Wisconsin Dells: Winter Wonderland

Wisconsin Dells: Winter Wonderland

Winter has traditionally been Wisconsin Dells’ quieter season.

Tell that to the kids whooping down Christmas Mountain Village’s tubing hill. They skid to a halt with a brisk face full of snow that rekindles shrieks of winter fun.

On the nearby bluffs, skiers and snowboarders swish and weave down 11 runs. From half-mile declines and challenging terrain to easy hills, they welcome every vacationer, regardless of skill level. But what makes the Dells in the winter truly enjoyable is being able to settle in and just relax. Christmas Mountain Village, a 1,000-acre resort, has everything on site. The Mountain Kids Club teaches 4- to 8-year-olds how to ski. Other kids’ programs offer crafts and activities, while a game room brings out families’ competitive streaks. Dining options range from gourmet meals to taco pizzas and a traditional Wisconsin fish fry.

Dells in the winter are wet and wild …

Many would argue the variety of winter activities separates the Dells from other year-round cold-weather vacation destinations. While some of the world’s largest outdoor water and amusement parks are shuttered for winter, there is plenty of action left in the Dells. This is, after all, the place that invented indoor water parks and earned a no-contest claim-to-fame as Water Park Capital of the World. There are close to 20 choices, from big thrills and exotic themes.

Wisconsin Dells Water ParkMt. Olympus, one of the Dells’ most legendary outdoor amusement parks, also has an indoor park, The Bay, which is available to Christmas Mountain Village owners and connected to Odyssey Dells. The park’s Banyan Treehouse shoots guests down a tangle of body slides, while the Mystical Tower sends tube riders down the 10-story Anaconda, which snakes its way through the 55,000-squarefoot park. Older kids make their way across floating coins and play water basketball while younger ones dip in and out of geysers and slip down smaller slides at a 35-foot grounded pirate ship.

After drying off, guests ride go-carts, a roller coaster, bumper cars or jump into a ball pit at Mt. Olympus’s Parthenon Indoor Theme Park.

At Kalahari® Resort and Conference Center’s  indoor theme park, which offers day passes to the public, families ride a six-story Ferris wheel, zip across a multi-level go-cart track, and ride atop giraffes on the African-themed carousel.

Full of diversions and excursions …

Without summer crowds and carnival-like overload of enticements, downtown Dells and the Highway 12 “Strip” have breathing room in the winter as well as plenty of year-round attractions. Hands-on exhibits can be hair-raising at Tommy Bartlett Exploratory. Secret passages and hidden messages draw families through downtown’s Wizard Quest or the grab-a-wand interactive MagiQuest that just opened at Great Wolf Lodge. At the H.H. Bennett Studio, history lovers learn how an innovative, adventurous photographer introduced the world to the Dells’ Cambrian sandstone canyons, gorges, bluffs and formations and launched a tourism phenomenon in the mid-1800s.

H.H. Bennett StudioThe Dells has always had its share of showmen, but none reached the fame of the Ringling Brothers. Their famous circus wintered in nearby Baraboo. The Circus World Museum, open weekdays in the winter, displays more than 200 vintage circus wagons and  exhibits that bring the Greatest Show on Earth colorfully back to life.

And celebrate the outdoors

The greatest winter attraction for vacationers of all ages is the perfect snowfall. Snowmobilers buzz along on the 400 Trail, starting from the historic train depot in Reedsburg. Named for the Chicago-to-St. Paul passenger train that traveled 400 miles in 400 minutes, the 22-mile trail follows the train’s former route through the Baraboo River Valley southwest of the Dells with picturesque river crossings along the way.

Those who enjoy silent sports can blaze their own cross-country ski trail across the snow-covered Christmas Mountain’s golf courses. State parks also offer a chance to enjoy Wisconsin’s woodlands and the region’s distinct geology.

The Dells’ sandstone was once the shore of a prehistoric sea. Fast-forward a few million years, and it was carved into gorges, cliffs and chimney rocks during the Ice Age when an ice dam broke loose and unleashed Glacial Lake Wisconsin into the valley.

the dells' sandstoneAlong Mirror Lake State Park’s 17 miles of trails, you might catch the sun illuminating layers of icicles on carved sandstone cliffs. Two miles south of Baraboo, the state’s deservedly most popular park—Devil’s Lake—has 16 miles of trails in loops from easy to challenging. Families also can head to the park’s sledding hill or try angling for trout or northern pike if the lake is thick enough for ice fishing during vacations.

Christmas Mountain Village hosts its own annual Winter Carnival. Kids try their own snow sculptures, dive into drifts to seek buried treasure, launch water balloons and see how many marshmallows they can eat. Anyone brave enough dons a bikini or boxers for an extra chilly rush down the ski hill. Golfers compete for the longest drive despite the lack of green or try a different kind of swing in a wood splitting contest. Couples face off in the resort’s version of “The Newlywed Game” and enjoy the live bands at Mulligan’s Bar N” Grill.

Summers might draw bigger crowds to Wisconsin Dells.

But for vacationers who enjoy snowy fun mixed in with engaging indoor attractions, there’s no place quite Wisconsin Dells in the winter.