells include Moosejaw, Field’s Steakhouse and Monk’s. I’ve personally found it hard to go wrong when eating out in the Dells. The next time I’m there with just Kelly I really hope to find a way into Ishnala Supper Club, by the way. I hear it’s fantastic but incredibly difficult to get a table at (no reservations).

Unfortunately, all good trips come to an end – even in Wisconsin Dells. With a 180-degree change in the weather (50’s and much needed rain during our recent drought), we left the Dells Sunday morning with the kids complaining they wanted to stay. Isn’t that how every great vacation should end?

For me, this trip left me excited to get back to “Wisconsin’s Playground” again. I can’t wait until our kids are old enough to bring to Noah’s Ark, for example, the way my parents used to take us. I can’t wait to bring them for a hike at Devil’s Lake, skiing at Cascade Mountain (one of the only Wisconsin ski hills I think is worth the time and money), dining at more sophisticated sit-down restaurants and, of course, I’m really excited to get back to Wild Rock again!

Did you grow up visiting the Wisconsin Dells, too? If so, what are your favorite memories and what’s your favorite spot to stay? Where do you put Wild Rock within the state’s top public golf courses? It’s moved into the top ten on my list – check out where in my top 25 public rankings, linked here:

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