Pack your swimsuits, your tennis shoes (and your wallet) and head to Wisconsin Dells for an action-packed getaway with your kids any time of year
In a truly unique kind of way, when you want to get away with your family without driving terribly far from Champaign-Urbana, Wisconsin Dells provides the ultimate action-packed adventure. It is one of those things you can’t quite describe until you actually experience driving into town on U.S. Highway 12 and seeing waterslide after waterslide poking out of buildings and giant billboards everywhere you look. With attractions involving animals, thrill-seeking fun, and of course, water, a Dells vacation may be right for you and your family any time of year.
Located just under four and a half hours from Champaign-Urbana, Wisconsin Dells is an easy drive away. There are plenty of places to stop and get some wiggles out and besides, as soon as you get there, your kids will be going nonstop the entire trip, burning off every ounce of energy they have.
Deciding when to go and where to stay
There are a couple different ways to plan a Dells vacation, depending on your family, your budget and the time of year you plan to visit.
- Stay on-site at one of the waterpark resorts and “set up camp” there for your whole trip.
- Check into a non-waterpark hotel and purchase day passes to the different waterparks and visit a number of them.
- Rent an AirBnB for your crew and hop around (as described above), particularly if you want to have a kitchen or a larger, more private space for your family.
There are plenty of indoor waterparks, and of course, the outdoor waterparks are all over, too. You’ll have more options of things to do in the summer months, but there will also be more crowds. Visiting on weekdays will always be your best bet, any time of year, but if you do have to go on a weekend, we highly recommend staying away from holiday weekends (like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day, etc.), as well as avoiding largely observed school breaks, such as the week between Christmas and New Year’s and the peak of summer time.
Tip: if you’re looking to visit in the summertime, know that schools in nearby Wisconsin districts and the Chicago area are in school much later than our Champaign-Urbana schools. Visiting around the first or second week of June is still pretty quiet.
If you choose a resort
There are well over 50 hotels to choose from in the Dells, but we will highlight a few of the most popular options with indoor waterparks.
Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort
The Wilderness is the largest resort of all options in the Dells, and you’ll see that clearly as you drive through the town. Indoor waterparks, outdoor waterparks, tons of onsite attractions as well as food, a spa, and golf are all on-site here. It is so large, be prepared that you may still be driving around the property depending on where you stay and where you want to go.
Day passes available? Yes. More info here.
Great Wolf Lodge
Great Wolf Lodge has locations all over the country (notably, in Gurnee, which clocks in at a shorter drive than the Dells for C-U families). Especially great for families with younger kids, you’ll see fewer (while still some) thrill rides in Great Wolf waterparks and more things to do for kids of preschool/early elementary age. They also do activities like story time each night and have families with younger kids in mind when putting their resort together.
Day passes available? Yes. More info here.
One of the lesser known waterpark resorts, Kalahari offers a whole bunch of what you’d expect in any Dells resort: waterpark fun, arcades, attractions and more. Just another great option in the Dells.
Day passes available? Yes. And last we heard, you could get a special evening pass for a discounted rate after a certain time of night. Perfect for the night you get in if you’re not staying at a waterpark resort!
Yes, you can stay here. But if we’re being honest, we don’t recommend it. We also don’t recommend getting day passes to the indoor waterpark. But (but!) the outdoor waterpark is fantastic and if you can swing one of their deals in the off-season, you can get day passes at a super discounted rate for the warmer weather. So pass on the hotel, pass on the indoor waterpark, and try to squeeze in a visit to the outdoor waterpark if you’re considering Mount Olympus. Bonus: There are lots of amusement park rides for the younger set AND some pretty great wooden roller coasters for the thrill riders in your family! Note: Part of Mount Olympus is the old Family Land waterpark some of us may remember from our ’90s road trips to the Dells as Midwestern kids ourselves.
Day passes available? Yes. And watch for deals on their social media channels during the quieter seasons.
Searching for an AirBnb
The road less traveled when it comes to Dells vacations is to find an AirBnB for your family (or your crew plus extended family) to call home base for your visit. You don’t have to stay right in the Dells and do this; you can pick from any of the surrounding communities and drive into the Dells for your dose of fun, and back to your peaceful abode whenever you want.
Note: AirBnB links are affiliate links, and chambanamoms.com earns commission on bookings through those links. Photos are from individual AirBnB listings and are not chambanamoms.com images.
