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Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by Sarah Puckett
When it comes to unique options of things to do and see on a fall road trip, Wisconsin Dells delivers. With nearly a hundred attractions, both natural and manmade, packed into a small city 50 miles northwest of Wisconsin’s state capital of Madison and about three hours from Chicago, Wisconsin Dells is a perfect destination for a fall weekend (or longer!) getaway.
Whether you want to relax in a top-rated luxury spa, hike among ancient Cambrian sandstone cliffs, take in views from the Wisconsin River, farm hop, or enjoy a wine picnic, the Dells has it all.
If you’re planning a road trip to Wisconsin Dells this fall don’t miss these 14 unique things to do.
Take a Fall Hike in a Wisconsin State Park near Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells is situated in one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes of the state. There are numerous state parks within a short drive of the Dells.
Devils Lake State Park
Arguably home to some of the most dramatic views of any Wisconsin State Park, Devils Lake is a local favorite. This do-not-miss destination is less than a half-hour from downtown Wisconsin Dells. A popular, steep, trail navigates a rocky bluff where visitors can see unique rock formations Balanced Rock and Devils Doorway. The topography of the park is a result of slow-moving glaciers from the last Ice Age. These glaciers deposited the boulders covering the bluff today. The 2.5-mile loop along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail offers views over Wisconsin’s forests and Devils Lake. In the fall season, viewpoints showcase the region’s impressive fall foliage colors, from bright reds to energetic yellows.
Natural Bridge State Park
If you have time after hiking at Devils Lake State Park, consider a stop at nearby Natural Bridge State Park. This is a fascinating destination about a half-hour’s drive from Devil’s Lake and 45 minutes from Wisconsin Dells. As its name suggests, the key feature of this park is a natural bridge formation. Hikers will get great views of the arch from an easy and flat 2-mile loop trail.
Rocky Arbor State Park
The closest Wisconsin state park to Wisconsin Dells is Rocky Arbor State Park. Fewer than 3 miles from downtown Wisconsin Dells, Rocky Arbor feels like a hidden gem nestled in the forest. An easy, mostly flat, 1.5-mile trail passes unique Cambrian sandstone cliffs. During fall, the best spot to admire the foliage is from a wooden overlook near the start of the trail. Don’t miss the unique stand-alone sandstone boulder located shortly before the trail’s ascent.
Mirror Lake State Park
Mirror Lake State Park is a great place to view fall foliage, thanks to the tranquil lake for which the park is named. The Echo Rock trail is a short .6-mile option for a good view of the lake. You can combine Echo Rock with the Ishnala Trail (2.2 miles) for a longer loop.
Whichever state park you choose to explore, check out this interactive fall color report to plan your trip.
See Wisconsin Dells Fall Scenery from the Wisconsin River
From the French “dalles”, which means “slab”, the Dells is home to unique geological features made of ancient Cambrian sandstone. In many places, the sandstone layers look like pancake stacks. It’s easy to see why the French used the word “dalles” to describe the area.
Although The Dells were formed during the last ice age 15,000 years ago, the rock itself is much older (510–520 million years ago, when Wisconsin was at the bottom of a sea).
Approximately 19,000 years ago, a nearby glacier melted to create a lake comparable in size to Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The remains of the glacier served as a dam for the lake, but when it too finally melted, a catastrophic flood cut deep, narrow gorges and unusual rock formations into the sandstone. This is what we now see today.
There are many ways to see these cliffs from the water, depending on how active and private you want your experience to be. We’ve explored these waters a few different ways and each time we see something different. There’s no wrong way to do it!
Take a Boat Tour
Dells Boat Tours offers trips through both the Upper and Lower Dells. You can take a family-friendly cruise that stops at multiple historic and geologic points of interest. Or opt for a sunset dinner cruise (summer only). There is even a nighttime Ghost Boat that combines a bit of haunted history with views of the natural environment.
For thrill-seekers, jet boat tours are a fast-paced (and wet!) way of exploring the Wisconsin River and the tall sandstone cliffs that loom over it. Expect high speed, spins, and slides.
For a quintessential Wisconsin Dells experience, consider one of the iconic duck boat tours, where you ride in a vehicle equipped for both land and water travel to explore the Wisconsin River and exclusive land trails.
Rent a Wave Runner
For a more private adventure, you can rent a wave runner from Holiday Shores Watersports and explore the Upper Dells on your own or with one of their guides.
We’ve done the guided wave runner tour, and had a blast, despite falling into the river. We can therefore from first-hand experience attest to the reliability of their life vests and the calm expertise of their guides, who had to talk us through turning the wave runner right side up again and crawling back on board. This is a great option if you want to see a lot in a short amount of time. Note that you might get wet!
