Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin: Population = 2,678 (Lake Delton population = 2,914), elevation = 909 feet, Average January low temp = 7.2º, Average July high temp = 84.4º, annual precipitation = 33.56”, annual snowfall = 41.2”
The Wisconsin Dells is a strange world. It is a combination of natural and un-natural entertainments. It lives in two towns and four counties. Driving through it, the town looks a lot bigger than what the population would support. That is because so many things are inflated to larger than life sized.
Driving Highway 23 (Broadway) East-West takes you through downtown Wisconsin Dells. The downtown is fairly compact, with a mix of solid old brick storefronts and garish new buildings. This being a tourist Mecca, there is a high proportion of good restaurants and bars, as well as ticket sellers, fudge dealers, souvenir hawkers, and a few outlandish amusement parks.
Driving Highway 12 (Wisconsin Dells Parkway) North-South takes you from Wisconsin Dells to Lake Delton. I am guessing that Lake Delton has homes someplace, maybe out by the Outlet Mall. Along the Parkway, things are seriously Un-natural. This is where the huge amusement and water parks have sprouted, interspersed with hotels, small, large, and huge.
To get a true appreciation of how massive this tourist entertainment district is, I guess you would have to visit during the high season in summer. During our visit in mid-May, the parks are just gearing up for the coming season. The waterslides are dry, the roller coasters still, the parking lots empty. The biggest show in town is the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater, but that is sold out for the rest of the month. Of course we visit the local breweries and find some great beers.
Kind of hidden in the Downtown area, there is the entrance to the Riverwalk. From this vantage, you can see the rushing Wisconsin River, nestled between high carved sandstone bluffs, blanketed with forests. During the high season, the river is the playground of jet boats, amphibious “duck” vehicles, and a myriad of small boats. In May, the river is mostly quiet and our tour boat putts along, often accompanied only by the occasional duck or goose.
From my vantage point as an off-season visitor, Wisconsin Dells looks like a huge machine, dedicated to removing money from tourists. Judging from the thousands of hotel rooms available, I would guess that the machine is very effective. On the other hand, the river valley is beautiful and, at this time of year, serene and lovely as seen from a slow boat.
Next up: Rochester, Minnesota