Most Midwesterners know about Wisconsin Dells and its legendary indoor and outdoor waterparks, but “The Waterpark Capital of the World” isn’t all about waterslides and lazy rivers. There is a variety of educational opportunities available, too. Here are some of the top attractions where fun-filled learning awaits.
H.H. Bennett Studio
H.H. Bennett—Civil War veteran, landscape photographer, inventor and promoter—was “the man who made Wisconsin Dells famous.” When he returned from the Civil War he opened a photography studio, which still stands today in the center of downtown Wisconsin Dells. When your student group tours Bennett’s 1875 studio, they can explore 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits.
Those interested in physics and photography can learn the 3-D effect of Bennett’s stereo photographs using a handheld 19th century stereoscope and 21st-century, high-resolution computer monitors. Also, see how his 1888 invention of the stop-action camera shutter revolutionized the photography world.
For a history lesson, the studio shows how Bennett brought visitors to Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells) and how tourism grew in the Dells. His images of the Wisconsin River and sandstone bluffs were used in early promotional pieces that helped draw attention to the scenery and bring visitors to the area. This original studio is a National Historic Landmark.
Circus World Museum
Circus World Museum, located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, preserves the National Landmark Site of the Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters, where the brothers started in 1884 with a small wagon show and became the largest outdoor amusement enterprise the world has ever known. Although the Ringlings left in 1918, many of their original structures survived. In 1954, Circus World Museum, Inc. began raising funds and collecting artifacts. On July 1, 1959, Circus World opened with two buildings, six wagons and some circus memorabilia, and was deeded to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Circus World now owns eight of the 10 surviving Ringling buildings, all of them having achieved National Historic Landmark status. Circus World celebrates the American circus and the many ways it influenced the nation’s culture.
Your students can experience big-top circus performances, magic shows, sideshow instrument concerts, hands-on programs, guided tours and exhibits, including the world’s largest collection of authentic circus parade wagons. A full restaurant is on site for dining convenience.
Timbavati Wildlife Park
Timbavati Wildlife Park, located in Wisconsin Dells on Wisconsin Dells Parkway, offers up-close encounters with giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, ostriches, leopards, white tigers, impalas, lions, camels, antelopes, tortoises and more. The Safari Train ride on a vintage train is a popular feature in the park, in addition to wildlife shows, camel rides, pig races, go karts, and a snack shack and gift shop.
Supervised interactive animal activities are available throughout the park. Zookeepers stand by exhibits and the nursery to share fun facts and educational information; your students may even get to help feed and touch some animals. The park features several pavilions for picnics and catering. Some of the pavilions are equipped with cookout grills and pits. On Timbavati’s website, you’ll find a thorough guide with resources and activities that you can use to get the most out of your group’s visit.
International Crane Foundation
Located in Baraboo amid the farmlands of southern Wisconsin, International Crane Foundation (ICF) headquarters is just 10 minutes from the Wisconsin Dells and surrounding Baraboo Hills. Here you will find some of the most ancient and endangered birds on earth amid a restored tall grass prairie, wildflowers and wetlands. Your students will learn about crane and wildlife preservation, along with some fun facts; did you know modern aircrafts actually help the birds migrate?
Group tours are tailored to meet each group’s needs and interests and can be aligned with curriculum material. The ICF education department, staff and volunteers have extensive experience teaching student groups and provide challenging, age-appropriate and enjoyable tours. Your group can take a guided tour, hike on nature trails and see radio telemetry demonstrations. On a standard tour, students watch an introductory video presentation; observe 15 crane species; learn crane biology; investigate the current threats to crane survival; discover methods used to conserve endangered species; hear about ICF’s international work and initiatives; and learn about how individual action makes can make a difference.
Three Tips for Planning a Student Group Trip to Wisconsin Dells
Tip 1: Ask for help. Reach out to Wisconsin Dells VCB for connections, assistance and educational itineraries.
Tip 2: Timing is not restricted. The Dells isn’t a strictly-summer destination—student and youth groups love coming year round. Skiing and snow tubing are popular winter activities, and river cruises in the fall show off Wisconsin’s beauty.
Tip 3: Student performers are welcome. Whether it’s singing the National Anthem before the Paul Bunyan show, performing at Mount Olympus theme park or standing in the spotlight at the Wisconsin Opry, Wisconsin Dells CVB will find a place with a built-in audience and connect you to center-stage venues. Keep an eye out for a new dinner theater coming to the Dells, which will set the stage for a performance opportunity!
The Wisconsin Dells VCB can assist in nearly any way, distribute RFPs and provide welcome bags and greetings. Visit Wisconsin Dells’ website or call the Wisconsin Dells VCB for more information. Already been to the Dells with your students? Tell us about your experiences below!