Wilderness Wisconsin Dells

Profile of the Wisconsin Dells Wilderness, Including its Water Parks

Jeremy Levine, 2004. Licensed to About.com.


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From Chicago and Madison: I-90 W to Exit 92. North onto Hwy 12. The Wilderness is on the right.

From Milwaukee: I-94 W to exit 92. North onto Hwy 12. The Wilderness is on the right.

Indoor Water Park Square Footage

Indoor Water Park Features

Outdoor Water Park Features

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Wisconsin Dells Wilderness Overview

You heard me right, pardner: four indoor water parks. The waterparks are the main attraction at the Wilderness. Totaling 240,000 square feet of slides, spas, spraygrounds, and other water-based fun, the resort can lay claim to the Dells'--and the world's for that matter--largest indoor water park resort (at least in early 2006, when this was updated). Then again, the "largest waterpark" title is a matter of some dispute. (See A Lotta Water: Who Has the Biggest Water Park?)

The Wilderness also has a huge outdoor water park area. Unlike the Kalahari and Mt. Olympus, the Wilderness keeps a lid on crowds by not allowing public admission to its water parks.

Giddy Up and Down the Slides
The Wild West Waterpark features the Fantastic Voyage family raft ride. Enclosed in a huge, meandering slide, the attraction is a lights-out, wild journey. Alongside the raft ride is a less-intense two-person tube ride. One level below, four body slides provide dark, disorienting, fun rides.

All of the slides extend outside of the building. They are enclosed and remain comfortable even when the mercury drops, as it is wont to do in the hinterlands of Wisconsin. I think the Wilderness (and all of the other indoor water parks I've visited) miss a great opportunity with its indoor-to-outdoor slides. How wild would it be to careen along in bikini-clad comfort while viewing a blizzard? Instead, all of the enclosed slides are opaque and keep riders in the dark. Rather than capitalize on the unique experience, the Wilderness appears to be sending the slides outside more as a convenience.

(The more slides that go outside, the less the resort needs to add on to its indoor buildings.) If it's logistically feasible, I think at least part of the slides should be constructed of clear acrylic to allow riders to see outside.

The Wilderness bills its Surge wave pool as "interactive." Along two sides of the pool, guests can activate depth charges and shoot water cannons at the surfers. The wave cycles are generous, and the waves pack a pretty decent punch. The Wild West Waterpark also includes Ransack Ridge, an interactive play structure with tons of hoses, spray devices, smaller slides, and a huge tipping bucket in the shape of a stagecoach.

Giddy Indoor-to-Outdoor Hot Tubs
Among the Wilderness' greatest features are its indoor-to-outdoor hot tubs. You can grab a cold beer at the snack bar, plop into the spa, and watch the day's sporting events on the overhead televisions. Now, that's divine decadence. Or you can head outside. Even in the dead of winter, guests can slip through the plastic curtains and go outdoors for an exhilarating experience. Shrouded in billows of rising steam, there's nothing quite like the giddy contrast between the hot spa and the 27-degree-below-zero-with-the-wind-chill-factor weather stabbing at your face.

If it's snowing, so much the better.

The Wilderness' other main indoor waterpark, Klondike Kavern, is on the other side of the property. If it's cold outside, and guests want to remain indoors, it can take a good ten minutes to get from one park to the other. The resort could do a better job directing guests to the parks. While the water parks are clearly the main focus, many of the hotel's hallway signs don't list them.

The key feature of the resort's original Klondike Kavern water park is its lazy river. Extending around the perimeter of the huge building, the river circles Gold Mine Mountain, an interactive play structure. While the mountain includes a mini tipping bucket, some spray features, and a couple of smaller slides, there seems to be some wasted space where the Wilderness could add a few more activities.

At the far end of the building, two tube slides (single or double) and two body slides are a bit less intimidating than the slides at the Wild West park, but still a load of fun. The tube slides empty into the lazy river. An indoor-to-outdoor hot tub and an indoor-to-outdoor water basketball area round out the park.

