by Dave Weiman
Wisconsin Dells, located in south central Wisconsin, is heralded as a top tourist destination in the country. Businesses line main street with water parks, amusement rides, boat tours, hotels, and restaurants, but it is the area’s tranquil spots of natural beauty that attracts our family to the Dells.
Fly to the Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells Airport (KDLL), located between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, then rent a car from either AVIS (608-242-0429), or Hertz (608-316-8979).
Once you have a car, if you turn right onto U.S. Highway 12 when you leave the airport and head northwest, you will get to the Wisconsin Dells. Turn left and head southeast on Highway 12, you can first visit Circus World Museum in Baraboo, and Wollersheim Winery across from Prairie du Sac on the east side of the Wisconsin River before visiting the Dells.
Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy selected this site for vineyards in the 1840s, because it reminded him of his homeland. Robert and Joann Wollersheim purchased the property in 1972, and their oldest daughter, Julie, and her husband, Philippe Coquard of France, now own and operate it. In addition to producing quality wine, they now produce brandy.
Following your visit to Wollersheim Winery, cross the Wisconsin River and visit downtown Prairie du Sac and Sauk City on the west side, and watch American Eagles soar by the dam in search of fish. The river is a major nesting area, and Eagles can be seen there year-round.
Heading north to Wisconsin Dells on either U.S. Highway 12 or State Road 78 is Devil’s Lake State Park, where you can rent canoes and kayaks, camp out, swim or hike the trails for some of Wisconsin’s most magnificent views from 500-foot quartzite bluffs overlooking Devil’s Lake. The park is open year-round with an intriguing natural history along the 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
All of these natural attractions are in contrast to the carnival atmosphere of downtown Wisconsin Dells. The signage of all of the establishments try to lure tourists, but once you arrive at an attraction, such as the scenic Dells Boats Tours, where you can enjoy a casual sunset dinner cruise and breathtaking scenery, or the famous Original Wisconsin Ducks Tours onboard World War II amphibious vehicles, your eyes are focused on natural rock formations with spectacular colors.
A big attraction at the Dells has always been the “Tommy Bartlett Show,” tagged the greatest show on H2O. The show is celebrating more than 60 years of some of the best water skiing exhibitions in the world!
I had the opportunity to have dinner with Tommy about 25 years ago at an aviation conference in Milwaukee. Tommy was a fellow pilot and aircraft owner, and had many tales to tell, including being on the road with Lucille Ball back in the 1940s. His successor, Tom Diehl, I feel is the hardest working operator in the Dells, and supervises every aspect of the show, from the parking lot and admissions, to the waterfront.
If magic is to your liking, go see the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater, a show that combines magic with comedy and original fast-paced illusion. Water is everywhere at and around the Dells, with water parks galore, and opportunities to canoe and kayak beautiful waterways. Peggy and I kayaked at Mirror Lake State Park – 2,200 acres reflecting a wooded shoreline with sandstone cliffs up to 50 feet high, a swimming beach, and wetlands that are home to a variety of wildlife.
You can rent watercraft and experience on your own the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River with its sandstone cliffs, amazing rock formations, ledges, side canyons and all the natural beauty this area is known for.
The Chula Vista Resort and Waterpark, where we stayed, features 26 waterslides over 1.5 miles long, the country’s fastest indoor water coaster, 30-foot drops, reverses and switchbacks, curves, loops and dips – all delivering guests with cool, refreshing pools (www.ChulaVistaResort.com). I can also highly recommend the restaurants at Chula Vista Resort, such as Kaminski’s Chop House for fine dining.
Another great indoor water attraction is the Wilderness Wave Pool at Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort. Before indoor water parks came to be, Wisconsin Dells would shutdown for the winter, but no more. The resorts are open year-round. Huge outdoor water parks continue to do well seasonally, and can handle thousands of visitors without long lines.
The Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells Airport (KDLL), located between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, has two runways, 01/19, 5,010 X 75 feet asphalt, and 14/32, 2746 X 100 feet grass, and your choice of Mogas, 100LL or Jet A.
Instrument approaches include LOC/DME, RNAV, and VOR-A. Dane County Regional Airport (KMSN) is located 30 nm to the southeast, and features an ILS, car rental, aircraft maintenance and avionics (Wisconsin Aviation, Inc.), and an airport restaurant (Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room).
For additional information on the Baraboo-Wisconsin Dells Airport, contact Baraboo Dells Flight Center at 608-356-2270, or refer to the airport website at www.BarabooDellsAirport.com.
Both the Kalahari and Wilderness Resorts offer free shuttle service from the airport, as does the Ho-Chunk Casino, which is located immediately adjacent to the airport, but for convenience and accessibility to all sites, we recommend renting a car.