Travel Green: An Eco-Vacation to Wisconsin Dells

Looking for a green getaway that’s good for you as well as the earth? Take an eco-vacation to Wisconsin Dells

By Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko

Surrounded by palm trees and surf, we bask like cats in the sun. Tempted to pick the ripening bananas hanging on a nearby tree, we sip margaritas instead. Our son, Liam, finds a raft for wave crashing. Missing, however, is the sand and a Caribbean zip code. And one major detail: We avoided adding tons of carbon dioxide—a leading greenhouse gas—to the already warming planet by staying in Wisconsin instead of jetting to a tropical eco-resort.

We’re a renewable-energy-using and veggie-eating family, so we were interested in the fact that the reigning kingdom of indoor waterparks (Wisconsin Dells has more than anywhere else on earth) offers opportunities for traveling with less impact on the planet. As practicing eco-tourists, we realize that every time we hop into a plane or car, we’re adding to rising global temperatures.

Cutting our own travel emissions by not flying or driving far was a good start. But it turns out there’s a lot more to going green in the Dells. Some waterparks here have embraced energy conservation and efficiency efforts. At Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort, for instance, about 85 percent of the sunlight passing through the transparent, UV-permeable Foil Tec roof over the Wild WaterDome reduces lighting needs and provides solar heat for the building (not to mention a chance to work on our tans). Liam took charge of running the “energize” key card through a slot every time we entered and left our room at the Wilderness on the Lake resort, which “magically” (according to Liam) turned the lights on or off and set the room to energy-saving mode when we weren’t there. At the Kalahari Resort—the largest indoor waterpark in America—mega fans push down the hot air collecting at the ceiling to heat the building, while energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs glowed.

As devout foodies, we were impressed by the Dells’ options for eating local and lower on the food chain, too. The Cheeze Factory Restaurant rules as vegetarian restaurant royalty, and we chowed down on its double-decker grilled cheese, oozing with melted Wisconsin cheddar, greened with an organic salad tossed with its signature raspberry walnut dressing. The locally owned Moosejaw Pizza and Brewing Company threw us for a refreshing food loop. This is not your cookie-cutter brewpub. The cheese and beer soup served up thick like fondue, and only in Wisconsin does beer bread appear on both the appetizer and dessert menus.

Sometimes grown-ups need a getaway within a Dells getaway. Sundara Inn and Spa delivers a luxurious adults-only green escape. Named one of the “Top 10 Spas for Enviromental Practices” by in 2011, Sundara takes a holistic approach to blending wellness, pampering and environmental practices. The Purifying Bath Ritual lets both day and overnight guests relax at their own speed before a massage or other spa service. Sundara prides itself on showcasing locally grown food purchased directly from area farmers in season, with a menu of nearly 95 percent organic ingredients.

We lusted over Sundara’s menu and gazed longingly at the heated outdoor Infinity Pool, a steaming escape amid sandstone bluffs. Next time, we vowed, we’d lure the grandparents along so we could eco-escape with clear consciences for a day at Sundara.

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