Wisconsin Dells – The Original Roadside Attraction

Photo by Michael Kleen

I have fond memories of Wisconsin Dells. My family vacationed there when I was a kid in the late ’80s, early ’90s. It’s changed significantly since then. All I remember is the boat tours, the American Indians shows, and the main strip with a wax museum and other interesting little tourist shops. Very similar to Lake George, New York. Today, it’s the “Waterpark Capitol of the World,” with several large amusement parks, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, go cart tracks, and more.

A local settler named Leroy Gates started offering boat tours of scenic bluffs and rock formations along the Wisconsin River as early as 1856. Photographer H. H. Bennett later popularized the dells in photos and stereoscopic prints distributed around the country. His studio is now a museum. In 1952 “Tommy Bartlett’s Thrill Show” made the area its home, and tourism really took off. Many resorts cropped up in neighboring Lake Delton.

It’s nice to see families still enjoy Wisconsin Dells, but no trip is complete without an obligatory mess of flapjacks at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, 411 State Hwy 13. They’ve been feeding tourists North Woods meals for almost 60 years.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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