Push pause on carpool lines, bedtime squabbles, homework, and dish duty. Instead, grab the kiddos and retreat to Wisconsin’s Sauk County for a family-friendly weekend escape. With adventures for all ages, from thrilling zip line tours to picnics at lavender farms and, yes, water parks galore — Sauk County is a sure respite for the whole crew.
Wisconsin Dells contains the highest concentration of water parks in the world. It’s home to the first-ever indoor water park — as well as the largest water park in the U.S. Choose from Chula Vista Resort Waterparks, Kalahari Resort Waterparks, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, Wilderness Resort Waterpark, and more, many of which have on-site lodging so you can splish and splash the morning away, relax in the afternoon, and hit the slides again before dinner. The parks offer myriad other activities, like arcades, Putt-Putt, golf, and spas, so boredom doesn’t stand a chance with anyone in your party. Top-tier H20 attractions include water roller-coasters, family-size raft rides, enormous wave pools, splash pads for the tots, and swim-up bars for snack breaks. Admission varies by park.
Explore Wisconsin’s natural water wonders with Dells Boat Tours. An hour-long Lower Dells tour swings by famous rock formations, including Hawk’s Bill and the Rocky Islands. The two-hour Upper Dells trip journeys through winding river narrows, with two shore landings: Witches Gulch, a canyon filled with fern glens and hidden whirlpool chambers, and Stand Rock, where you can admire the impressive sandstone formation and watch a dog perform a famous leap from the cliff face to Stand Rock and back again.
Spend two-and-a-half hours whizzing between the trees, over lakes, and above the Dells’ hilly landscape on a Bigfoot Zipline Tour. Professional and enthusiastic guides teach an intro lesson on safety before leading guests through seven zip line courses spanning 6,000 feet. If your family’s inner daredevil isn’t satisfied, you can purchase an additional Army Duck ride and jet boat tour to create an all-day adventure package. Zip line tickets are $99 per person.
Tuck inside a little world made for minnies at Baraboo Children’s Museum. There are dedicated spaces for arts and crafts, music and dress-up, and building blocks; train play with a life-size locomotive to climb aboard; a grocery store, complete with a truck and loading zone where kids can stack and haul cardboard boxes; a farm with stuffed chickens; and climbing structures sure to guarantee an afternoon nap. Admission is $6 per person; children less than six months are free.
Let the kids jump, climb, and splash to their hearts’ content at Sauk City Riverfront Park and Splash Pad. It’s steps away from the Wisconsin River and right off The Great Sauk State Trail, so you can drive, walk, or bike to the playground. When kids tire of climbing up, sliding down, and squishing and squelching through the splash pad, towel off and stroll 10 minutes down the trail toward Vintage Brewing Co., a local brewery and beer garden with a menu of bites like soft pretzels and baked mac and cheese for palates of all ages.
Get some fresh air at Devil’s Lake State Park, the heart of the county’s outdoor recreation. The park offers camping, hiking, biking, swimming, rocking climbing, bouldering, boating, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, bird watching, and a nature center with programs for kids on weekends. If you and the fam want to soak up some sunshine, there are two large sandy beaches with picnic tables and grills. There are also 29 miles of trails, including paved paths for strollers, with views of the 360-acre lake. An admission sticker ($13-$16) is required per vehicle.
Everyone benefits from a calming visit to Rowley Creek Lavender Farm. The hillside views, fragrant floral fields, and lavender-infused treats are sure to tickle everyone’s senses. Visit the farm cottage for raw lavender honey, baked goods, and apothecary products. Mother Nature is the boss here, so check the farm’s calendar for bloom time (usually June and July), and to register for events like picnics, waffle breakfasts, and u-cut outings, where you can snip and take home your own lavender bundles. There’s a $5 farm visit entrance pass per car.
Kids will feel as if they are in a Disney movie as free-roaming deer flock to eat from their palms at Wisconsin Deer Park, which has been connecting visitors with forest critters for more than 50 years. Purchase animal-safe crackers and corn at the park and feed the friendly wandering deer and other confined wildlife including raccoons, lemurs, goats, horses, and peacocks. There are plenty of hand-washing stations around the park.
It’s about the journey, not the destination on Sauk County’s bountiful scenic trails. We recommend the 400 State Trail, named for the 1930s passenger train that used the route to travel 400 miles in 400 minutes between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The nearly 22-mile packed-gravel trail is dotted with bridges, scenic farmscape, views of the Baraboo River, and ample opportunities to spot wildlife. Biking the trail requires a daily or annual state trail pass, which can be purchased at multiple locations.
The smoothly paved, 10.5-mile Great Sauk State Trail runs through Prairie du Sac and Sauk City, along the Ho-Chunk Nation territory, down to the Wisconsin River’s edge. There’s plenty to see along the way: a decommissioned army-plant-turned-wild-prairie, Veteran’s Memorial Park with a helicopter, eagles’ nests, remnants of the trail’s former Union Pacific Railroad route, Riverfront Park, art installations, murals, and plenty of views of the Baraboo Bluffs and Wisconsin River. There are also eateries and restrooms off the trail. Biking the trail requires a $5 day pass, which can be purchased at multiple locations, including a self-serve station near the Ruth Culver Library.
Rolling green hills, blue skies, ripe red apples, and the freshest air. Welcome to Ski-Hi Fruit Farm, owned and operated by three generations of the Basset family since 1907. Betty, who has been growing apples for more than 80 years, runs the farm. You can’t pick your own apples, but you can shop the market treats, including fresh doughnuts, apple turnovers, cider, caramel apples, pies, and take-home goodies like preserves, maple syrup, and Ski-Hi rye. (And, of course, apples.) While you snack and enjoy the picturesque view, let the kids delight in the wide-open space, climb the tractor, and pet the farm animals.
Every winter from 1884-1919, the famous Ringling brothers would call Baraboo home as they began preparing for the next season of “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Twenty-five structures housed the equipment, wagons, performers, crew, costumes, and hundreds of animals that made up the show. Today, the enduring buildings are National Historic Landmark structures and part of the Circus World Museum, which is full of circus artifacts, including 260 carefully restored circus wagons from around the world. There are elephant and pony rides, a carousel, and, of course, a live circus performance. Tickets are $5-$10; under five are free.
Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation is the only place in the world where you can see all 15 of the world’s crane species. The global organization keeps its headquarters here, where visitors can learn about the elegant birds, hike on nature trails, and shop the gift store for wildlife board games, adorable plush crane chicks, and nature books and activity pads perfect for backseat entertainment on the trip home. Admission is $6-$12.50; children under five are free.
When a costumed conductor shouts “All aboard!” at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, you can’t fight the giddiness. All ages get a kick out of exploring preserved railroad cars and engines from the golden age of railroading, and an hour-long train ride that departs from a wooden depot built in 1894. You can also book an onboard dining experience.
A visit to an independent bookstore evokes the magic of childhood and reminds us why local shops are so special. Arcadia Books in Spring Green is for bibliophiles and casual passersby alike. Friendly staffers man the in-store cafe and help guests browse the thoughtfully curated shelves. A cozy kids’ corner is stocked from floor to ceiling with a selection of children’s titles, and a table for little ones who can’t wait to crack open their new books while parents sip coffee from the espresso bar.
Nestled in downtown Baraboo, The Village Booksmith’s twinkle-lit storefront window invites shoppers to come in and browse the impressive variety of vintage, used, new, and rare tomes, including out-of-print and first edition books. Pick up children’s books, teen paperbacks, and unique cards and gifts for loved ones back home.
Who better to create a menu starring cheese than a restaurant in Wisconsin? MACS Macaroni and Cheese Shop may boast six Wisconsin locations now, but the first doors opened in the Dells. Dishes include tested and approved recipes like ham and broccoli mac, buffalo chicken mac, and a variety of grilled-cheese melts. Kids meals arrive in little skillets, served plain or topped with hot dog bites. Don’t forget dessert. It just feels right ending on a classic chocolate chip cookie.