After a couple of nights in Chicago to overcome our jetlag, we were on our way back to its airport, this time to pick up a rental car which would be our main form of transport for the next few weeks. Despite having never driven in the US before, or hired a rental car anywhere before, we had planned a pretty ambitious road trip around the Midwest States of the US and we were nervous and excited in equal measure as we approached the AVIS building.
We had pre-booked our rental well in advance of our trip, paying up front in order to avoid any costs at pick up – or so we though, as we were charged for something or other at handover, a charge we spent the rest of the trip trying to figure out! The trip was not off to the best of starts when as well as the unexpected rental charges, we arrived at our designated pick up time to find a huge queue for the pickup desk, a queue that was moving at a snail’s pace!
Unimpressed with the service we had received from Avis so far, we were relieved to finally get the keys to our rental and get on the road towards Wisconsin.
We had a 4 hour drive to Wisconsin Dells ahead of us and lots of stops at roadside attractions planned along the way and we were already over an hour behind schedule thanks to the car pickup process being a lot more time-consuming than we had expected!
Sat nav set up, we were finally on our way towards our first stop of the day – and of the trip – in the town of Niles, Illiois where we were hoping to find the Leaning Tower of Niles, a smaller scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a bench where you could sit next to an Abraham Lincoln sculpture!
As we made our way out of Chicago, we were unsure whether we’d find either or even a place to park but 20 minutes later, there was the leaning tower in front of us! After a few attempts going back and forth along the road, we settled on a place to park and hopped out to grab photos with the random sculpture. It was lunch time already so we popped to the supermarket next to the tower to grab snacks then back to the car.
Our 5 minute stop had taken at least half an hour putting us even further behind schedule so with that in mind, we decided to skip the Abe Lincoln bench and continue on into the state of Wisconsin.
Here, our first stop was at the Jelly Belly Factory where we had read that free tours were offered. We found Jelly Belly easily and luckily it was pretty quiet meaning we got on the next tour.
We were handed Jelly Belly hats which had to be worn through out then boarded the train which took us around the factory, our guide telling us about it or stopping for us to watch videos. It was a fun stop and we even got a free bag of jelly beans each as we left through the gift store.
Next up was the Mac Cheese Castle, a huge cheese store near the town of Kenosha. As we neared the highway exit, we could see it lying just off the main road but as we reached the junction, the signposts vanished and we couldn’t work out how to get to it! Ending up back on the highway, we decided to give up and continue towards our destination. Conscious that time was rapidly ticking away, we also decided to abandon our plans to stop in Milwaukee – city driving didn’t seem like the best idea when we were still getting used to the car, the US road system and driving on the opposite side to what we were used to anyway!
Instead, we stopped late afternoon in the town of Madison to visit Ella’s Animatronic Deli, a diner we had found which was crammed full of hundreds of moving figures. It was a fun food stop with lots to see as we waited for our food order to arrive.
We had one more food stop to fit in at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus in Windsor, a store specialising in Wisconsin cheese.
We had a quick look around, stretching our legs, sampling some of the cheese and taking photos of the huge mouse adorning the entrance before continuing to our motel in Wisconsin Dells, finally arriving just as the sun set!
The next morning, we were up early to grab breakfast at the nearby IHOP. We had all visited Wisconsin Dells once before, stopping for an hour or so as part of our Trek America tour through the Northern States but this time, hoped to see more of what it had to offer.
We started with a visit to Noah’s Ark, via quick pitstops at a Trojan horse, the Colosseum and an upside down White House – some of the Dell’s more random attractions along the way! Noah’s Ark bills itself as America’s largest water park and is one of many water and amusement parks in the Dells.
We had decided to mainly because we got free entrance included with our motel stay so it seemed a shame not to stop by for a few hours. But after paying hefty parking fees and entering to find huge queues for every ride (it was the height of summer, after all), we regretted our decision. In the couple of hours we were there, we only got on one ride and ended up spending most of our time in the wave pool, the one thing you didn’t have to queue for.
Giving up on Noah’s Ark, we returned to our motel briefly to shower and change before walking down the main strip to see the Dell’s Lumberjack show. We had pre-booked our tickets to the afternoon show and while we enjoyed watching, it was pretty much a rerun of the same show I had seen at Grouse Mountain in Vancouver – same stunts and even the same jokes!
After the show, we walked back along the strip, stopping at the Cheesy Tomato cafe for a grilled cheese sandwich lunch and souvenir shopping. The Dells is full of random attractions but none of them are cheap and you could easily spend a fortune paying out for them all. We decided on a round of glow-in-the-dark mini-golf at one of the many entertainment complexes and this also gave us access to a giant King King sculpture which gave us some fun photo opportunities!
That evening, we had booked a trip on the Wisconsin Dells’ ghost boat. For some reason, we had assumed it would be like a ghost walking tour but on a boat.
We were expecting to cruise along the river being entertained with ghost stories about the Dells but this is not what we go at all! Instead, we were dropped by boat at an island which we roamed as we were chased by various actors dressed as all kind of gruesome, spooky characters! A bit like a longer version of the old House of Horrors at Universal Studios but outside in the dark!!
I love that kind of thing and had a great time but my travel buddies were less than impressed!
The next day, we were back on the road travelling through the state of Wisconsin towards our next destination of Minneapolis.
Once again, we had a long list of roadside attractions to stop off at along the way, starting with the World’s Largest Bicycle in the town of Sparta. We found the sculpture sat in a park straight away and hopped out to take photos between giggles, trying our best to be a bit quicker than we had at previous stops.
The next stop was in the town of LaCrosse where we found the World’s Largest Six Pack, another great photo opportunity!
Our final stop in the state of Wisconsin was in the town of Elmwood, supposedly the UFO-sighting capital of America! The town plays on this title with UFO-themed window displays as well as hosting ‘UFO Days’, an annual festival celebrated every July with a parade and other UFO-themed events.
As we had just missed the festival by a few days, the town was still decked out with bunting and decorations.
After our stop in Elmwood, it was time to say goodbye to Wisconsin as we crossed the border into Minnesota to continue our trip. We’d had a fun start to our adventure, finding some fun and unusual roadside attractions as well as getting to revisit Wisconsin Dells to spend a bit more quality time there and now we looked forward to what the rest of our trip would bring!