How high is the point of no return in Wisconsin Dells?

Wisconsin Dells is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful scenery, outdoor adventures, and world-famous waterparks. One of the most iconic natural landmarks in the Dells is the point of no return, a jaw-dropping rock formation towering high above the Wisconsin River. But just how high is this renowned landmark? Let’s take a closer look at the breathtaking heights of the point of no return in Wisconsin Dells.

What is the Point of No Return?

The point of no return refers to a steep, rocky cliff located along the Wisconsin River in downtown Wisconsin Dells. This cliff forms part of the rocky gorge that the river has carved out over thousands of years. The name “point of no return” comes from the fact that once boats pass this point headed downstream, they cannot turn around and go back upstream. The current is simply too strong.

The point of no return cliff is part of the larger rock formation known as Stand Rock. This imposing sandstone cliff reaches 50 feet high in some sections. At the top of the point of no return, the cliff edge drops straight down to the river below. For decades, this landmark has drawn visitors who come to marvel at its height and natural beauty.

Exact Elevation of the Point of No Return

So what is the exact height of the point of no return? According to local geological surveys and maps, the cliff point reaches an elevation of approximately 110 feet (33.5 meters) above the Wisconsin River.

To put that into perspective, that’s over 3 times the height of a standard telephone pole! It’s also the same height as a 10-story building. Needless to say, gazing down from the edge of the point of no return is not for the faint of heart.

Vantage Points to View the Height

One of the best ways to appreciate the true height of the point of no return cliff is to view it from below. In the summer months, boat tours run daily along the Wisconsin River, sailing right under the towering cliff. Looking up, it’s easy to understand how the point got its name.

For an even more unique perspective, you can sign up for a jet boat ride. These thrilling tours zip along at high speeds, letting you feel the river’s currant and bringing you extremely close to the rocky gorge walls.

In addition to river tours, there are a few land-based vantage points that offer excellent views of the point of no return:

  • Witches Gulch hiking trail – this half-mile loop trail leads up to spectacular views overlooking the cliff.
  • Stand Rock Park – walkways let you view the point from above and below.
  • Top of Dell Creek hill – one of the best elevated views of the gorge area.

Geography of the Surrounding Gorge

To fully appreciate the height of the point of no return, it helps to understand the unique geography and topography of the Wisconsin River gorge in which it is situated.

Over thousands of years, the Wisconsin River slowly carved an intricate gorge along its path. This gorge stretches for around 4 miles near Wisconsin Dells, with rock walls rising anywhere from 50 to 100 feet tall. The water has reached depths of up to 40 feet in some sections.

The point of no return juts out within one of the narrowest and deepest points of the gorge. In the mile downstream, the river channel constricts to only around 100 feet wide. Just upstream, the gorge widens to over 500 feet across.

This narrow channel concentrates the river’s current and accelerates its flow. Below the point, the waters rage at an average of 4-5 mph, which prevented boats from passing until the lock system was installed in the 1930s.

In addition to the point of no return, there are several other noteworthy rock formations carved out by the river within the Dells gorge area:

  • Witches Gulch – a 500-foot long side canyon with 30-50 foot walls
  • Coldwater Canyon – a 350-foot long gorge with 70-foot cliffs
  • Romance Cliff – an 85-foot tall cliff

Compared to these other formations, the point of no return stands out for its exceptional height and picturesque views.

Origins of the Sandstone Cliff

The point of no return and other rock formations in the Dells area owe their existence to the unique geology and erosive forces that shaped this region of Wisconsin.

Around 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, sand built up in shallow seas that covered large parts of North America. These deposits later lithified into solid sandstone.

Much more recently, during the last ice age around 20,000 years ago, glaciers advanced over the sandstone bedrock and then retreated. The melting waters helped form the early origins of the Wisconsin River.

Over thousands of years, the river slowly eroded the sandstone, carving narrow channels and steep, high-walled canyons. Weaker rocks were washed away, leaving behind the strongest and most resistant layers.

The point of no return cliff is composed from a thick layer of quartz sandstone known as the Dresbach formation. Dating back 1 billion years, it is part of the oldest rock in Wisconsin. This extra resilient sandstone has allowed the point to endure while other rock layers got washed away around it.

Ongoing Erosion

While the gorge is ancient in origin, the Wisconsin River continues to gradually erode and undercut the sandstone cliffs today. During heavy rains and spring snow melt, higher water flows and rapid currents accelerate this erosion.

Massive blocks of sandstone occasionally break off and tumble from the cliffs into the river below. The tops of some formations display large fractures and fissures, suggesting they may one day collapse as well.

However, geologists estimate that the robust point of no return cliff should remain stable for at least the next 500-1000 years before major changes occur.

Importance for Wisconsin Dells

The imposing height and beauty of the point of no return cliff is a huge part of what gives Wisconsin Dells its distinctive landscape and character.

The sandstone gorge and its picturesque rock formations have drawn tourists to the region since the late 1800s. Over time, the Dells has evolved into a top Midwest vacation destination, but its scenic gorge continues to be the main attraction.

The point of no return is arguable the most iconic and recognizable natural landmark in the Dells. The cliff overlook is featured on countless postcards, brochures, and travel websites.

In addition to tourism, the existence of the gorge and its steep cliffs were what inspired early Dells entrepreneurs to establish river boat tours. These tours gave birth to the still thriving Dells boat cruise industry.

Without its remarkable gorges and sandstone cliffs like the point of no return, Wisconsin Dells would likely not have developed into the popular tourist town it is today. The soaring height and beauty of this rock formation helped put the Dells on the map.

Daredevil Stunts on the Point of No Return

The dizzying height of the point of no return has drawn all manner of daredevils over the decades eager to attempt headline-grabbing stunts.

Some of the most death-defying feats include:

  • In 1909, a trapeze artist named Peerless Miller performed somersaults from a bar extended 20 feet over the cliff edge.
  • A 1931 publicity stunt involved two men fighting with axes and saws on top of a platform built out from the point.
  • A man named Hernado Zertuche clambered over the point ledge repeatedly from 1948 to 1950, drawing huge crowds.
  • In 1991, a magician named Don Lesser escaped from a straitjacket while dangling upside down from the cliff top.

While these stunts made for great spectacle, they also came with huge risks. Sadly, some resulted in tragedy over the years:

  • In 1913, acrobat Buddy Brown fell 60 feet to his death from a swaying pole extended out from the point.
  • Daredevil Badger Bob jumped off the cliff into the river in 1987 as a stunt but suffered severe injuries.

Today, stunts are no longer allowed due to safety concerns. But viewing the point’s height from below, it’s easy to understand why it tempted so many daring souls over the decades.

Measuring the Cliff Height

So how did surveyors and geologists originally determine the height of the point of no return and other Dells cliffs?

Many early measurements relied on fairly simple methods:

  • Lowering a weighted rope from the top and measuring its length
  • Triangulating from the top and bottom using basic geometery
  • Walking slopes from the bottom to the top with a pedometer to gauge distances

As technology advanced, some other techniques were adopted:

  • Photogrammetry using pairs of aerial photographs to extrapolate heights
  • Early laser/optical rangefinders in the 1970s-80s
  • Topographic surveys using total stations, GPS, and LiDAR scanning

Today, the most precise elevations come from LiDAR – which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. Airplanes and drones use LiDAR to bounce lasers off the landscape below to create highly detailed 3D elevation mapping.

LiDAR is able to penetrate dense vegetation and map sheer cliff edges that might be hidden from other surveying techniques. When combined with precision GPS, it can generate digital elevation models accurate to within a few centimeters vertically.

Point of No Return LiDAR Survey

In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources commissioned a high-density LiDAR survey of the entire Dells gorge area. This provided scientists with an unprecedented dataset to analyze the topography and heights of the cliffs.

By using software to strip away vegetation from the 3D LiDAR point cloud, researchers could pinpoint just the bare sandstone cliffs. This data confirmed the maximum height of the point of no return at 110 feet.

Thanks to modern LiDAR technology, we now have an extremely precise measurement of this iconic Wisconsin landmark. The point looms just as impressively large as ever before.


With its spectacular 110-foot cliff towering dramatically above the Wisconsin River, the point of no return is one of the most iconic geographic landmarks in Wisconsin Dells. This natural wonder attracts thousands of visitors each year eager to see it from below, above, and every angle in between.

The soaring point acted as a scenic focal point that helped transform the Dells from a remote wilderness into the bustling vacation destination it is today. While daredevils once tested their luck on its precipitous ledges, we can now appreciate the point’s sheer height and natural beauty from a safe distance.

So next time you’re admiring the jaw-dropping views from atop the point of no return, take a moment to appreciate that you’re standing over 100 feet above the winding waters below. It’s a long way down!

Leave a Comment