Wisconsin Dells on the Cheap

We are fortunate that we live about an hour away from a really fun family destination- and the Waterpark Capital of the World- the Wisconsin Dells! We just spent a week in the Dells (as it is affectionately referred to) with family. The downside to the dells is the cost; since it is a heavily trafficked tourist destination, most things are expensive or at least moderately priced. And we travel cheap, especially when it’s close to home. So here’s our recommendation for entertainment in the dells and surrounding area that won’t cost you a fortune. Many of these things are located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, about 20-25 minutes south of the Wisconsin Dells. Also, all of the titles below are clickable links to give you more info.

1. Devils Lake, Baraboo, Wisconsin

So while Devils Lake is not actually in the Dells, it’s only a 20-ish minute drive south, and it’s my favorite state park in Wisconsin. A state park pass is $25 for an annual pass ($35 for out of state plates) or $7 for a daily pass ($10 for out of state plates). Spring for the annual pass, there are other fabulous parks nearby.

Enjoying some of the hiking trails at Devil’s lake by going a little off the beaten path.

Enjoying the brisk, but beautiful, lake.

Devils Lake has a gorgeous lake with low cliffs on one side. It’s a fairly shallow lake with beaches for swimming. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the lake, but you can canoe, kayak, and swim. There are buildings on the two main beaches where you can rent kayaks and buy food. There are also fantastic hiking trails that go up the cliffs, or go through the woods for those who enjoy less rigorous trails. Camping is reasonable here (but requires reservations well in advance). It’s beautiful year round. Whenever we suggest to someone that they visit the lake on their trip to the Dells, they have often told us it’s their favorite part of their trip.

2.  International Crane Foundation (ICF), Baraboo, WI

This is the only place in the world where you can see all 15 species of crane in one place. An amazing walk through property allows you to learn about cranes and see the cranes in some beautiful habitats. The ICF is open April 15 to October 31, and tours are more common in the summer. Admission is $9.50 for adults, kids ages 6-17 are $5, kids 5 and under are free. They offer guided tours free with admission three times a day (tours are only on weekends outside the summer), and you can learn a lot more about the cranes and the foundation by taking a tour.

One of the many cranes at the International Crane Foundation.

3. Baraboo Ochsner Zoo, Baraboo, WI

Baraboo has a small city zoo that is free, and right in town. I should make sure to emphasize the word small, as there are only a few animals and exhibits, but hey, free! They have wolves, llamas, a lynx, a few monkeys, and some other animals. This is a nice stop for smaller children, or a place to explore for a little bit before grabbing lunch at a local restaurant. Be careful with small children though- when D was 4 months old, Z took him to the zoo while we were in town for a work conference of mine. D was wearing a fuzzy bear bodysuit since it was a little chilly (it was October), and Z texted me to say that the wolves followed Z and D along the perimeter of their enclosure as they walked around. Z thinks they thought D looked yummy. So, forgo the baby bear outfits for your small children. The zoo is open year round.

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Baby D as a fuzzy bear, with wolves admiring him in the background.

4. Disc Golf Course at UW Baraboo Campus, Baraboo, WI

If you haven’t discovered disc golf yet, it’s a great outdoor activity that is pretty cost efficient. Similar to golf, you stand at a tee pad and throw a disc golf disc (smaller and a heavier plastic than a frisbee) towards a large metal basket with chains. It’s a great way to get outside for some low impact exercise and courses are all over the country.

One of the holes at UW Baraboo’s Disc Golf Course.

The course at the University of Wisconsin Baraboo campus is free. Most holes are in the woods or along some large grassy areas. It’s very picturesque, and fun for kids of all ages and adults. To buy a disc golf disc, check out your local sports stores, or the MC Sports store in Lake Delton, Wisconsin

5. Veterans Park and City Pool, Wisconsin Dells, WI

Veteran’s park is one of many city parks in Wisconsin Dells. It has fairly new playground equipment, a basketball court, picnic tables, shelter, and the city pool is at this park. The city pool is a really nice pool with a zero-depth entry area, a water slide, diving board, wading pool, and one of those fun mushroom waterfalls. This is a very nice park that can provide a lot of entertainment for a much lower cost (and smaller crowds!) than some of the larger entertainment in the area. It is $6.50 for a non-resident to use the pool, check the website for open swim hours.

6. Mirror Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI

Mirror Lake State Park is at the very north end of Baraboo, and is only a few minutes south of the main attractions in the Dells area. Another great state park (see my info above for admission fees), this park has a beautiful lake for swimming, fishing, or boating. It also has many hiking trails, and several play areas for kids.

There are several cheaper attractions in the Dells as well, with things like the Lost Temple, Top Secret, and the Deer park, but often times the entertainment is fairly short-lived. So I hope this list provides you with some ideas for cheap or free entertainment in the Wisconsin Dells area that will keep your family busy, and your pockets a little fuller!

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