The end of summer is nigh, and the clock is ticking on fun summer activities. If you don’t have plans for Labor Day weekend just yet, don’t panic. There are tons of fun last minute activities you can still enjoy with your family in the Wisconsin Dells. There are countless lakes, beaches and outdoor family activities offered behind the cheddar curtain to our north. And when it comes to playgrounds, the Wisconsin Dells is the largest one available for all ages. Known as the waterpark capital of the world, the Dells has numerous waterpark offerings along with kitschy tourist attractions and stunning natural beauty. Over the past decade, the Dells has shifted focus from small outdoor parks to large resorts that offer lodging, good food and both indoor and outdoor waterparks. Here are five attractions you shouldn’t miss and five you can skip.
Don’t Miss Attractions:
1. Mount Olympus: The Mount Olympus resort has swallowed up most of the hotels and some big name attractions on the strip and has a sprawling outdoor waterpark along with both an outdoor and indoor amusement park. It is also home to a smaller indoor waterpark and numerous go-kart tracks. The park is huge, and the entrance is at the top of a hill which can make for a very exhausting day. However, Mount Olympus is one of those places you have to experience at least once. For discount or free tickets, stay at one of the hotels owned by the resort on the strip. For more details check out:http://www.mtolympuspark.com
2. The Wisconsin Deer Park: The Wisconsin Deer Park might scream tourist trap, but it is another one of those places that you want to visit at least once. The park is home to hundreds of tame deer that will walk right up to you and feed out of your hands. As you can imagine, this place is a huge hit with the kids. While you are visiting, don’t forget to take pictures with the larger-than-life fiberglass sculptures located around the park. They might be cheesy, but they are also a Dell’s staple. For more information, check out:http://www.wisdeerpark.com
3. MooseJaw Pizza: When looking for somewhere to chow down, MooseJaw Pizza fits the bill perfectly. This cutely themed restaurant has excellent pizza, soup and sandwiches. They also offer gourmet sodas, and the grape is not to be missed. The moose mascot also wanders the dining room at set intervals to take pictures with the kiddos and there are paper moose antler hats for those who want to blend in. In the basement is a nicely sized arcade that most people don’t realize is there, and the décor is just all around fun. Speaking of fun, MooseJaw is also one of the most unique places to order pizza delivery from. Their cars have life-sized moose on top, making spotting one navigating the Dells traffic fun in itself. For more information, check out http://www.dellsmoosejaw.com
4. Big Sky Twin Drive In: Taking in a drive-in movie is an excellent way to cap off the night in the Dells. The theater is open nightly until the end of the season and provides a fun flashback to simpler times. It is one of the last drive-in theaters in Wisconsin and plays two recently released movies each night, for example this week they are showing Disney’s “Planes” and “We’re the Millers” along with “Red2” and “The Conjuring.” They show the more family friendly movie first and then the more adult movie after the kiddos drift off to sleep. It also has a cute concession stand called “Mamaburger.” Admission is only $8 per adult and $5 per child making this the cheapest movie going experience you are likely to encounter. For more information, check out: http://www.bigskydrivein.com
5. Devil’s Lake State Park: This is the most visited state park in Wisconsin, and after one visit you will understand why. It features miles of hiking trails on scenic bluffs that surround a picturesque lake. You can rent canoes and row boats on the lake, or spend the day relaxing on the sandy beach and swimming. There is also a historic visitor’s center on the shore and hundreds of campsites. However, if you wish to camp here you need to make a reservation ahead of time. The campground frequently hits capacity, especially on holiday weekends. For more information, check out: http://www.devilslakewisconsin.com
Attractions that you can skip:
1. Top Secret: While the building is highly intriguing, the show inside the building is fairly dull. Small kids will likely be frightened of the effects, and older kids will likely find it lackluster. The kids who act as tour guides give it their all, but there is only so much mileage you can get out of corny jokes and sets that look like half the props are missing. Additionally, admission is fairly costly at $12 per adult and $10 per kid 6-12. Personally, I would snap a couple pictures of the outside and skip the tour inside.
2. Noah’s Ark Waterpark: Noah’s Ark is a large outdoor waterpark, but it just can’t keep up with the nearby competition. It doesn’t have any indoor components, so unlike its competitors, there is nothing to do here on a rainy or chilly day. It’s also fairly expensive costing $38.99 per person over 48 inches tall. For those under 48 inches, it’s still $28.99. Noah’s Ark used to be one of the top waterparks in the Dell’s, but it has not scaled to compete with Mount Olympus, The Wilderness, Great Wolf Lodge or the Kalahari. With the other resorts, you are getting free admission to a waterpark that is pretty much guaranteed to be in walking distance with your hotel room. While the Flamingo does offer free admission to Noah’s Ark, it just does not have the same level of amenities as the other resorts.
3. Ripley’s Believe It or Not: This roadside attraction suffers from the same issues as Top Secret. It’s dinky, dull and a tourist trap. While the building looks mildly interesting, it’s just not worth the cost of admission. This one can be safely skipped, and your money is better spent elsewhere.
4. The Ghost Outpost: This is yet another attraction that is similar to Top Secret and Ripley’s. It’s a haunted house that will pretty much only scare young kids, while missing the mark with older kids and teens. It ranks pretty high on the lame scale, and actually feels like a waste of time.
5. Beaver Creek Springs Aquarium: This one sounds nice in theory. It is an aquarium and catch and release fishing pond. However, in practice it just doesn’t pan out very well. The aquarium is part is dirty and dingy and you actually feel bad for the fish stuck there. After spending a few minutes looking around, you will leave wishing it wasn’t catch and release just so some of the poor critters would actually get out of the disgusting water. If you want to fish, skip this place and check out one of the gorgeous state parks nearby, like Mirror Lake or Devil’s Lake.