If you’re looking to save big money on eating while at the Dells, a condo like this could be perfect for you. There’s also an indoor and outdoor pool at the property and wi-fi, of course. Less than five minutes to Wisconsin Dells. Runs just over $100 a night.
This condo is again just five minutes from all the action, but the stand-alone feature and low number of units in the area means you’re going to have plenty of space for your family without being in crowds. Right on the lake with an outdoor firepit.
We chose this as a great option if you’re traveling to the Dells with grandparents or a larger family. If you enjoy peaceful nature views, but want to be 15 minutes away from the action, Eagles Nest is a beautiful pick. Located on the higher end of the price spectrum at over $300 a night, it’ll be a lot less if you split it between two couples.
Other things to do
Thrill-seekers, delight. Ziplining is here and there are some pretty epic adventures to be had in the Dells area. This leveled up the intensity factor on our trip for our teen and one of our elementary kids was brave enough to do it, as well. Read all the fine print before you pick an excursion, as you may find yourself doing not just one but nine zips (and nine giant stair climbs) on your adventure. Our recommendation is Big Foot Ziplines but there are others from which to pick.
Play with the deer at the Deer Park
A much less intense excursion, the Deer Park is a great place to enjoy with grandparents, toddlers or anyone in between. Yes, you get up close to the deer and yes, they’re very gentle and tame. It’s a sweet experience and a welcome “quieter” attraction in the Dells compared to many of the others.
Take a ride on the Ducks
Another less intense experience and a true Dells tradition, the Wisconsin Dells duck tours are army vehicles that drive on land and float in water. There are many tours for Dells Ducks in the area as this is a staple experience in Dells tourism, but our vote goes to Original Wisconsin Ducks. The views are gorgeous no matter what vehicle you’re floating on!
Play in any of the many arcades
Remember when we told you visits to the Dells weren’t exactly cheap? That’s because there are literally opportunities to drop more money at every turn, arcades being one of them. Picture Jupiter’s at the Crossing for us Champaign-Urbana residents times 100 and all over the place. Waiting for food in a restaurant? Go play at the arcade. Walking around to get ice cream at the end of the night? Boom, arcade. And if you’re staying at the resorts, there are arcades everywhere.
Ride coasters or other rides
We already covered the Mount Olympus roller coaster (pictured below), but know there are many other thrill rides popping out of the landscape every time you look left or right. If you’re looking for rides, they’re at the Dells. And don’t pass on the go-karts, because the tracks in the Dells are epic.
Noah’s Ark, Biggest Wisconsin Dells Waterpark
Noah’s Ark wins the prize for largest waterpark in the Dells and you have to visit during summer time, as it’s a true waterpark through and through. Outdoor everything, all the largest slides and the complete aquatic theme park experience. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it as a “thing to do” in the Dells.
More animal encounters
We know there are more chances to get close to animals in the Dells, like at Timbavati Wildlife Park. These opportunities change seasonally and from year to year (sometimes), so verify a place is open before you promise giraffe feedings to your kiddos.
Places to eat
There are some Dells staples when it comes to choosing places to eat on your trip. A few of our favorites are linked below for you to work into your visit.
Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co.
They’re going to hand you paper moose antler hats when you sit down and that’s just the start of the fun. Their food is deliciously wonderful, too. And we know of some adults who love sampling the microbrews when they visit!
Buffalo Phil’s Pizza & Grille
This is the place where your food is delivered to you — on a train! Kids love it and it’s pretty decent food, too. Make sure you ask for a train table, if you’re aiming for that experience, and you may have to wait a little while for one to open up. If you have a young train-lover, we promise it’ll be worth the wait.
Bobbers Island Grill
This makes the short list for places to visit in the warmer months because (amazingly) they have a giant sand play area outdoors that your kids can enjoy while you dine. I mean, we’re not going to judge you if you show up to have a quiet adult meal and get a couple kids meals to go back at the hotel since your kids played right through dinner and all.
Some ideas on trips you can take with your family:
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Best Midwest Summer Road Trips for Champaign-Urbana Families
- Road Trip: Visiting Wisconsin Dells
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Day Trip from Champaign-Urbana: Living Large in Casey
- 20+ Unique Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- How To: Rent a Boat on Lake Shelbyville
- A Whole New (Old) World: Exploring the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin