The Ultimate Guide to an Off-Season Trip to Wisconsin Dells
If you have very young kids, an off season Wisconsin Dells trip (a long weekend, maybe?) is a perfect destination. Here are all my favorite places to play, stay and eat!
Summer slipped so quickly away, and we hadn’t taken a single trip! Mostly that’s because our son is only 19 months old and he’s just content to play at home every day. But my husband and I both knew we wanted to go somewhere, just to get away for a bit.
We decided that, since I don’t work as a teacher anymore, it made more sense to wait until after Labor Day, because everything would be less busy. And Wisconsin Dells seemed like a good place to take a toddler for just a few days. But it’s the Waterpark Capital of the World – doesn’t everything close after Labor Day?
I mean, yes, a great deal of it does close. But we weren’t looking for giant waterparks, anyway; that’s way too pricey to take a toddler to, when he’s happy just playing at the pool.
But there are a lot of really great activities still open, and we found plenty to do! Check it out, and then plan yourself an off season trip to Wisconsin Dells!
Where We Stayed in the Off Season Wisconsin Dells
Photos: (a) picture of Camden in the aquatic center in the Atlantis Hotel; (b) outside of the Atlantis Hotel
The hotels are ridiculously affordable in the off-season, because they’re not very busy. Seriously, you can get tons of hotel rooms for $50-70 a night, and you can get campsites for $15-30! We decided to go with a hotel.
In fact, we found the Atlantis hotel, a hotel with an ‘indoor waterpark.’ I say waterpark loosely, because it’s really just more like an aquatic center . But that was plenty for our toddler to enjoy every single day. There’s also a regular pool and a hot tub in the room with the aquatic center, as well as another indoor pool at the front of the hotel. And for a room with a balcony and access to the aquatic center every day, it was less than $70 a day! It was definitely an older hotel room, and the wi-fi was super spotty, but it was budget-friendly.
During the summer, there is also an outdoor aquatic play area. I can’t say much about it, because when we were there, it wasn’t open.
Note: In the off-season, they do not have a free continental breakfast. Instead, they have a grab and go breakfast, which is a muffin, juice and piece of fruit.
Would we stay there again? That’s a hard question. We really loved the small aquatic play area for Camden, but we both needed to do some work and had absolutely no wi-fi access in our room for multiple days. We’d have to weigh the options and needs
Other great off-season options: When we go again, we’ll stay at the Wilderness resort. They’ve got an indoor waterpark for the off-season, plus other toddler-friendly attractions like an indoor playground, bumper boats, and more!
Where We Played in Off Season Wisconsin Dells
Sure, the big waterparks are closed, and the circus museum’s shows are all done. But there is plenty left to enjoy!
It rained literally every day we were there, so we didn’t get to do everything we planned, but that means I can still tell you about those options and tell you all the extras we found to do!
Photos: Top (a) Camden in soft playground at Knuckleheads; Top (b) playing arcade games; Bottom (c) airplane ride; Bottom (d) small carousel
Our favorite attraction was Knuckleheads, a big arcade (Dave and Buster’s style), along with a huge indoor ropes course, rides, an indoor playground, and a jumping pad. On Wednesdays, they have half-off armbands, and even though we needed to ride with Camden, we only had to buy a wristband for Camden. Right there, they became our favorite! Camden is under 36″, so he could only have the cheapest wristband (normally $13.00, and on Wednesdays, only $6.50 for the entire day!). This let him ride the flying airplane ride, play on the indoor playground, and jump on the jumping pad. He literally made us ride the airplane ride 8 times; he couldn’t get enough of it! And Andrew had to drag Camden out of the playground crying, because he was exhausted but just didn’t want to stop playing.
The jumping pad is fun too – and in the off season, almost no one is there, so you don’t have to worry about collisions! We also played lots of arcade games with him; there’s one that let shim shoot water at ducks, which he loved!
Also, Knuckleheads is connected to Buffalo Phil’s, the train restaurant we ate at and loved (keep reading to see!).
Photos: rope bridge, hidden compartment, jail cell in Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum
One of those rainy days, we wandered the downtown strip of Wisconsin Dells. Andrew decided the Ripley’s Museum looked interesting, and we figured there would be enough going on to keep Camden looking around, so we went in. It was surprisingly fun for Camden! The first parts are a little boring for a toddler; just a lot of things to look at. But then there is a whole Egyptian tomb scene with 5 or 6 different rooms. And every room has buttons to push to find hidden things, places to climb in and explore, and sound and vibration effects.
Also, there’s a fun rope bridge and a jail cell that you can go in and pretend to be in jail. I wasn’t sure how this would go over, but it was actually kind of entertaining! If it’s raining, it’s a good option. But otherwise, there are more fun things to do.
Photos: (a) view of the mall entrance; (b) one section of kids’ rides
Okay, let’s be honest. I went to the Outlets at the Dells on my own while Camden was napping. It was nice to take a couple of hours to myself to wander the stores. But the mall does have some fun for toddlers – there’s like 12 different coin operated rides, including a super cute train. There’s also a Build-a-Bear (and they have Wisconsin Dells t-shirts and outfits for the bears! What a fun, memorable souvenir!), as well as a fudge & ice cream store!
