This action-packed route starts atop the world’s most exciting waterslides and ends at a gravity-defying living museum. It’s a trip that’s ready-made for thrill-seekers of all ages. Take advantage of the opportunity to camp on a sandbar, observe nesting eagles and visit a magical museum where the circus is always in town. You’ll quickly see why this stretch of the Badger State has become a Midwestern vacation mecca.
1. Wisconsin Dells
With a combination of over 20 indoor and outdoor waterparks, the Dells bear the nickname as the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” A summer mainstay for decades, the various parks boast some of the world’s most extreme waterslides — you can brave 85-foot straight drops and reach peak speeds over 30 mph all in one afternoon. For the faint of heart, there are lazy rivers and splash pools in abundance. For a decidedly more natural outdoors experience, head to nearby Lake Delton, where fishing for bass and walleye, swimming and nature walks are popular past times. Hop on one of the daily WWII Duck boat tours for a unique sightseeing experience of the lake’s wildlife and geologic features.
Drive 13 miles, 21 minutes
Just 20 minutes south, Baraboo woos visitors with a charming downtown and a collection of cultural attractions that belie the small town vibe. Original home and headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus, the Circus World Museum is a sprawling complex that celebrates the unique history of the family and its contribution to American culture. Featuring daily live performances, immersive exhibits and artifacts from circus, carnival and magic acts throughout history, the museum is a must-see landmark for kids and adults alike. Check out the International Crane Foundation – the only place in the world where you can see all 15 crane species in one place – before heading to Devil’s Lake State Park just south of town. The serene green space is home to campgrounds and hiking trails, as well as incredible summertime stargazing hosted by astronomers from the nearby university.
3. Sauk City
Drive 18 miles, 23 minutes
On the banks of the Lower Wisconsin River, Sauk City is a bird lover’s paradise. Here, more than 250 species of migratory birds can be observed. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons also can be spotted here. Surrounded by tall bluffs and rocky outcroppings, the river is perfect for canoeing or kayaking, and the placid flow of the current makes it perfect for observing the wildlife up close. The numerous sandbars that dot the river are also great summertime camping spots and add another element of relaxing family-friendly fun to an outing. Bass, walleye and pike will keep anglers busy, while the nature trails that snake across the terrain are great for day trips and picnics. In winter, head to Ferry Bluff State Park, where observation areas offer incredible views of the eagles’ roosting areas and the valley below.
4. The House on the Rock
Drive 30 miles, 37 minutes
Part home, part museum and part otherworldly spectacle, it’s nearly impossible to see all of the House on the Rock in one visit. Created by Alex Jordan in 1960, the project began as a weekend retreat and has grown into a complex of buildings and attractions including a Japanese garden and the world’s largest carousel. The Streets of Yesterday exhibit offers visitors the chance to experience the America of old, while the Galleries area boasts everything from suits of armor to automated musical instruments. After exploring the collection, enjoy stunning views of the surrounding valley from the dream-like “Infinity Room,” which juts out 218 feet into space with no supports.