Wisconsin Dells is called “The Waterpark Capital of the World” for a reason. This small Wisconsin town is home to more than 200 waterslides with five huge indoor waterparks and one even bigger outdoor waterpark. Here’s a look at the Big Five indoor parks. They’re the place to be to splash and have fun for the perfect family getaway on a chilly winter’s day.
Wisconsin Dells Waterparks
While outdoor waterparks are fantastic during the summer — the world’s biggest, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, is in Wisconsin Dells — they don’t work once temperatures cool. That’s when my family heads to Wisconsin Dells, “The Waterpark Capital of the World.”
This small Wisconsin town on the shores of the Wisconsin River, about an hour north of Madison. The city’s name comes from the dells that were formed when the glacier came through millions of years ago. But the city’s fame comes from its indoor waterparks.
While the weather outside might be frightful, the weather inside is perfect. Climate controlled fun with balmy poolside cabanas and slippery waterslides make Wisconsin Dells and its neighboring town, Lake Delton, a year-around playground.
Our waterpark loving family has tested nearly all of the waterpark fun in the Wisconsin Dells area. Here are our favorites (and some details about those still on our waterpark to-do list!)
Great Wolf Lodge
- Great Wolf Lodge waterpark. Photo credit: Amanda Williams
This is the flagship property of Great Wolf Lodge, the now wickedly popular waterpark hotel chain. Relax on the lazy river, enjoy the wave pool, and find water activities to suit everyone in your group. With 76,000 square feet of waterpark attractions and 437 hotel room suites, we think this place reigns supreme for a family waterpark vacation.
Part of the allure here is the wide range of activities available on-site. Great Wolf Lodge is known for excellent family friendly programming. In addition to the indoor, expect to find kids crafts, cookie decorating and complimentary wolf ears for your entire pack. There’s also an outdoor waterpark open during the warmer summer months. There’s also a full weekend worth of dining options (five different places on-site). We never leave the property once we arrive.
- MagiQuest at Great Wolf Lodge. Photo credit: Amanda Williams
Outside the waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge
MagiQuest is my family’s favorite non-waterpark feature of Great Wolf Lodge. It kept our whole family racing up and down stairs, slides, and even cargo net crossings, with wands in hand. We had hours of fun trying to collect clues and defeat dragons and ogres!
The three-story gamescape is akin to a treehouse with interactive screens and intriguing fantastical decorations to keep everyone’s imagination in high gear. The Great Wolf Lodge at Wisconsin Dells also offers ShadowQuest, Northern Lights Arcade, and Build-a-Bear Workshop. Character appearances, kids yoga sessions, the famed Great Clock Tower Show are all dry land experiences that add fun to a Great Wolf Lodge stay.
- Colorful tubes for slides at Great Wolf Lodge | Credit: Amanda Williams
Best waterpark features
Part of the reason this property is at the top of our favorites list for best waterpark during the winter is the climate-controlled 84 degrees!
The smaller kid activities are also entertaining for the “big” little kids in the group. Whooping Hollow, with its Northwoods motif, is safe for smaller ones, but still thrilling enough for bigger kids. Fun additions like water swings and playground equipment situated in watery surf pools are a win. Fort Mackenzie is a treehouse waterpark activity play area with many levels for kids and parents splash in together.
The Howlin’ Tornado is the exterior feature kids see when you drive up to Great Wolf Lodge. The yellow and red megaphone is the infrastructure of the four-person raft ride. It screams around the funnel to shoot out of a tunnel to a fun family splashdown at the end. The indoor waterpark has many separate waterpark areas, all connected to the hotel. There’s even a hot-springs-themed tub or a family warming pool, which I always appreciate after a long day of swimming with the kids.
Even with the outdoor portion closed for winter, you’ll spend your entire stay in the waterpark resort just trying to do it all! The hotel room is well-appointed, but I think it really matters. We rarely are in the room except to sleep.
Chula Vista Resort
- Chula Vista in Wisconsin Dells | Credit: Amanda Williams
This resort is is tucked away on the banks of the Wisconsin River, apart from the chaos of the main strip in the Wisconsin Dells. The location is beautiful and peaceful, with a wilderness-type vibe. It is definitely the most aesthetically pleasing property for waterpark fun. If you’re planning a longer stay, want to dine in-room and make your own meals, or have a particularly large group, this is a perfect setting. It offers large villas and suites with enough room to spread out during a waterpark vacation.
The indoor tunnel is easy for stroller families and is a unique feature to the waterpark resort–no chilly outdoor walk necessary. Besides, my kids think this walkway is adventurous as we meander to the indoor waterpark.
The standout here, which is unfortunately unavailable to kids who do not meet weight/height requirements (at least 50 inches tall and 115 pounds): the Flyan Mayan water roller coaster. If you have younger kids who are too small to ride, make sure to take turns allowing adults and teens to experience this rip-roaring water coaster. It’s a highlight even during the summer months at this waterpark. The line for the ride is super short when it’s warm outside!
Mount Montezuma’s Mayan Temple features some really fast, bigger slides for the younger kids. But they were able to keep the attention of our preteen for quite, too.