One of my favorite little adventures was the River Walk. It’s not long – 1/4 mile each way – but it offers beautiful views of the Dells and the river. There are benches and tables and a checkerboard, too. Camden loved the chance to run and jump and play, so it’s a great place to let the kids burn some energy. Plus it’s not crowded at all when you’re taking an off season Wisconsin Dells trip!
Where We Wanted to Play in Off Season Wisconsin Dells, But Got Rained Out
There is a reptile experience called Alligator Alley, where you can see tons of snakes, lizards, insects and alligators. You can also have your picture taken holding the alligator or snake. Sadly, everything online told us they were open every day in the off-season (their facebook, their webpage and Google) but when we got there, we found out they’re only open on the weekends in the off-season. We were only there through Thursday, so we missed out this time! But you definitely shouldn’t; we’ll go for sure when we go back again!
Since it was after Labor Day, there is also a local orchard that was open, so we wanted to play there as well. But, obviously we got rained out. It’s worth checking out, though. They’ve got tons of activities and a combine that’s been turned into a slide, so it’s a perfect place for toddlers to burn some energy!
There’s also a train museum and train that you can ride on, but once again, they are only open on the weekends in the fall. And once again, their website was not updated to reflect that information. That’s for another visit!
Timbavati Wildlife Park is like a zoo, but you can have super close encounters with a giraffe and other animals! So fun! And the Wisconsin Deer Park lets you pet deer and other animals; I remember doing this when I was a kid and loving it!
MagiQuest and Wizard Quest are fun interactive games where kids (and adults!) can use a wand to go around a solve a mystery scavenger hunt. We did one in Pigeon Forge and it was so much fun! If your toddlers are a little bit older, the Wild Fun Zone has laser tag and glow-in-the-dark mini golf; it’s on our list for next time. And the Dells Mining Company lets kids mine their own gemstones!
Where We Ate in the Off Season Wisconsin Dells
We mostly tried to stick to eating sandwiches in the hotel for lunch, and we ate the fruit and muffins from the hotel for breakfast.
But we did plan to eat out a couple of times and enjoy ourselves. The highlight of our restaurants was Buffalo Phil’s, a restaurant that delivers your food to you on a model train! Camden was in love! So much so, that we ate there one night and then decided to take him there again the next night! You can see trains all around the restaurant, and if your kid gets antsy, take him for a quick walk around the whole place to look at everything. And at some point during your dinner, watch your train come out with a bubble machine on it. Camden couldn’t stop grinning and jumping in excitement when he saw the bubbles. Quick recommendation: ask for a booth. We sat at a booth the first night so Camden could stand on the bench and get close to the train. We sat at a table the second night, and he just didn’t enjoy being stuck in a chair/high chair. Booths are better.
We also ate at HuHot Mongolian Grill, because it’s one of our favorite restaurants, but the one in our town closed down. HuHot is an all-you-can-eat Mongolian grill (one where you watch them cook your food) and it is so, so good. It’s kid-friendly because you can make their bowl with only the ingredients they’ll eat. Plus if they hate something, you can get them something else!
And every vacation calls for finding a good ice cream place at some point. We tried Goody Goody Gumdrop, which had ice cream and gelato. The ice cream was pretty good; but be aware that there are a whole lot of creepy porcelain dolls lining the walls! Haha. But creepy. There’s also a good fro-yo place called The Frozen Bear.
Macs is a kid-friendly macaroni and cheese restaurant. Does it get better than that? How good does Chicken Bacon Ranch Mac or Philly Mac sound? Yummmm!
And while we got Starbucks most mornings (Camden loved to charm the baristas there), one morning we did check out Bella Goose, a local Wisconsin Dells coffee shop. It did not disappoint. I had a delicious chai, and Andrew had their salted caramel latte. The scones were yummy, and Camden had a peach smoothie. Heads up: the ‘smoothies’ are dairy free and made with fruit and juice, so they are actually slushies, not smoothies. But still good!
A Day Trip to Madison, Wisconsin
Since it rained every day, we took a short day trip down to Madison. It only took 45 minutes to get there, but there was so much to do that we couldn’t do it all! We settled on 3 things: PlayN Wisconsin, the Madison mall play area, and the Madison Zoo.
PlayN Wisconsin is a company that makes playsets, play houses, trampolines and sports equipment. And they’ve set up their showroom to be an indoor playground. It was so cool! The trampolines all have nets around them, and adults are welcome to jump with the kids. The playsets are immense and there’s more than 10 of them! They’ve got cute little wooden playhouses and a bunch of toddler toys. The back room has soccer nets and basketball hoops for the older kids. I’ve never taken Camden to such a fun indoor playground – he cried and threw a fit when it was time to leave!
West Towne Mall
The mall is a great place to grab food (there’s a Panchero’s and a ChickfilA right outside the mall) and the play area is adorable! It’s based on vintage Fisher Price toys, so it has a Little People barn with a slide, a huge xylophone and vintage phone to climb on, and a Thomas train to climb in. Camden could have played there for hours! Plus there’s shopping for you while daddy watches the kids play!
Henry Vilas Zoo
The weather cleared up for a while, so we raced to the Henry Vilas Zoo – which is completely free! Camden loved looking at all the animals, plus there’s a really fun play area that looks like an animal habitat, a small train ride, a carousel, a petting zoo and a little tractor to play on. It’s well worth a stop when you’re in Madison, or as part of your day trip! Add it to your list!