Fantastic 24 hours in Wisconsin Dells without a waterpark

We spent a fabulous 24 hours in Wisconsin Dells without visiting a water park. From toddlers to teens, here is a quick and fun itinerary. 

Reaching Wisconsin Dells from Central Iowa is about a five-hour drive. 


There are several great lodging options in the area. We chose the family-owned and operated Black Hawk Motel & Suites which lived up to the TripAdvisor reviews. They offer over two dozen room types and we found the perfect one for our family. 

The three-room cottage (two bedrooms, a living room with microwave and mini-fridge) was perfect for a short stay. In addition, the hotel has an indoor and outdoor heated pool with waterslides and two playgrounds. 

Many of the hotels in the area offer free or discounted attraction tickets. Each establishment provides different specials, so choose your options carefully based on what your family wants to do.

Area Highlights

Devil's Lake State Park

Our main focus of the trip was hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park. Check out our pictures and you’ll know why. 

This is our second visit to the Devil’s Lake area for hiking. You can read about our first hike in Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area (pictured below) on this blog post where we provide hike details.

People climb boulders in Parfrey's Glen Natural Area near Devil's Lake Wisconsin
Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area

There is a good reason that Devil’s Lake attracts around 3 million visitors a year. 

With 29 miles of trails, multiple entry points, vehicle admission stickers (can be bought ahead of time online), watercraft rentals, and more, planning is essential. 

Park staff recommend visitors arrive early in the morning to avoid long entry lines and trouble finding a parking spot. 

We started our visit off at the South Shore. We hiked up Balanced Rock, went east on East Bluff Trail, saw Devil’s Doorway, hiked downward on Potholes Trail, and back out on Grottos Trail. 

Don’t be fooled by the short distances listed on the map. This is a strenuous hike with slippery rocks and steep elevation changes. 

Come prepared and you’ll have an awesome time. Our toddler managed with a lot of help and did great. 

Devil's Doorway

Pro tip: Pack more water than you think you will need. Also, bring along a sweet treat to eat from the top while taking in the views. 

Finish your hike with a picnic by the lakeside. The water is a bit chilly but the kids loved swimming anyway. 

Chapel Gorge Trail

Located on the northern end of Wisconsin Dells is an easy flat 1.8-mile loop trail. The Chapel Gorge Trail leads through the woods to a small sandy beach along the Wisconsin River where hikers can watch the tour boats going in and out of the restricted nature area. To access the beach, walk past all the yellow signs and down the steep stone stairs.

Most of the land along the river is owned by the state and leased out to tour boat companies. Booking a tour is how to experience the famous Witches Gulch. 

Timbavati Wildlife Park

Timbavati Wildlife Park was a highlight for our family and we loved the personal interaction with over a dozen different animals. After reading through the TripAdvisor reviews, we opted to skip the train ride and just walk the park; it is a manageable space, especially with a stroller.

Plan two or three hours for a visit. Make sure to purchase a Lunch Box feeding kit. Inside the kit are carrots, grain, and seed sticks along with a list of what to feed each kind of animal. Our two tweens shared a box but buy more if you have several people in your party who want to feed animals.

Wisconsin Deer Park

Across the street is Wisconsin Deer Park, another special animal encounter experience. This park offers guests the chance to feed and pet deer without any barricades. There are also several other types of animals on display.

Our family spent around an hour meandering through the park in the late afternoon. During our visit, most of the deer were resting under a shade canopy but we were still able to get neat pictures and pet several types of deer. 

Deer can go behind this tall fence when they don't want to be petted. Otherwise, they can walk on the path that visitors use.

Area Tips

There are over one hundred fun and interesting options for entertainment in Wisconsin Dells. Our hotel offered free tickets to Tom Foolerys Adventure Park, where the kids raced around on go-carts and dominated me in laser tag. 

Most of the attractions are located close to one another so it’s easy to get around. We never had to drive more than ten minutes. 

The best ice cream I have eaten is Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream served at Scoopy’s Ice Cream And Candy located next to Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf. We didn’t get to golf this time but it looks like so much fun. 

To save money, we ate one meal in our hotel room and took a long picnic lunch. I explain here how we make meals ahead of time and cook in a hotel room.

A unique place we did check out is Dells Pizza Lab, a build your own pizza assembly line restaurant much like a sub shop. Experiment with different flavors and toppings to try something unique.

Each visit to the area has been wonderful and next time we hope to stay longer. 

Your family can have a blast in just 24 hours in Wisconsin Dells and you’ll be left wanting more! 

24 Hour Itinerary

Day One:

  • Arrive mid-afternoon. Check-in early to the hotel and grab discounted tickets.
  • Visit Timbavati Wildlife Park in the late afternoon.
  • Make the most of the evening and play a round of golf or try out an adventure attraction

Day Two:

  • Drive to Devil’s Lake State Park early in the morning. Hike, picnic, and swim. Soak up the natural beauty.
  • After a picnic lunch, head back to the hotel for a couple of hours of rest.
  • Wander along with the shops on Broadway and stop for some ice cream at Scoopy’s Ice Cream and Candy Shop.
  • Squeeze in one last attraction like Wisconsin Deer Park in the afternoon before grabbing a bite to eat.
  • Take a leisurely evening stroll on Chapel Gorge Trail or the Riverwalk to wrap up your 24 hours in Wisconsin Dells.

Explore more of Wisconsin

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