Ask any Midwesterner where they used to vacation as a child, and chances are they will immediately answer, Wisconsin Dells. Surrounded by miles of untouched natural beauty, The Dells is the ultimate thrill-seekers’ tourist trap and Wisconsinites’ default vacation destination.
The self-described waterpark capital of the world, The Dells boasts the largest concentration of waterparks on Earth — a title no sane city would ever dare challenge. And indeed, the sheer number of waterslides is overwhelming to even the biggest splash pool enthusiast.
But just steps from Mount Olympus, an inexplicably Ancient Greek-themed amusement park complete with a death-defying rollercoaster called Hades 360, there is another much more sedate park.
Deer are a familiar sight in Wisconsin — standing majestically at the edge of the woods, not-so-majestically reclining on the side of the road, surreptitiously snacking on prize rose gardens, or lined up in a hunter’s crosshairs. One would assume a Sconnie wouldn’t want to see any more deer, but one would be wrong.
The 40-acre Wisconsin Deer Park has been home to countless deer since 1952 and has never waned in popularity. The friendly beasts wander freely in the park and often approach guests in search of a deer-friendly snack.
Tourists of all ages are armed with wasa crackers, corn, and specialty deer pellets to tempt the usually elusive creatures to cross the fence and say hello. It usually works.
The fearless deer at the Deer Park are tame and have been accustomed to human visitors for generations. There are no enclosures except for the tall exterior fence, which keeps the deer from escaping and taking a ride on a waterslide. Low wooden rails serve only to keep the humans contained.
Animal lovers will get up close and personal with friendly deer whether they like it or not. Most of the deer mind their own business and explore the human-free wooded valleys, but quite a few of them — especially the photogenic fallow deer — are more than willing to approach visitors. It’s not uncommon to see curious deer invading tourists’ personal space on their quest for crackers. Despite their unnatural gregariousness, these deer are gentle and never aggressive. They don’t even mind being petted.
White-tailed deer are numerous both inside and outside the park. Normally shy and skittish, the unafraid deer are happy to entertain visitors to their dedicated petting zoo. Children and non-hunters may be surprised by the sheer size of the animals, which can be as high as four feet at the shoulder. Bucks with massive racks of antlers stand serenely right in the middle of the walkway. Does and younger deer are a constant presence, but the fawns do make themselves scarce since some instincts just can’t be broken.
The non-native fallow deer seem to be the friendliest of all species at The Deer Park. A little smaller than their white-tailed cousins and always covered in fawn-like spots, the fallow deer is one of the most eye-catching species at the Park. Recognize them by their light-colored bodies, showy spotted pattern, and broad, flat antlers on the bucks.
The park is any animal lover’s paradise. The handicap and stroller accessible paved walkways are wide, smooth, and easy to move around. Visitors of all ages are welcome at the park — and in the well-stocked gift shop.
Those concerned with animal welfare have little to worry about at The Deer Park. These deer live twice as long as their wild counterparts thanks to quality veterinary care and protection against predation. They’re regularly tested for chronic wasting disease, are kept away from wild animals, have plenty of space to roam, and the park staff is strict with guests when it comes to feeding and behavior around the animals.
Visit The Deer Park in spring or early summer to visit fawns and late summer to admire the bucks’ spectacular antlers. The park is also home to elk, bison, goats, horses, pigs, game birds, and exotic petting zoo favorites like llamas, emus, and even lemurs.
While the cheerful deer make for amazing photo ops, it’s worth focusing the camera away from the main trail once in awhile. The Dells is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Midwest with its dramatic hills, steep gorges, and complex geological formations. Beyond the barriers, the deer at the Park engage in natural behaviors like leaping across natural valleys and grazing at the edge of the woods.
Avid hunters or those who don’t appreciate deer in their gardens may roll their eyes. Adrenaline junkies are more likely to get their kicks at Noah’s Ark Waterpark instead of this one-of-a-kind petting zoo. But nature-loving tourists who need a break from thrilling theme parks will find themselves right at home at the Wisconsin Deer Park, where so-called nuisance animals are loved, respected, and photographed next to great big smiles.
To learn more, visit wisdeerpark.com