Wisconsin Dells is known for its waterparks. It is the waterpark capital of the world, after all. But the Dells were famous and drawing visitors from all over the country and the world long before the first waterpark, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, opened in 1979. The stunning natural landscape of the Dells, Witches Gulch and Coldwater Canyon have been attracting humans for as long as humans have been there.
The Native Americans told a legend of how the Wisconsin Riverbed was formed by a great serpent, wriggling down from the north and his home by the Big Lake. As the legend goes, the serpent crawled over forest and fields and his huge body wore an immense groove in the land and the lake water rushed in behind him. When he came to the sandstone ridge of the Dells, he pushed his head into a crevice and pushed the rocks aside to create the narrow winding passage. The lesser serpents fled from him as he approached, which is the legend’s explanation for the formation of Coldwater Canyon and Witches’ Gulch.
In 1875, early landscape photographer H. H. Bennett established a studio in the city and took many photos of the sandstone formations in the dells, including stereoscopic views. The rugged gulch was relatively inaccessible in those days, so Bennett reportedly trekked the area when it was iced over. Carving steps into the ice as he traveled through the gulch photographing the incredible sandstone formations as he went. Prints of these photographs were distributed across the United States enhancing the status of the area as a destination for sightseers. While in Wisconsin Dells take some time to visit the H. H. Bennett Studio, a historic site operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The gulch today is just as scenic and unbelievably gorgeous, but easily accessed by a wooden walkway. Even if you come to the Dells for the waterparks, you would be remiss to not take the opportunity to explore this wilderness wonderland. There are a number of boat tours which include a walk through Witches Gulch, and they are absolutely the best way to go. In addition to the chance to walk the gulch, you can view the impressive rock formations along the Wisconsin River, and you’ll learn so much from the guides about the geological formation, the legends, the history of the region and fascinating tales about individual sandstone sculptures.
The Upper Dells Boat Tour features the famous ‘stand rock’ where H.H. Bennett took the very first stop-action photo, and you will witness a trained dog leaping the great chasm, in addition to visiting the Witches Gulch. The Wisconsin Dells Sunset Dinner Cruise includes a lovely dinner and beautifully painted landscapes as the sun sets over the Dells and moonlight walk through the glen. Still others, portraying the glen as a ‘spooky’ place, and playing on the name and legends, promise a scary time. the Ghost Boat Wisconsin Dells Boat Tour includes many a spooky legend and an after dark adventure along the winding boardwalk.