Our second Wisconsin trip of the summer took us up to the beautiful and sometimes surreal Wisconsin Dells. We had ventured there several years ago to experience the huge Mount Olympus amusement park. Before we left the Dells on that trip, we spotted another park with a coaster but didn't have time to check it out. As it turned out, earlier this year a friend from the Western New York Coaster Club sent me free tickets to Timber Falls Adventure Park, the one we missed. The Dells have been described as Las Vegas for kids, with dozens of attractions -- from duck boat trips to haunted mansions to water parks, plus themed hotels, magic acts and all sorts of exhibits.
We arrived at Timber Falls about 10:30 in the morning. The coaster loomed over the street below. We parked in front of the park's up-charge thrill attraction, the tall Skyscraper. Our car was only the second in the parking lot. The park entrance was behind us, along with a Mexican restaurant. There was also a sort of mini strip mall and a Rocky Rococo pizza shop. In front of us across a side street was Timber Falls' colorful mini golf course.
We wondered if the place was open. Everything was still. Maybe the recent heat wave was keeping people away. On our trip from Milwaukee, we passed many water parks that appeared to have just a handful of people in them. This day was overcast and much milder, a break in a week-long heat wave, with temperatures in the 80s. I expected the water parks to be packed with overheated tourists.
We walked through the Timber Falls entrance. Arcing above us was a steeply-banked section of coaster track. To our left was a small idle bumper boat pool. In front of us was a ticket counter that also doubled as a concession stand. A friendly attendant took our passes and gave us wristbands, explaining that the park had four mini golf courses -- one in the park and three across the street. The wristbands allowed us to play golf all we wanted, and also gave us six rides on Avalanche, the big mean-looking coaster. (Strangely, all the signs in the park called the coaster Avalanche. But the park's website referred to it as Hellcat.) We could also ride the bumper boats and the flume. And that was it. That was all there was to Timber Falls. The park allowed you to pay-per-ride if you wanted. Avalanche would have been $6.95. That seemed like sticker shock after our day at Bay Beach. The golf courses and Avalanche were open, but the rest of the park (such that it was) opened at 11:00.
A young attendant behind the counter eagerly asked if we were going to ride the coaster. He seemed thrilled that we were interested. He led us up the long ramp to the entrance. We had a great view of the entire park, which was about the size of a small city block. The coaster's gleaming steel structure wrapped around the entire area. The lift seemed absurdly large. Most of the track stayed relatively low to the ground. After the first drop, the track tilted on it's side and turned 90 degrees to the left, following the highway. The rest of the circuit consisted of bunny hops and left-hand turns, two concentric circles. It was visually impressive.
We chatted with the attendant for a bit as we settled into the front of the PTC train, a similar model to the one at Bay Beach. He wished us well and dispatched us. The train slowly dropped out of the station, turned 90 degrees left and engaged the lift. It clattered up the steep slope. We crested the top and had a spectacular view of the surrounding attractions. Then the bottom dropped out. We plunged down a steep fast drop and tore through the first turn before we could get our breath. Sharp pops of airtime followed as we screamed over the bunny hops. The ride was a high-speed blur of track. One second we were on our sides, the next we were popping out of our seats. We flew into the brake run and abruptly stopped with the side friction wheels still spinning. We were both laughing and exhausted. Avalanche was unexpectedly intense, and also a lot of fun. Considering its non-stop speed, the coaster was remarkably smooth. The attendant was willing to let us go around again, but we decided to take a breather at the mini-golf course across the street.
The entrance to the course was picturesque, with a waterfall and colorful water wheel. The three 18-hole courses were color coded: red (Logger's Lookout), black (Tall Timbers Run) and blue (Miner's Hollow). We began with the red course. After entering past the concession stand, the scene opened up into a marvelous vista. All three courses were intertwined across a steep shady ravine. There were numerous colorful mine-themed structures. Quite a few people were already playing the courses. The greens were well-maintained and challenging without gimmicks. There were no windmills or other such stunts on the greens. The design used the steeply sloping land to good effect. It was one of the most enjoyable rounds of mini-golf I've ever had. There was a light breeze blowing. The view overlooking the river and dam was impressive. There was lots of well-done landscaping, including a lot of water features. Several of the greens ended at a man-made cliff with a precipitous drop down to the water. Even with a railing there, it was still a bit unnerving.
The round took us about an hour. I didn't win by very much, at 14 over par. Karen got two holes-in-one. We decided to take a lunch break next and walked across the street to Rocky Rococo's. I found the name amusing; it was a character from an old comedy skit by The Firesign Theater. The pizzeria's mascot looked like a cross between Leon Redbone and the Blues Brothers. Karen got a salad and breadsticks. I got fettucini Alfredo with broccoli. The food was pretty good. That was the most money we spent all day: $17.
