If you live in the midwest, Wisconsin Dells is likely a familiar place. I grew up spending countless spring breaks with my family in the Dells to visit the iconic waterparks and floating on the lazy river. Afterall, they are known as the Waterpark Capital of the World. But with the pandemic, our health, and safety in mind — we explored another, more scenic, and less crowded side of the Dells. Our trip feels full circle. I came here as a youngin’ with my parents and I’ve returned with not only my parents, but also my husband Nick, son Harlan, and dog Kiwi.
I love exploring places I’ve already been before, especially when it’s discovering something totally new about that place. Thank you to Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau and Travel Wisconsin for sponsoring this post and for inviting me out to discover another side of the Dells.
Where we traveled: Wisconsin Dells
How long we stayed: 2 nights, 3 days
Where we stayed: Vintage Lake Cottage
Favorite activity: Exploring Witch’s Gulch with Dells Boat Tours
Favorite Meal: Fish fry and scallops from The Del-Bar
One factor that made this trip so memorable was the Vintage Lake Cottage on Lake Delton. It has a Northwoods vibe with a beautiful lakefront, dock, and firepit. It’s completely updated with two bedrooms, a four-season room, cedar beams, fireplace, and all the other amenities you’d want while traveling. I laugh looking back at our stay because my dad was so observant of the craftsmanship of the cottage. He commented that it was built to last forever. Well, I hope so! We certainly enjoyed it and shared some great meals, movie nights, and fires. We even got crawlers at the local bait shop after hearing there were striped bass and sunnies in the lake. But the water level was pretty low when we arrived and we didn’t have much luck fishing. Can’t say we didn’t try!
The rental is through Sand County Vacation Rentals. Their office is right in town and they make the check-in and checkout process seamless. If you’re trying to avoid the big hotels and resorts in the Dells because of the pandemic, this local rental service provides options for cottages, cabins, condos, and vacation homes.
HIKING AT MIRROR LAKE STATE PARK
How in the world did I visit the Dells year after year and not know about Mirror Lake State Park? It’s really pretty, has great camping options, and there are several different hiking trails to choose from. We went with Echo Rock and Ishnala Trails because they were short and sweet with picturesque views of the famous sandstone bluffs and Ishnala Supper Club. The hike is easy and mostly paved which is great when you’re backpacking a 1-year-old who has a time limit for activities like this. We also hiked Pulpit Rock Trail which is unpaved and leads to an overlook of more sandstone bluffs. It’s another easy hike, but more off the beaten path than Echo Rock of Ishnala. FYI, it’s actually marked “Fern Dell Gorge” at the beginning of the trail.
If we had more time, we would’ve explored the state park by water to really experience the sandstone bluffs along the lake. I probably would’ve thrown a line in as well! There are kayak, canoe, SUP, and boat rentals onsite and the whole lake is a “slow no wake” zone.
Fun fact: “Dells” is similar to the French word “dalles” which means “layers of flat rock” to describe the bluff rock formations.
Upper Dells Tours with Dells Boat Tours
A boat tour is probably one of the more “classic” things to do in the Dells. Surprisingly, the Upper Dells Tour with Dells Boat Tours wasn’t very busy even on a Saturday afternoon. I’m guessing that is because it’s starting to get cold outside and kids are back in school. We were able to social distance from others on the boat by much more than 6 feet. We wore our masks which helped shield the wind from our faces during the cruise up north on the Wisconsin River.
I knew I wanted to do the Upper Dells Tour because of its first stop at the Witch’s Gulch. It’s a “spooky walk” through a very unique and gorgeous canyon area with hidden whirlpool chambers. I truly haven’t seen anything like it before — at least not in the midwest! Harlan kept pointing to the whirlpools while saying “mool” which means “water” in Korean. His vocabulary is growing by the day! If it wasn’t for the convenient concession stand and bathroom at the end of the trail, I would’ve thought we were on an island somewhere far away. We appreciated the hot coffee and restrooms before getting back on the boat. The next stop was at Stand Rock where a trained German Shepherd makes the famous leap from one sandstone cliff to another called Stand Rock. We cheered on the pup!
COUNTRY BUMPKIN FARM MARKET
Pumpkin patches are probably my favorite fall activity. It’s so festive! But Country Bumpkin Farm Market is much more than a pumpkin patch. It’s a child’s dream come true. The owners did such an amazing job creating interactive, fun areas for families to explore. While they did have big orange pumpkins and other produce, they also had a corn maze, train ride, Lil’ Bumpkin Play Village, and the Petting Farm. You can even get little pellets in ice cream cones to feed the goats, donkeys, alpacas, ducks, chickens, etc. At the end of our visit, Harlan picked a couple of pumpkins to take back to the cottage. We ended up carving them while waiting for pizza. Check out the photos below and guess which pumpkin was mine!
I had no idea what a “deer park” was until we stepped into Wisconsin Deer Park in the Dells. It feels a lot like a magical Disney movie on a 40 acre forest. There are 100+ deer from seven different countries roaming about. If you’re a hunter, this place will either excite you or give you anxiety because of all the big bucks! It was so cool yet almost a little strange to be able to feed the deer directly out of my hands. At one point, I had almost a dozen deer surround me as I handed out a cracker. You’ll find a variety of deer including our favorite White Tail and European Fallow which comes in Black, White, Brown, and Spotted English.
While my favorite travel activities usually include fishing and hiking, trying local takeout meals is right up there. If there’s a silver lining in COVID-19, it’s takeout. We didn’t dine in at any restaurants during this trip. We either picked up pre-ordered takeout meals or had it delivered to the cottage. The ordering system was usually pretty slick and we could order through an app, online, or by phone.
WHERE WE ATE
- Bella Goose Coffee – I highly recommend the seasonal pumpkin waffles and biscuits and gravy. We also did curbside pickup on our way out of the Dells, which was so convenient.
- Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co. – The thick crust Alfredo pizza was heavy but so good. I also loved their brewed root beer!
- The Del Bar – This supper club-like restaurant has superb seafood including the seared jumbo sea scallops and Friday Night Fish Fry. I do wish the hosts and other workers would have worn fabric masks rather than half visor-style face shields, and asked people coming into the restaurant to wear a mask until they’re seated. Thankfully, we were in there for just a few minutes to pick up our order.
- Summer House Grill & Bar – If it wasn’t for COVID and cold weather, we would’ve enjoyed our meal on Summer House’s patio overlooking Lake Delton. The fish tacos and hot beef sandwich were very good. They’re a seasonal restaurant so they’ll reopen next spring!
Overall, this was one of the best trips we have taken in Wisconsin Dells. I’m amazed by the amount of activities you can do outdoors in nature. Next time, we’re hoping to go back to Mirror Lake State Park and bring the Lil Hotdish for a couple nights of camping.
I hope this gave you some insight on discovering a different side of the Dells! Check out the Wisconsin Dells Trip Builder to help plan your next trip.