Glacial meltwaters ripped through this area some 14,000 years ago leaving behind fascinating sandstone formations that shadow both sides of the Wisconsin River. Native Americans canoeing the river were the first to lay eyes on these natural wonders. Later, they guided French explorers through the water passageways. The French were charmed by the sandstone towers that looked like a stack of pancakes and, in fact, the word "Dells" mimics the French word "dalles," meaning "layers of flat rock."
There's a nice variety of Upper Dells boat tours in Wisconsin Dells, so if you're planning on taking in the natural scenery -- and you should -- here are some highlights to watch for:
P.T. 109 Boat Patrol
Teetering rock formations, dark grottos, fragrant evergreens and fresh air mark this tour. No walking, just sight-seeing extraordinaire. See if you can memorize the names that have been given to the bluff formations over the years in the Dells, like Romance Cliff, Chimney Rock, Black Hawk's Profile and Demon's Anvil.
Dells Boat Tours®
The on-water portion is scenic, of course, but the best part of this tour may just be the shore landings. At Stand Rock, see a trained dog leap from one sandstone bluff to another, recreating the famous 1888 photo taken by landscape photographer H.H. Bennett of his son doing the same. The second stop is at Witches Gulch, a glen with mysterious passageways that also provides a natural cool-down from your perch atop the double-decker boat.
Dells Boat Tours® Sunset Dinner Cruise
The Wisconsin River at dusk is a thing of beauty. Listen to a narrative on the waterway, enjoy fine dining in Wisconsin Dells with a surf-and-turf meal, be serenaded with live music, and enjoy the pièce de résistance -- a stroll on torch-lit paths at the Witches Gulch shore landing.
Princess Kay Paddlewheel Riverboat
The mode of transportation might be the biggest highlight of all here, because it's the only boat of its kind in the Dells -- an authentic paddle-wheel riverboat that seats 150 for a Wisconsin Dells dining experience.
Here's one last tip - regardless of the tour, be sure to watch for the swallows' nest built into the bluffs and the hemlock trees draping from the cliffs. These both came to be thanks to the porous makeup of the sandstone, making them an original Wisconsin Dells attraction.