The separate Baby Bear's Fort Wilderness caters to the wee ones (and I hope that description refers to their size and not what they might be doing in the pools). It includes a hot tub (of course), water basketball, and a large play structure with tiny slides, spray features, and other pint-sized activities.

Next page: More on the waterparks plus Wilderness restaurants, hotel info, and visitor tips.

Hey, There's More to Life than Water

The Wilderness also features an 18-hole golf course, an onsite day spa, and some of the Dells' finest restaurants. Field's at the Wilderness is an exquisite steak house. Housed in an adjacent building inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the d?cor is elegant, yet simple. This is the kind of place where the host takes your overcoats, and the waitstaff places the napkin on your lap (and the prices reflect the service). The menu features steak, of course, and Field's offers some unique "enhancers", including one in which the cuts of meat are encrusted with parmesan cheese and garlic-soaked mushrooms.


The Field family has been running its own famous Dells restaurant for years. In addition to operating the Wilderness steak house, the Fields also oversee the resort's Sarento's Italian Restaurant the Canyon Cafe family restaurant. When I visited, the Canyon Cafe's dishes tended toward comfort foods and heavy fare. Nearly everything came smothered in cheese. (This is Wisconsin, after all.) The prices were a bit on the high side for a casual family restaurant.

The hotel rooms come in a variety of configurations. The room I stayed in had a main sleeping area with two queen beds. A second area included a sofa that converted into a queen bed and a breakfast nook with microwave, refrigerator, and sink. When we pulled the bed out, we had a hard time figuring out where to put the coffee table that was in front of the couch without blocking the pathway to the bathroom. The Wilderness does not offer turndown service. In addition to missing the nice touch of a turned-down bed, we also found ourselves running out of towels without a second daily visit from housekeeping.

Since multiple showers are likely in a resort that features lots of time spent in chlorinated water, the hotel should provide extra towels on their once-a-day rounds. They're a bit skimpy with the soap as well.

Other room types include amenities such as fireplaces and in-room whirlpools. Frontier condos feature three bedrooms while the vacation villas have two bedrooms. For large groups that really want to whoop it up, the Wilderness offers five-bedroom "Entertainment Cabins" that include projection TVs and stadium seating. The Wilderness on the Lake is a separate upscale condo resort that includes its own indoor and outdoor waterpark plus offers use of all the waterparks and other amenities in the main complex.

Wilderness Wisconsin Dells Visitor Tips

  • Bring comfortable sandals. The Wilderness is enormous and you'll be doing plenty of walking. Going barefoot won't cut it, and you'll want footwear in which you'll easily be able to slip in and out.
  • Consider bringing a robe. The air temperature in the Wilderness' water parks is a bit cooler than some of the Dells' other indoor water parks. And the long hallways leading to the parks can be a bit on the cool side also.
  • Bring in your breakfast. Breakfast every day at the Wild Canyon Cafe or OP's Marketplace can get expensive. Take advantage of the rooms' refrigerators and microwaves. Either bring your own breakfast food with you, or go to a Dells' grocery store for some provisions.
  • Escape to the "hidden" hot tub. Among the Wilderness' greatest delights are its indoor-to-outdoor hot tubs. If the ones in the water parks are crowded, check out the Dodge 'Em Eddy hot tub, which is off the beaten path behind the arcade and play structure in the resort's Dodge 'Em City.
  • How about a dry sauna? If you really want to turn up the heat, try the dry sauna located near Baby Bear's Fort Wilderness.
  • Consider a mid-week stay. During the winter, spring, and fall months, weekend prices remain fairly high. (Remember to factor in the included admission to the water parks when looking at room costs.) But the Wilderness (and other Dells waterpark resorts) often offer some great mid-week deals. If you can pull the kids out of school (or if you don't have school-age kids), you can save some big bucks and avoid big crowds.
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