We left the restaurant to find the parking lot filling up. A family was on the bumper boats. The flume was running. It looked short, but since we had our wristband we decided to take a ride. We had trouble finding the entrance, though. The attendant who gave us a ride on Avalanche sprung to life when he saw us and asked if we were going on the coaster again. We said we were looking for the flume entrance and he seemed disappointed. The entrance was through the tiny arcade that was attached to the cramped concessions booth. We walked past the handful of arcade machines and up a few stairs to the flume's loading station. The attendant there was very friendly (a trend throughout Wisconsin). The logs passed through the station on a treadmill, much like the setup at Canobie Lake. We took our seats, with Karen in front and me in the back. The log inched out of the station and into the deep water of the trough. We turned left and rose up the first hill. It was small, about 10 feet high. The drop was steep and fast. Our splashdown didn't produce much of a splash, though. That wasn't a huge deal for us since it was still overcast and we didn't want to get very wet.
We then swiftly floated into a long pitch-black tunnel, gradually emerging into daylight beside a whimsical troll-like figure. The course meandered about the well-landscaped mini-golf course and under the structure of Avalanche (which still had no riders). We passed through another tunnel and by a large prop plane that appeared to have crashed in the water, propellers sticking out of the concrete like horizontal windmills and spinning in the breeze. The log then was pulled up the final big hill. At the top, we we're at the same level as the second hill of Avalanche. As with the coaster, the view was impressive. The log reached the top, floated to the left and reached the edge of the surprisingly steep drop. The bottom dropped out from under us and we flew down the hill. The splash was really gentle and we didn't get wet at all. Overall, it was a really enjoyable ride.
We walked out the exit. Karen wanted to take some pictures. I queued back up for the flume. When I got to the station, I found everything shut down. The attendant wasn't there. I went back to the concession stand and saw the attendant. I assumed she was going to take a break. But she apologized and offered to re-start the ride for me. So I got another pleasant trip, floating by the well-manicured grounds.
After that I wanted one more ride on Avalanche. Karen decided to pass. The coaster's original attendant was on break, but an equally enthusiastic attendant took over. Once again, I was the only rider. In fact, we had been the only riders all day. We chatted amiably as I secured myself in the front seat. This time, I was mentally prepared for the intensity. Even so, the speed was breathtaking. I hardly had enough time to prepare myself for the rapid and severe changes of direction (even though the turns were always to the left). I returned to the station both laughing gasping. What an amazing coaster! It seemed a shame that there was so little else to bring people to Timber Falls. All their other offerings were mild family-oriented pastimes. Avalanche would have made more sense if it was a junior coaster. But instead Timber Falls had a white-knuckle thriller.
Avalanche (or Hellcat) is amazing. The flume is lots of fun as well. And if you like mini-golf, you could easily spend a whole day at the park. With so much else to do in the Dells and with the ability to purchase individual tickets, Timber Falls would be an easy recommendation if you're in the area. It was yet another attraction that has made the Dells a destination for families and thrill-seekers alike.
It seemed like every other location in the Dells was advertising duck boat tours. Duck boats were amphibious craft popular in World War II. There seemed to be no shortage of them in the Dells, along with jet boat tours and zip-line tours. After examining our options, Karen and I settled on the more peaceful Mark Twain boat tour of the upper Dells area. We tracked down the location of the ticket booth, a tiny structure in the middle of a strip mall parking lot. The booth was empty. I called the phone number listed and asked about the 2:00 tour. At that point it was 1:45. The guy on the phone said, "No way. You'll never make it." I told him where we were. He said the actual loading area was just down the street. "There's no way you'll make it in time. The next tour is at 4:00."
I hung up and decided to go there anyway. It took us about three minutes to reach the Army Duck Boats parking lot, easily identifiable from the military theming. I hurried up to the ticket booth and asked about the Mark Twain tour. The girl behind the counter said there was plenty of time and plenty of room. It cost a reasonable $12 for each of us. We walked though the military-themed gift shop and out to the back where there were umbrella-shaded cafe tables in the waiting area. We sat there about fifteen minutes before the bus was ready. Only seven other people were going on the tour. As we boarded the converted school bus, the driver asked us where we were from. When we told her, and she seemed delighted. She was from Massachusetts and her sister was a teacher at Westfield State. Small world....
It was a short bus ride to the docking area. We were dropped off at a log cabin gift shop on a forested hill. After following a steep shady path down the other side of the hill, we came to the small dock. The Mark Twain was a medium size boat. There were plastic patio chairs at the bow and stern. A roof strung with rope lights covered the bulk of the deck. The sides had large panoramic windows. Karen and I sat at the bow. The captain was behind us and to our left.
Once we were all boarded, the captain began his banter. He reminded me of the comical Captain Dan on Cedar Point's Paddlewheel Excursions. As we gently floated along the river, our captain pointed out the history and geology of the area, inserting puns at every opportunity. The ride out was calming. There were lots of interesting sandstone formations and mysterious coves and caves. Cedar waxwings flitted about and a bald eagle circled above us, finally landing in its roost at the top of a tree. On the return trip, we seemed to be competing with lots of other boats along the narrow river. Another thing disturbing the natural beauty was the back of the huge looming Chula Vista waterpark resort, spanning a whole cliff side where towering pines once stood. The hour-long trip was a good way to unwind, though.
Our final stop in the Dells was at Goody Goody, a colorful candy shop where we bought some treats for the long ride back to Milwaukee. I was really glad we made the trip to Timber Falls and experienced some more of the wide variety of attractions in the Wisconsin Dells.
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