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The new tallest waterslide in North America is dubbed the Rise of Icarus, after the mythical Greek guy who flew too close to the sun, then plummeted into the sea.

That was not lost on me as I sat alone at the top of the 145-foot tower, high above the commotion of the Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and the treetops of the Wisconsin Dells region, mentally preparing to launch my body feet-first into a long, serpentine tunnel.

I had already climbed some 260 steps to the top of the slender open-air structure during an after-hours preview in late May. Sixty feet up, I'd passed the tower's four lower slides, and shuddered to realize that I was still less than halfway to the main attraction. I huffed it to the top, resisting the temptation to look down.

The attendant gave me the all-clear, so I lay back and let go, slipping into the void. I let out a couple screams of genuine fear as I dropped, then felt the gravitational force as I made several wide, whipping loops around the tower. After what felt like forever, I was thrust out into the evening light. Only then, I exhaled.

Simon Peter Groebner
Video (00:39) Trying not to scream on the 145-foot-tall Rise of Icarus at Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin Dells.

That was intense. And insane. And terrifying. But on subsequent runs the next morning, my screams transformed into whoops of joy.

I'm not big on waterslides that are a straight-down freefall, which describes many of the world's tallest. Rise of Icarus, on the other hand, takes advantage of its altitude by actually giving the rider time to savor the descent, with a total length of 780 feet at up to 30 mph. I actually clocked about 20 seconds inside Icarus — luxurious by waterslide standards — at a speed of 26 mph, according to my own jittery GoPro video (taken with permission).

Greek empire in the Dells

Icarus' journey to becoming the tallest waterslide in America is the culmination of more than 50 years of ambition for the Mt. Olympus waterpark resort in the vast, kitschy middle-class vacationland that is Wisconsin Dells.

"My parents have always wanted to be the biggest and the best," marketing director Fotini Laskaris Backhaus told me on a tour of the park, referring to the three-generation family business to which she belongs.

Her grandfather, Greek immigrant Demetrios "Jim" Laskaris, started the venture as the Big Chief hot dog stand in 1970. That evolved into a go-kart and roller-coaster attraction that was rebranded Mt. Olympus in 2004, beginning a cheeky commitment to the theme of Greek antiquity and myth. For years, the park's main claim to fame was the genuinely impressive 65-foot-tall Trojan Horse replica that towers over a go-kart track in the heart of the Wisconsin Dells strip.

Over time, the park usurped neighbors and added attractions, wave pools and 1,600 rooms, including the basic Hotel Rome and small cabins, to become a 200-acre faux-Greco-Roman empire. In 2022, it added Medusa's Slidewheel, the country's first mechanically rotating waterslide. But in the hyper-competitive waterpark scene of the Dells, something was still missing. So second-gen owners Nick and Eva Laskaris opted for even more spectacle.

The Rise of Icarus tower features one 145-foot-tall waterslide starting at the top and four 60-foot-tall slides (in blue/green).
The Rise of Icarus tower features one 145-foot-tall waterslide starting at the top and four 60-foot-tall slides (in blue/green).

Simon Peter Groebner, Star Tribune

For the Rise of Icarus, Mt. Olympus tapped leading waterslide manufacturer WhiteWater, which created the log flume at the Mall of America, the massive new Meryal waterpark in Qatar and Royal Caribbean cruise line's Perfect Day at Coco Cay in the Bahamas. The new Rise of Icarus closely resembles Daredevil's Peak on Coco Cay, but exceeds it in height by 10 feet — and you don't need to take a cruise to ride the one in the Dells. An adjacent outdoor kids' water play area with cabanas was slated to be ready for the July 4th weekend.

Now waterpark lovers are getting a crash course in Greek mythology this summer. But take a lesson from Icarus: Check your hubris and pack a waterproof sunscreen.

Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort: 1881 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., Wisconsin Dells. Admission $45-$50. Cabanas and reserved poolside seating available. Family-friendly resort rooms, cabins and tent sites available from $25; park admission included with lodging (mtolympuspark.com).

Tallest waterslides in the world, Upper Midwest and Minnesota

Height is not the most important feature in a waterslide. Duration, speed, short lines and overall fun factor are also essential. But with the Rise of Icarus staking its claim to tallest in North America, let's take a look at some other qualified record holders. Do these sound like too much? We'll catch you over in the Lazy River.

The new 260-foot Icon Tower at Meryal waterpark in Qatar features the world's tallest waterslides.
The new 260-foot Icon Tower at Meryal waterpark in Qatar features the world's tallest waterslides.

World's tallest

Icon Tower ⋅ Meryal Waterpark, Qatar ⋅ 260 feet

In the age of AI, we can't be 100% sure that this dystopian Doha monstrosity, which opened over the winter and looks like something out of "Mad Max," is for real. But the 12-slide spire appears to have blown away the previous world-record holder, the 163-foot Kilimanjaro flume in Brazil. YouTube waterpark influencer @MillaChats confirms the Icon's existence with a series of video reviews. Its highest slides, Vertigo and the Fractionator, include a one-minute journey in sometimes translucent tubes that allow riders a look at the world around them.

The 100-foot-tall, quite literal Point of No Return at Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells, with its looping sister slide Scorpion's Tail seen below.
The 100-foot-tall, quite literal Point of No Return at Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells, with its looping sister slide Scorpion's Tail seen below.

Joseph Leute, Boelter & Lincoln

The former tallest in the Dells

Scorpion's Tail & Point of No Return ⋅ Noah's Ark Waterpark, Wisconsin Dells ⋅ 100 feet

Noah's Ark, which still claims to be the country's largest waterpark, set the Dells thrill-ride standard for over 20 years with its slides that start from the same "10-story" platform. Built in 2001, Point of No Return, as the name suggests, is a four-second freefall that's over before you can resist, and will give you wedgies for days. More interestingly, Scorpion's Tail followed in 2010 with a trap-door launch and an initial drop that leads to a translucent loop-de-loop body slide, said to be "America's first nearly vertical waterslide loop."

The 90-foot Breakers Plunge waterslides (in blue/green) at Valleyfair's Soak City.
The 90-foot Breakers Plunge waterslides (in blue/green) at Valleyfair's Soak City.

Tallest in Minnesota

Breakers Plunge ⋅ Valleyfair's Soak City, Shakopee ⋅ 90 feet

Ninety feet sounds modest compared with the above, but Soak City's centerpiece is still tied for 33rd-tallest in the world, according to the Waterslide Database. Built in 2015, Breakers Plunge is a pair of open-air freefall slides that may be 10 feet shorter than the similar Point of No Return in the Dells, but that's still plenty of plummet. Admission to Soak City is included with your Valleyfair ticket.

The HydroTube and Super Chute waterslides are built on the incline of the ski hill at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls, Minn.
The HydroTube and Super Chute waterslides are built on the incline of the ski hill at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls, Minn.

BRUCE BISPING, Star Tribune

Honorable mention (Minnesota)

Super Chute & Hydrotube ⋅ Wild Mountain, Taylors Falls ⋅ 120-foot vertical drop

All of the "tallest" waterslides above rely on artificial structures (and lots of stairs). But what if you just build on the side of a ski hill — does that count for height? That's the genius of Wild Mountain, a ski area in winter with a waterpark and alpine slides in summer. With the combination of a small tower and the ski hill's natural slope, Wild Mountain claims a vertical drop of 120 feet for its open-air Super Chute and enclosed Hydrotube waterslides. Both are spacious rides and exceptionally fun.