- Small, quiet outdoor pool at Chula Vista | Credit: Amanda Williams
Non-waterpark activities at Chula Vista
While the indoor waterpark at Chula Vista is not as expansive as other properties, there is good value in what features they offer indoors, including the lazy river. But mostly we love this property for the features of the entire resort, offering balance and relaxation for your vacation.
Because the hotel rooms at Chula Vista Resort waterparks are so welcoming, this is the resort for you if you want to split your time between water activities and enjoying your lodging accommodations.
Chula Vista Resort also offers a myriad of dry land experiences, like mini golf, an arcade, and a kids activity center. There are up to eight options on property for dining if you choose to eat out and depending on the season.
The Spa del Sol is a luxurious option to elevate your zen experience on-site. From here you can also access an 18-hole golf course in the summer months.
- Exterior of Kalahari Resort Wisconsin Dells at check-in. Photo credit: Amanda Williams
This waterpark resort and conference center is massive. It offers a getaway as adventurous as the African safari theme that greets you as you pull up — giant elephant statues and jungle music at the cul de sac. This property reminds me of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge — perhaps a smaller, more quaint cousin.
- Laser tag glowing course at Kalahari Resort. Photo credit: Amanda Williams
The Kalahari boasts the title “America’s Largest Indoor Waterpark.” Encompassing 125,000 sq ft of warm water activities and waterslide fun, the indoor waterpark is sprawling and exciting! The Screamin’ Hyena was this adventure mom’s favorite slide on-site. It let me prove to my preteen that mom still “has moxie.” I entered the trapdoor slide fearlessly and took the plunge! It is a high-adrenaline slide, featuring a piped-in heartbeat pulsing into your ear before the countdown, just in case your own rushing blood and anxious white-knuckle wait wasn’t enough!
- Kalahari Indoor Waterpark Entrance | Credit: Amanda Williams
Lazer tag was open to kids much smaller than other courses and allowed our preschooler to run around and zap the competition alongside the bigger kids and grown ups. This was a popular spot for our family to eventually end up each day. The Great Karoo Marketplace Buffet is a good value dining option with remarkable course offerings for a buffet-style restaurant (again, making me think of a Disney-esque dining experience.)
We’ve not yet hit this waterpark in Lake Delton. The Wilderness Resort boasts four indoor and four outdoor waterparks totaling more than 500,000 square feet (that’s 12 football fields) for families to enjoy.
This property is gargantuan. Lodging options include the Wilderness Hotel, Glacier Canyon Lodge, and Wilderness on the Lake. Luxurious cabins that can sleep up to 18 are nestled in pines and feature expansive decks and vaulted ceilings. You won’t be roughing it a la Boy Scouts here!
The Wilderness Resort also offers mini-golf, go-karts, mega arcades, laser tag, climbing wall experiences, a zip line and Room Escapes. There certainly seems to be a lot to do and we have listed this property as the next place we simply need to experience when we travel again to “the Waterpark Capital of the World!”
Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park
Another heavy-hitter in the indoor waterpark realm at Wisconsin Dells is the Mt. Olympus Resort. We haven’t been here yet (our to-do list is starting to stack up) but this property is in the heart of the Dells and has a lot to see and do, even in the winter.
The indoor waterpark has several jungle-themed slides and water activities. There’s a “beached pirate ship” for youngsters. The indoor theme park includes rides for smaller kids, bumper cars, a climbing wall, and a large arcade.
Lodging options include fun, mythical-themed resort rooms and in the warmer months, a “camping” option for traditional tents or a cabin equipped with TV, A/C, beds and bedding, refrigerator, microwave and bathroom! A neat feature at this property, similar to Great Wolf Lodge and Disney properties, is your wristband can be used for charges, even at the arcade.
Wisconsin Dells in the summer months
Outdoor waterparks like Noah’s Ark and Mt. Olympus are great too. You really need to visit Wisconsin Dells more than once to see it all. We recommend both summer and winter to find the best theme park and waterpark fun in this year around waterpark paradise. If you happen to stay during warmer months, look for deals and carve out a little time for the Tommy Bartlett show, which is kitschy but a necessary nod to family vacations of our own childhood experiences.
- Go Karts at Tom Foolery’s on site at Kalahari Resort. Photo credit: Amanda Williams
Many places offer go-kart driving experiences and if you are going to go for that adventure, we recommend Tom Foolery’s on the Kalahari property over the infamous Big Chief Go-Karts on the downtown strip for safety reasons. We had a scary experience and less than stellar customer service, leaving with an ice pack in one hand and a vow to not return. Our experience on the go kart track at Tom Foolery’s was excellent and safe. The Original Wisconsin Ducks and The Wild Thing Jetboat adventure are tried-and-true family fun experiences also available in the summer time.
If you want to escape the waterpark scene for a bit and just enjoy a simple slide and a really nice sandy beach, Sunset Beach Resort is the ultimate in simple and rustic, but relaxing and affordable accommodations to simply chill in the beautiful northwoods.