Looking for a getaway that’s far enough to make you feel removed from the city, but still within a short driving distance? Wisconsin Dells is a great choice. Located three hours northwest of Chicagoland, the town is a popular spot for tourists, but that’s also what gives the area its charm. From water parks to more low-key entertainment, here’s what you’ll want to check out the next time you visit.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular breakfast spots in Wisconsin Dells, Paul Bunyan’s serves up family-style portions of eggs, hash browns, pancakes and drool-worthy homemade doughnuts every day from 7 a.m. to noon. A word of advice: avoid the crowds and dine during the week for faster service (a huge plus when traveling with little ones). Be sure to return to catch the Lumberjack Show in the afternoon or evening.
Travel a bit off the beaten path (and the main strip) to this gem of a restaurant overlooking scenic Lake Delton. Not only are the views picture-perfect, but the atmosphere is super family-friendly and fun, with outdoor games like Jenga and cornhole available to play while you wait for your food. Popular menu items include zucchini noodles, cheese curds and the prime rib sandwich, plus there’s a stellar kids menu with affordable options.
Monk’s is famous for having some of the best burgers in Wisconsin, so it’s kind of a must-visit on any trip to the Dells. Their pub food is perfect after a day at the waterpark and there’s a great selection of kids options for just $6. Pro tip: If you’ve got babies or toddlers, skip the downtown location, which has limited tables and space, and instead visit the Monk’s located on the Wilderness Resort’s property.
One of the main draws to the Dells area is the huge variety of water parks. It can be tough to choose exactly which one to visit, but Noah’s Ark is the largest in the United States and a huge draw for families. Check out more about the park here. Make sure to double check with your resort for water park passes, too, since many hotels offer them for free!
If you’re in need of a break from all of the tourist spots, this unassuming mini train station and outdoor museum offers affordable train rides and an up-close look at the inner workings of the railroad. Plus, there’s picnic spots, a play area and a gift shop with a train set for antsy kids waiting for the ride. Arrive early on a slow week day and you’re likely to get a behind-the-scenes tour from the conductor on duty!
If your kids are budding geologists (or if they just really like the idea of digging through dirt in search of treasure), add to their rock collection by visiting Dells Mining. Each family can choose which level of “mining” they’d like to try by picking a bucket. The pricier the bucket, the more likely you are to find polished gems. Sure, the entire experience is a complete set up, but your kids will still be excited to discover amethysts, crystals, rubies and more. If you “mine” something really spectacular, you can even have the gemstone made into a custom piece of jewelry on site.
It’s not really a trip to the Dells until you take a ride on the Ducks. There are multiple companies offering boat rides, but the Ducks is the most popular and, arguably, the most scenic, taking riders on a half land/half water trip through the Wisconsin River and surrounding areas. Along the way, you’ll be treated to plenty of corny jokes from your boat captain, but the views more than make up for the cheesiness. P.S.: You can typically score a discount by booking tickets through its website.
Featuring three different levels of mini golf difficulty, Timber Falls is ideal for both older and younger kids. The courses are fun and the park is small enough for little ones to walk on their own (it’s too hilly for strollers though). There’s also a small petting zoo, concessions and a picnic area for families to enjoy. Bonus: kids 5 and under play mini golf for free!
Take a stroll through downtown Dells and you’ll find shopping, restaurants and tons of family-friendly entertainment, like fun houses, old time portraits, trolley rides and laser tag. Your hardest decision will be which activities to check out. Don’t forget to pick up a coupon book, located at many downtown shops, for discounts on major attractions.
You can’t leave Wisconsin without grabbing some cheese for the road. In addition to all that tasty cheese, this shop is filled to the brim with touristy goodies, from homemade fudge to Wisconsin Dells memorabilia. And don’t miss a photo op with the giant mouse statue outside!
Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.