The Wisconsin Dells are narrow gorges formed by the melting of glaciers that ground across America in the last ice age around 15,000 years ago.
But it didn’t take that long for them to become a roaring tourist attraction.
When white explorers and settlers came to the area in the 1800s word quickly got out about how beautiful the Dells are and tourists came in droves to see them.
The first boat trips were self guided – and powered – in rowing boats. Paddles steamers followed until we come to the present day where you can get on the water and see the Dells in lots of different ways.
We tried two of them – one slow and steady and the other fast paced and action packed.
1. A pleasure cruise
This is the classic way to see The Wisconsin Dells.
We hopped aboard a boat called Yellow Thunder which is operated by Dells Boat Tours. Our guide for the day was Captain Al, an old salt who has plied up and down these waters for many years and gave a running commentary on their history.
The layer cake rock is actually the remains of what was once the seabed and Captain Al told us it’s very soft and porous. Trees grow right to the edge of the rock and even stick out at odd angles.
We motored slowly past millions of years of geological wonder and saw a few cool sights – the column of rock that looks like a pancake stack was my favourite.
The boat turned to starboard and knifed into a tight gorge where the crew tied her up alongside a place called Witch’s Gulch. It was a very dark, eerie place with steep rock cliff pressing on the walkway on both sides.
Our next stop was a place called Stand Rock which was made world famous by the photographer H.H Bennett. He developed a quick shutter and no one believed his pictures until he snapped his own son jumping in between the rock and a ledge.
The park has trained a dog called Buddy to repeat the feat for the entertainment of tourists – if you want to see his trick check out our video.
2. A Duck tour
When World War II ended in 1945 the US military had so much equipment left over they barely knew what to do and auctioned off a heap of stuff to the public.
One of the most sought after bits of kit were the DUKWs, a truck that’s also a boat, and a few enterprising tour operators snapped them up and brought them to Wisconsin Dells to ferry tourists over land and across the water.
We’d already been on a ‘Duck’ before in London so we thought we knew what to expect – but the Americans do things a bit differently to the British!
Our driver from Original Wisconsin Ducks gave a real run for our money and roared the mighty truck along a specially made track through the forest and down into the water where the bow threw up a huge wave as it splashed down.
It was great fun and made a real contrast to the more sedate pace of the cruise on Yellow Thunder.
We saw more of the beautiful Dells and held onto the seat in front as the ‘Duck’ swam up to a ramp and turned back into a truck so we could drive over to a huge lake.
The driver asked if we wanted to enter the water fast or slow. Guess which one we chose.
Splash! we went and a rolling wave of water flooded the back and made us all scream with laughter. Great stuff!
What you need to know:
Cost – Adults are $38.22 for the Upper Dells Cruise and $25 for the Duck Tour.
How to get there – Both tours are run by the same company so we parked at Original Wisconsin Ducks at 1890 Wisconsin Dells Parkway for that tour and then took a shuttle bus over to the dock for the pleasure cruise.
When to go – Summer is best but we hear Autumn at the Dells is very beautiful too.
*Please note -We received complimentary tickets for both the Dell Boats Tour cruise and Original Wisconsin Ducks, but as always ur views are our own.
Carmen PTC – Now, Wisconsin Dells is kind of like the Vegas of the Mid-West; it’s a bit of a tourist trap. But today we are going on the original tourist attraction of the Wisconsin Dells, the Dells boat tours.
Carmen VO – We stepped aboard and met Captain Al – a veteran of the US Navy who would guide us through Dells.
It was a relief when the ship slipped its moorings and headed out onto the water away from the all the traffic and tourism.
The Dells were formed 15,000 years ago by glaciers and the rock walls are actually very very soft layers of bedrock – there’s lots of weird and wonderful shapes to see, like this stack of pancakes, and the Indian Chief’s head – can you see it?
The boat took us deeper into the dells and dropped us off at an eerie place – Witches Gulch! Very beautiful, but also a little spooky!
Back on the boat and across the water, we hiked to a place they call Stand Rock – that’s Buddy and he performed a daring trick for us
Good boy! Don’t worry – there’s a net below!
Dave VO – Pleasure cruising has drawn crowds to Wisconsin Dells for over a hundred years but it’s not the only way to get on the water.
We just splashed down in a duck – a world war two truck that can swim – and went for a jaunt down the road and down the river
The Dells rock formations are simply stunning and are well worth wading through crowds of tourists to see
Nothing stops the Ducks – they are driven by a propellor at the back and when the water gets too shallow the driver just pops it back in gear and the wheels do the rest
The best part is splash down!
The ducks are very stable and must be a lot of fun to drive – just imagine how cool it would be to have one – no more traffic jams, as long as you live near water!
Dave PTC – Wow! That was so much fun. WE went up, we went down, we splished, we splashed. The kid driving it must have the best summer job in the world I reckon.