By Jessica Steinhoff
Have a young Kitty O’Neil or Evel Knievel? Want to shock the kids with your own daredevilry? No matter why you seek epic thrills, Wisconsin has an adventure for you. Here are nine to try with the little ones, each with a thrill rating ranging from 1 (mild) to 10 (wild).
Note that while all these attractions are open and operating, some have restrictions to protect the health and safety of staff and guests from the coronavirus.
Wildman Adventure Resort, Niagara
This rustic resort in northeast Wisconsin offers exciting activities for kids ages 5 to 12, including kayaking, rock-climbing, ziplining and a high ropes course. Its claim to fame, however, is whitewater rafting on the Menominee River. Each excursion is led by a seasoned guide, and every rider receives a helmet and a personal flotation device.
The roughly four-hour Menominee River adventure starts with games and swimming in calm waters beside 200-foot cliffs. The group then navigates a series of small rapids before exploring Piers Gorge, which features some of the largest rapids in the region. Children younger than 12 must portage between rougher sections of the river, while those ages 15 and older can upgrade to the Wild Ride, an experience Wildman dubs “the most extreme whitewater trip in the Midwest.” This outing’s rafts hold three to four people, providing a more tumultuous paddle through the waves and strong currents. Rafting trips will be available until mid-October and, due to the coronavirus, staff are taking additional measures to ensure the health and safety of themselves and guests. wildmanranch.com
Thrill rating: 7-10
RIP-ROARING ROLLER COASTERS
Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park, Wisconsin Dells
With speeds of up to 70 mph, a 140-foot drop, a full-circle loop and subterranean speedways, Mt. Olympus’s Hades 360 is the definition of adventure, attracting roller coaster connoisseurs from around the globe. It’s also the source of some impressive bragging rights. Billed as the world’s first upside-down wooden coaster, this ride is a piece of amusement park history.
Craving more coaster-based thrills? Give Cyclops a whirl. This coaster features a dramatic 75-foot drop on its 1,680-foot journey. Kids must be at least 4 feet tall to board both of these rides. Guests can expect to see social distancing in lines for rides and the staff will be frequently wiping down high-touch areas. The outdoor park is open, generally, until Labor Day, and the indoor park is open year-round. mtolympuspark.com/specials/resort-guest-exclusive
Thrill rating: 7
Kite Riders, Madison area
Kiteboarding is the ultimate extreme sport, combining elements of windsurfing, wakeboarding and paragliding. If your family is both brave and patient, you can learn to do it through Kite Riders, a Madison- area training center and gear outfitter.
According to owner Bob Cook, kids as young as age 8 — or at least 100 pounds — can kiteboard safely after five to 10 hours of training, as long as a family member is willing to do it with them. But the weather has to be just right.
“We can’t predict the wind, but if you’re willing to wait for the wind to cooperate, you’ll be rewarded,” he says. “Kiteboarding is a lot of fun, it’s a great workout and the camaraderie you’ll find with other riders is awesome.”
Each lesson is about two hours, and the first one takes place on land. That’s because you must first learn how to fly a special type of kite that harnesses the wind’s energy. After that, learning happens on the water, with a more sophisticated kite. The Olbrich Park area of Lake Monona and the McDaniel Park portion on Lake Waubesa are the most popular spots for beginner lessons.
“Whether you’re a kid or an adult, once your kite-flying skills are strong, we’ll get you up and riding on a board, once you’ve got the hang of kite- flying,” Cook says.
That’s when the real thrills commence: riding six-foot waves, catching winds faster than 20 miles per hour and jumping as high as the famous Chicago Bean. You can rent gear for lessons, but prepare to buy a kite, board, harnesses and more if you get hooked on aerodynamics.
Want to try something different? Cook also offers lessons and rents lift e-foil boards, which are essentially electronically powered surf boards that are lifted off the surface of the water, allowing boarders to surf regardless of nearly any water conditions. kiteridersllc.com
Thrill rating: 5-10
Northwoods Argo ATV Tour at Northwoods Zip Line Adventure Tours, Harshaw
Explore the wilderness near Minocqua in an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV. You get a tank-like eight-wheeler, plus an experienced guide, for this two-hour tour. The experience also includes helmets and safety goggles, plus access to 16 miles of woodland trails on a 900- acre deer farm where you just might meet Bambi.
Up to four people can ride, including kids as young as 5, and two adults ages 18 or older may take turns driving. Bring a camera to document a 26-point buck sighting or your smiling family splattered with mud.
Due to the coronavirus, guests are allowed to close off tours to just their group, to avoid co-mingling with others.
The ATV tours shut down in the fall and are no longer available as soon as there’s snowfall. northwoodszipline.com/product/northwoods-argo-atv-tour, northwoodszipline.com
Thrill rating: 3
Safari Lake Geneva, Lake Geneva
Creatures from five continents roam this 800-acre safari park. Instead of peering into habitats from afar like you would at a zoo, spend an hour meandering through them in your own car. Once the coronavirus pandemic began last spring, Safari Lake Geneva adapted its experience by allowing guests to drive through the park on their own for the first time ever.
It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that provides an up-close look at fauna such as Arabian camels, American bison and blackbuck antelopes. The animals that approach are gentle enough to pet, plus buckets of grain — that attracts friendly ostriches, cattle, yaks and more — are available for purchase. safarilakegeneva.com
Thrill rating: 2
WONDROUS WATER SLIDES
Kalahari, Wisconsin Dells
Thrill-seekers flock to Screaming Hyena, a water slide that sends them through the water park’s roof, 60 feet above land. The experience involves bursting through a trapdoor and speeding downward up to 35 mph, all while shrieking like — you guessed it — a hyena.
For an extra dose of adventure, mosey on over to Sahara Sidewinders, side-by-side slides that include 360-degree loops and nearly vertical drops that amp up your sliding speed. The calamity concludes with a giant splash.
Be sure to visit Kalahari’s website for a detailed list of public health precautions implemented to ensure the safety of guests and staff. kalahariresorts.com/wisconsin
Thrill rating: 7
RIVETING ROPES COURSE
Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures, Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures’ sky-high obstacle course challenges the mind and body in a lush, 100-acre forest. Participants must be at least 7 years old, 70 pounds and ready to think like a tightrope walker. A guide helms each two-hour tour, which takes place 18 to 32 feet above the ground and features a cargo net to climb, swinging logs to steady and Olympic- style rings to traverse.
The center has adjusted some of its experiences because of the coronavirus. Visit Lake Geneva Adventures’ website to check out changes to its cancellation policies, sanitizing procedures, group sizes and face covering requirement. lakegenevaadventures.com
Thrill rating: 7
ZIPLINES FOR THE ZESTFUL
Lakeshore Adventures, Baileys Harbor
Make like a bird and soar through the trees. Some of the state’s most awe-inspiring ziplines are at Door County’s Lakeshore Adventures, whose 2,000 feet of pulleys and cables reside inside the beautiful Ridges Sanctuary. Kids ages 12 and younger can take flight if they’re at least 60 pounds and accompanied by an adult.
The guide-led tour features several styles of zipping, plus views of Cana Island, Moonlight Bay and numerous wildlife habitats. Three canopy ziplines whisk riders from platform to platform, and a dual racer caters to speed demons and other competitive types.
For those interested in private or small changes because of the coronavirus, visit Lakeshore Adventures online. The company also notes it will be wiping down high-touch areas and is encouraging, but not requiring, guests to wear masks.
Thrill rating: 7
Photo: Todd Haleen
This article originally appeared in the 2020 issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.