The Dells is a natural scenic area featuring stunning rock formations along a narrow gorge in the Wisconsin River. Daniel and I received several recommendations to visit the region and we hoped to stop by if we had the time.
Thanks to our untimely flat tire in La Crosse, we now had plenty of time to explore The Wisconsin Dells. I looked forward to exploring some beautiful scenery in the area.
Foiled by COVID… Again
Most people visit the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River by boat. The boat tour is a popular tourist attraction and ferries passengers upstream to various locations such as Witches Gulch and Standing Rock.
While the boat tours are running this year, I just didn’t feel comfortable taking one during a pandemic. We saw some of the tour boats and, while the passengers were seated in the open air, they were also packed in like sardines.
Also, I don’t really like trapping myself into situations where I can’t easily leave. I’ve been dealing with higher levels of anxiety lately thanks to COVID and I’m pretty sure that being trapped on boat with a bunch of tourists would be highly triggering.
So I investigated other options for visiting the area. Most of the land surrounding the Upper Dells is a Nature Preserve managed by the Department of Natural Resources. There are some hiking trails and viewpoints which I thought would be fun to check out.
But the area is closed this year due to COVID. The Nature Preserve must be extremely popular and would probably be overrun during a pandemic. The closure is understandable, but disappointing.
The Dells Riverwalk
The closest I came to actually seeing the Dells this year is the Riverwalk promenade. The Riverwalk is a short interpretive path along the river which runs through town. The views are nice, but limited.
It was the best I was going to get, however. So I walked the path a couple of times and soaked it in.
Waterpark Capitol of the World
So, on to Plan B. What else is there to do in the Wisconsin Dells?
As it turns out, lots of things. The Dells is packed with theme parks and entertainment centers as well as restaurants and tourist attractions of all kinds. In fact, the town has so many waterparks that it proudly bills itself as “The Waterpark Capitol of the World”.
My cousin Jim of The Sandwich Tribunal described The Dells as “a total resort town” and “super disneyfied”. I found this description to be pretty accurate. It seemed that each hotel we encountered tried to outdo its neighbors with bigger and more outrageous pool features and waterslides.
While Daniel and I enjoyed the kitschy and over-the-top vibe of this resort town, the attractions on offer seemed inherently risky. I had no desire to join crowds of people at an amusement park during a pandemic (although it would be appealing on a different year).
Circus World Museum
So we decided to leave town and see some other attractions in the area. We didn’t want to drive too far on our spare tire but decided a short drive would be ok.
First we headed to the Circus World Museum. Located at the original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus in Baraboo, the museum was founded in 1954 to preserve circus history. The museum holds one of the largest collection of circus materials in the world and also puts on live performances.
Circus World Museum is closed this year, however, except for the gift shop and guided tours. So we took some photos from the outside and browsed the gift shop.
Devil’s Lake State Park
Next we headed to Devil’s Lake State Park. It’s a big park with hiking trails and a couple of nice beach areas.
The park is popular in the summer and we hoped to miss the crowds by visiting on a Monday. No such luck; the place was packed.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t legally park at Devil’s Lake because we didn’t have a parking pass. This annual parking sticker is required for parking at all Wisconsin State Parks. These stickers have to be purchased in advance.
Normally, day passes are also available for purchase at the parks but not this year. So we moved on.
Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park
Our next stop was Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park just south of Devil’s Lake. It’s supposed to house the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, a giant artwork known as the “Forevertron”.
However, as we approached the turnoff for the Sculpture Park, we found our way blocked by road construction. We turned around and tried again but to no avail. Maybe we could have found a way in if we tried a little harder, but I was done.
I’d had it with The Dells. Nothing seemed to be going our way here. The Coronavirus made visiting this area just about impossible.
We’ll have to come back another time when the pandemic was over.
Where are we now?
Date: August 24, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 50
Location: The Wisconsin Dells KOA Campground
Miles Traveled: 73.5
Total Trip Mileage: 4478.8
For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts: