More and more families, couples and individuals are opting to bring their pups along on their summer vacation because it eliminates the cost, stress and separation sadness of leaving their dog with a temporary caregiver.
Thus, many destinations – including the Wisconsin Dells – strive to accommodate four-legged family members, and new apps like BringFido connect humans to dog-friendly hotels, bars and restaurants around the country.
For the travel industry, it simply makes good business sense.
"As this travel trend continues to grow, Wisconsin Dells has an opportunity to accommodate more visitors by increasing dog-friendly offerings. Area businesses will benefit if their business model allows them to accommodate the four-legged family members," says Leah Hauck, communications manager for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Recently, my family and I spent a long weekend in the Dells and brought our 16-month-old dog, a chihuahua mix named Frankie. We rescued Frankie in April so this was our first vacation with her in tow and we didn’t know what to expect.
In general, we found the Dells to be extremely dog friendly. Other vacationers were quick to smile at and ask questions about Frankie and many of the restaurants had dog-friendly patios.
Pets are not allowed in any of the major waterpark hotels, but there are numerous dog-friendly lodging options including Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort where we spent a couple of nights. Located on the shore of Lake Delton, Baker’s is close to all of the main attractions, yet on the "quiet" side of the Dells with more open areas that are perfect for dog exercising.
The owners of Baker's met us at the front desk with treats, waste bags and compliments for Frankie, making us feel welcome from the moment we arrived. The condo was extremely cheerful with new mattresses and clean-but-worn carpeting that actually made us feel relieved just in case Frankie had an accident. We appreciated the handwritten note on the table, dog bowls on the floor and the respectfulness of other guests who also kept their dogs leashed at all times.
Baker’s Resort has numerous public grilling spots with picnic tables and outdoor games, so staying around the "ranch" with the dog was always an option for us. However, mostly we journeyed, dog-in-tow, into the thick of the touristy fun for our meals and adventures.
And although dining out with our leashed puppy was primarily a game of "untangle the dog from under the table," we enjoyed having Frankie with us.
But of course bringing your dog on vacation anywhere, including the Dells, depends on both the human and the hound. Taking a dog along means fewer choices and more responsibility, but for many humans, the chance to share travel with their furry best friend is worth the extra effort.
If you decide you and your pup are a good fit for travel companionship, my family highly recommends it. Especially Frankie.
"Dogs are members of the family and the Dells understands that visitors want to bring them along for the fun and memories," says Hauck.
Here are a few of our favorite pup-positive spots:
Bella Goose Cafe – This is a local coffee roaster in the Dells with a dog-friendly patio – and a delectable waffle menu.
The Grateful Shed – The Dells’ first food hall has a psychedelic ‘60s theme and allows dogs both indoors and out while their human counterparts chow on tacos, sushi or grilled cheeses sandwiches. There’s also a full bar under a suspended Greyhound bus turned eating area.
Ravina Bar & Grill – Located on the shore of Lake Delton, Ravina’s patio has dog-friendly seating for well-behaved hounds. We had our best meal here and therefore zero need for a doggy bag.
River Walk Pub – Aptly named as this pub and eatery is located on the Wisconsin Dells’ River Walk, this picturesque place is perfect to lap up a couple of drinks and eat a plate of nachos. Or at least we thought so.
Riverfront Terrace – This outdoor bar is next to a pizza-and-salad food truck and a farmers market and allows dog-toting humans to eat, drink and be merry on the patio overlooking the river.
Summer House Grill and Bar – Another shoreside restaurant that welcomes dogs to the lower-level of its patio. Our server was particularly smitten with Frankie here.
There are also two dog-friendly Wisconsin Dells area wineries:
Broken Bottle Winery – Not only is Broken Bottle dog-friendly, there was also a dog named Archie on-site during our visit. Dog snacks and fresh water are always available here.
Baraboo Bluff Winery – Baraboo Bluff is Broken Bottle’s sister winery and every bit as bone-ified (hey-o!) when it comes to welcoming dogs to the world of wine.
Here are other dog-friendly activities to do in the Dells:
Strolling up and down Broadway – The "old" (classic) part of the Dells is a lot of fun with a leashed dog. Because my pooch is small I was able to carry her in and out of every shop I stepped into and numerous shops were accommodating to dogs of all sizes – especially a consignment shop with fun items made by local artists called Made with Love.
Old-timey photo studios – Dogs are welcome to dress-up and model with or without their humans in the numerous vintage photos shops on Broadway.
Wisconsin Duck Boats – Somewhat surprisingly to us, the Wisconsin Duck Boats welcome pets, which we, however, didn’t board because Frankie doesn’t dig loud vehicle noises.
The Wisconsin Dells River Walk – The beautiful River Walk offers 1/4-mile of natural beauty. We walked – and one of us sniffed – our way down this path multiple times during our stay in the Dells.
Souvenir shopping – Many of the souvenir shops are fine with well-behaved dogs meandering inside and many have dogs items for sale. (However, we were unable to find a single souvenir for Frankie that said "Wisconsin Dells" on it – definitely an entrepreneurial opportunity for someone out there.) By the sheer number of dog-themed T-shirts and dog items we saw for sale it was clear that people who don’t bring their dogs on vacation are thinking about them.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.