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Yerkes Observatory

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Address: 373 W. Geneva Street, Williams Bay, WI 53191
Phone Number: 12622455555
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Yerkes Observatory is owned and operated by the University Chicago,...

Yerkes Observatory is owned and operated by the University Chicago, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and located in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

Built between 1895 and 1897 in the classic Romanesque style, Yerkes is home to the largest refracting (lens-type) telescope in the world and two other research-grade reflecting (mirror-type) telescopes. The building is beautifully preserved and ornamented with Roman brick and terra cotta, has three telescope domes (the largest is 90 feet in diameter and 10 stories in height), and is situated on 77 acres in a park-like setting.

Tours of the building and the refractor are available Monday through Friday ( the cost is $25 for a brief overview tour, or $100 for a longer, extensive tour) all year. Call the Observatory in advance or stop by between 9:30 am until 4:00 pm.

Saturday tours are held for the public at 10:15 am, 11:15 am, and 12:15 pm. Reservations are not required. While free to visitors, the suggested donation on Saturdays is $5 per person.

The grounds are open every day, during daylight hours, for self-guided walking tours, free of charge. Photography is permitted.

The staff also hosts public observing sessions with the 24-inch reflecting telescope many evenings throughout the year. Reservations are required and there is a charge for participation. Call the Observatory during regular weekday hours or visit the Yerkes website for more information.

The Observatory contains a lovely museum, many interesting displays concerning its construction, history, architecture and the science of astronomy, and a gift shop with many unique items.

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TripAdvisor Reviewer Highlights

Read all 96 reviews
Visitor rating
  • 71
  • 20
    Very good
  • 4
  • 1
  • 0
Worth the stop or even a side trip

Very interesting,would check it out again. I do not live far from Williams bay, decided to go here with my wife. She loved it as did I. The tour lasted 45 minutes, we went on a... read more

5 of 5 starsReviewed 6 days ago
Jack S
via mobile
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96 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

Traveler rating
Traveler type
Time of year
Level Contributor
10 reviews
3 attraction reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 6 days ago NEW via mobile

Very interesting,would check it out again. I do not live far from Williams bay, decided to go here with my wife. She loved it as did I. The tour lasted 45 minutes, we went on a weekday in February and we're the only 2 on the tour. The tour guide gave a great tour, explaining things that never entered my... More 

Thank Jack S
Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
22 reviews
9 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 26 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 2, 2016 via mobile

As part of our weekend visit to Fontana, my children and I (age 6, 9, and 36) stopped by the observatory for the Saturday tour. There were a surprising number of people on the tour, which was not quite engaging enough for a 6 year old (as expected). The architectural details in the rotunda, with the hidden faces, dragons, and... More 

Thank BeachGirlinChiTown
1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed January 1, 2016 via mobile

My 16 yr old son enjoys astronomy and this was our gift to him. It was a clear night and we were able to see everything that was discussed, it was truly amazing! Dan is very knowledgeable and backed information up with history.

Thank Tina G
Palatine, Illinois
Level Contributor
5 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed December 15, 2015 via mobile

Even if you are not into astronomy, you're going to fond this entertaining and educational. You begin outside, where the host uses a laser pointer to pick out certain constellations, stars, etc. that you will be looking at later on. The mythology (usually Greek) accompanies most of those descriptions. Once inside, you take turns looking through the 24" lens at... More 

Thank Kevlynn335
Oak Park
Level Contributor
7 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 20, 2015

Excellent tour and speakers. Knowledgeable about minutia as well as about the science, made tour interesting.

Thank David Z
Stitzer, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
20 reviews
8 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 12 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed November 18, 2015

The building is beautiful--reminds me of places I've seen in Europe. The day guide was very informative. I was disappointed we did not get to go to the evening tour. One needs to sign up probably four days in advance.

Thank Elaine K
Wheaton, Illinois
Level Contributor
231 reviews
70 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 59 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 16, 2015

This is our second visit to Yerkes Observatory and the tour is a great experience. The architecture alone would be worth it, but combined with the tour of the telescope it is an outstanding educational attraction. Kids and adults will enjoy this visit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank jacy2
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
3 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 8, 2015

My wife and I managed to get into a Sunday night observing session during a weekend getaway in Lake Geneva and it was a fantastic experience. Dan K. was extremely knowledgeable about astronomy and gave us a very thorough demonstration both with naked eye observations and later using one of the observatory's 24" telescopes. We saw planets, planetary nebula, a... More 

Thank Joe R
Wheaton, Illinois
Level Contributor
89 reviews
25 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 19 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed November 6, 2015

The Observatory is the home of the single largest lens telescope (refractor) in the world, which is a must-see! This is a good place for a rainy day activity though we were unable to walk the grounds which would have been interesting to see the building from the back. The tour guides are outstanding and are excellent subject matter experts... More 

Thank Eileen B
Crystal Lake, Illinois
1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 24, 2015

Located near Lake Geneva, the Yerkes Observatory reveals creative minds to historical scientific achievements. Visually pleasing with neo-gothic architecture the Yerkes Observatory allows everyday people walk in the same hallways as G. Kuiper, E.E. Barnard, S. Chandrasekhar and Albert Einstein among other famous scientists and astronomers. The Observatory is the home of the single largest lens telescope (refractor) in the... More 

Thank Rosemary M

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