Rent a Kayak or Canoe
The most serene way of exploring the Dells by water is with a kayak or canoe. You can rent either from Holiday Shores Watersports on the Upper Wisconsin River (Upper Dells).
Enjoy a Fall Picnic at a Wisconsin Dells Winery
Wisconsin is already famous for its beer, but did you know there are many wine vineyards throughout the state too? Wisconsin Dells is one of the best regions for wine tasting. Most wineries have outdoor spaces where you can relax and enjoy in relative isolation.
Fun facts about Wisconsin wine production
- Wisconsin is part of the largest American Viticultural Area in the US.
- The same man who founded the wine industry in California (Agoston Haraszthy) planted the first wine grapes in Wisconsin in the mid-19th century, at what is now Wollersheim Winery.
- There are over 110 wineries in Wisconsin, with 9 of them being within 25 miles of Wisconsin Dells.
Wineries in Wisconsin Dells
Each of these ten wineries is within a 25-mile distance from Wisconsin Dells:
- Balanced Rock Winery
- Baraboo Bluff Winery
- Broken Bottle Winery
- Burr Oak Winery
- Fawn Creek Winery
- Narrows Creek Winery
- Neil’s Wine House
- Prairie Hawk Winery
- Rock N Wool Winery
- Wollersheim Winery and Distillery
Ubers/Lyfts are not readily available in Wisconsin Dells, and to avoid drinking and driving, you should plan your transportation in advance if you want to visit multiple wineries. I recommend arranging your transportation with one of the services offered on this list of taxi and ride-sharing companies in Wisconsin Dells.
Another option to see multiple wineries in one day without driving is the Wisconsin Dells Trolley Tours Full Winery Experience, which stops at a few wineries and other points of interest. You could also hire a taxi for the day.
Check out this interactive directory of Wisconsin’s wineries for even more.
Get an Adrenaline Fix Amid Wisconsin Dells Fall Foliage
What better way to experience Wisconsin Dells’ fall foliage than amid the treetops themselves? Combining the beauty of the natural environment with the Dells’ signature penchant for thrills, ziplining, and rock climbing are exciting ways of immersing yourself in a sea of leaves.
Vertical Illusions‘ owner fell in love with the geology and landscape of the region, and this is what led him to seek out a way to preserve the land from development that would tarnish the natural environment. He ended up buying what is now Chimney Rock Park and building a natural zipline course there, meaning that the zip lines are built around the trees and cliffs with minimal manmade engineering.
On clear days, you can see to Minnesota over 100 miles away, looking out over tree tops, rivers, and lakes.
Wisconsin Dells offers some of the best rock climbing routes in the Midwest. New and experienced climbers alike will be spoiled for choice. Vertical Illusions offers guided rock climbing trips to Chimney Rock Park as well as Devils Lake State Park.
Devils Lake Climbing Guides specializes in rock climbing excursions at Devils Lake State Park and have programs suitable for beginners as well as advanced climbers. Serious climbers can even enroll in courses to learn advanced skills like lead climbing and anchor setting.
Relax into Fall at Wisconsin Dells’ Most Luxurious Spa
While downtown Wisconsin Dells is a bustle of activity and sensory stimulation, Sundara Spa is a tranquil resort nestled in the forest just a few miles away. A destination in and of itself, Sundara Spa’s facilities are included for every guest. They offer thermal pools, a Cambrian sandstone aromatherapy bath ritual, and meditation rooms. You could spend days hiking the spa’s nature trails, enjoying the top-rated spa, or lounging amid the treetops.
Sundara Spa offers unique seasonal services, and fall lovers will want to book a Season’s Freshest massage or body wrap. Fall’s theme is the Ayurvedic Season of Vata. Services will include clove, patchouli and clary sage which are said to balance and warm the soul.
Enjoy Fall Produce at a Wisconsin Dells Farm
Did you even visit Wisconsin Dells in the fall if you don’t come home with at least one seasonal squash? Country Bumpkin Farm is a local favorite for its fall pumpkin patch and kid-friendly activities for the whole family, like “train” tours of the farm. They also have a corn maze that opens every August through early fall. If you time it well, you can get lost in tall cornstalks before picking the perfect pumpkin to take home.
Ski Hi Fruit Farm in nearby Baraboo, Wisconsin is a popular choice for apple picking during a fall getaway to Wisconsin Dells. Choose from 30 varieties of apples, or indulge in their fresh apple pies for a quintessential fall day.
Wisconsin’s Cranberry Highway is well worth the hour’s drive from Wisconsin Dells if you visit in the fall. From late September through October, Highway 54 becomes a sea of red as the cranberry harvest season reaches its peak. The cranberry is Wisconsin’s official state fruit, and Wisconsin is the nation’s largest producer of the tart berry.
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