The Dells ~ Two Tales of a City

Two tales of a city….The Wisconsin Dells. One Dells is 5 miles of beautiful sandstone cliffs along the Wisconsin River. The other Dells is a Vegas style strip of water parks, hotels and head spinning amusements! The “Waterpark Capital of the World” Take me to the river!!


We heard the best way to see the Dells was from the water in a ‘Duck boat”. Well, yes and no….. Yes, because you get down in the water and can look up at the walls of sandstone cliffs! No, because the top on the duck boat keeps you from seeing the cliffs and other sights part of the time. Get a discounted ticket and you will get your moneys worth. Then find a hike to take you to the rivers edge.


Our 1st dip into the river on the duck boat reveals the colorful layers of sandstone with trees growing right out of thin layers of stone. Nature is awesome! The first look is worth the whole trip!


As we round the bend in the river you spot the head and beak of an eagle formed by the rocks on the upper left. The thin layers of colored sandstone are flakier than a french pastry!

The sandstone exposed in the cliffs of the Dells, as well as nearby bluffs, were formed about 520 million years ago. During the period when the dunes were formed, the shore of an inland sea lay to the west, between the Dells and the Mississippi River. The sea gradually eroded eastward to flood the Dells area and fossils were deposited. Conditions changed in the inland sea and sand deposits gave way to an accumulation of limestone and dolomite, which cap the bluffs and hills creating the layers of different colored stone.

Roughly 15,000 years ago, an ice front dammed the Wisconsin River at a point one mile east of what is now Lake Delton, to form Glacial Lake Wisconsin. As the glacier began melting about 14,000 years ago, the dam failed and Glacial Lake Wisconsin drained rapidly southward. As the huge volume of water gushed southward through a gap less than a mile wide, the water carved the Dells!

We had to see more of the Dells so we found the Riverwalk in downtown Wisconsin Dells. It’s a short walk by the river with kiosks describing the history of the Dells and the Native Americans who lived there. Our level of happiness was rising after the closer views from the rivers edge but we still were craving more!

We needed a more rustic view so we ventured out into the countryside for a 2.25 mile hike through the woods to a beach. Chapel Gorge Trail was just what we were looking for. The hike through the shaded woods was so peaceful and quite. The trees and ferns abundantly edged the path on our way toward the beach. The smells, the sounds, the beauty, the textures all washed over us and it was beautiful and calming!

As we walked through the woods we wondered what kind of beach we would find at the end of the trail. Certainly not the kind of beach we were used to in Southern California. And then, there it was! A shimmering lake with a little sandy beach at the base of the Upper Dells right before the river heads into the Narrows! 

It was time to head back to camp, past the crazy water parks and amusements in the “Other Dells” We’re sure it is great fun for the kids but these kids were in search of the beauty and excitement that only nature can create. We could not resist a few pictures of the wild other side of the Dells! When in Rome, a Trojan Horse roller coaster, a robot friend, and an upside-down replica of the White House offering visitors passageways and a mystery to solve. Good Luck!!

If all else fails, there’s always Magic and a Zombie training camp! Oh yes, please save the Dells! No matter what, the Wisconsin Dells has something for everyone! 🙂

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