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Yerkes Observatory

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Address: 373 W Geneva St, Williams Bay, WI 53191-9603
Phone Number: 12622455555

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 $10 per person age 18+ and $8 per person age 6 - 17. Hours vary a bit by season. Consult the website for the most current tour schedule. Saturday tours are held for the public at 10 and 11 am, and 12Noon. Reservations are not required. While free to visitors, the suggested donation on Saturdays is $8 per person. The grounds are open every day, during daylight hours, for self-guided walking tours, free of charge. Photography is permitted. Professional photographers are required to contact the Observatory in advance during weekday hours to obtain permission for any photo shoot. The staff also hosts public observing sessions with the 40-inch refractor and the 24-inch reflecting telescopes 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 125 reviews
Visitor rating
  • 87
  • 30
    Very good
  • 4
  • 1
  • 2
Be prepared for a long talk

The tour started 10 mins late and we went up to the main deck where we had to listen to a 30 mins talk about the observatory, the history of the building and the man it is named... read more

4 of 5 starsReviewed yesterday
Elm Grove, Wisconsin
via mobile
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125 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

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Showing 124: English reviews
Elm Grove, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
6 reviews
4 of 5 stars Reviewed yesterday NEW via mobile

The tour started 10 mins late and we went up to the main deck where we had to listen to a 30 mins talk about the observatory, the history of the building and the man it is named after. My 7 year old got bored. Otherwise it was good listening and talk. Don't expect to get a peek through the... More 

Thank Naseerahmed2008
Boston, Massachusetts
Level Contributor
3 reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed yesterday NEW

This is a great stop. The observatory is a wonderful piece of history. You will be amazed at the engineering that was used to make this telescope work.

Thank Janis S
West Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
785 reviews
298 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 272 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 2 days ago NEW

It was a Saturday that we went and it was a "free" tour (donations of $20. were requested and make sense). The tour was close to 90 minutes with about 60 minutes in the observatory. Sat tours are scheduled at 10:00am, 11:00am and 12:00pm. It was surprisingly hot and humid in the observatory itself. The docent gave a long and... More 

Thank sue o
Level Contributor
19 reviews
8 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 5 days ago NEW

The title "Hidden Gem" may be somewhat misleading. How do you "hide" a building with a 90-foot dome? The setting with all of the mature trees that grace the property is exactly how you do it. The approach to the observatory leads you on to the grounds, and you are immediately taken with the architecture of the building itself. Tours... More 

Thank 1ToshFan
Greenville, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
25 reviews
13 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago NEW

My husband and I visited the Lake Geneva area last weekend, and took in a tour of nearby Yerkes Observatory. The 1896 building, exhibits, and grounds were available for view. Our first tour guide was a user of the telescope in the large dome and gave a great history of the observatory. Our second tour guide was very knowledgeable about... More 

Thank Susan M
1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago

In awe of the enormity of this 1897 - 40" refracting telescope (the largest in the world) was more than we had expected on this brief tour. The tour guide, Richard Dreiser, was not only extremely knowledgeable, but was able to impart details and history in a most entertaining manner. The dome room is a marvel, especially for its origins... More 

Thank Barry M
1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago

Enjoyed Richard's talk about the history and function of the refracting (not reflecting!) scope. Amazing how fast it went up.

Thank Jerome L
Level Contributor
37 reviews
12 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago via mobile

Visited the last night for mid Aug viewing. Dan was knowledgeable about the subject matter and welcomed all questions. He was truly patient as the group viewed objects multiple times and did not rush anyone. My 13 year old loved the whole experience. The telescope is a sight to behold and unlike anything we've ever seen. Well worth the money... More 

Thank 50statesorbreak
1 review
1 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago via mobile

With my family I went hoping for an educational tour that would also be intriguing but we were all disappointed with the tour and the tour guide. For starters the tour guide would constantly switch topics before concluding with them leaving everyone VERY confused. The tour itself did not cover much of the grounds at all, in total I think... More 

Thank Tully c
Austin, TX
Level Contributor
73 reviews
18 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 34 helpful votes
1 of 5 stars Reviewed 2 weeks ago

Daily "tours" are a total fund raiser and not worth half of what they charge. The guide leading our tour was more interested in letting us know about a book he was writing than in providing us information about the observatory.

3 Thank Hensaustin
Dan K, Manager at Yerkes Observatory, responded to this review

Thank you for visiting Yerkes, and for giving us your feedback. Your tour guide, Richard, has hosted, literally, thousands of tours here over the past four decades, and is very enthusiastic about the Observatory, its rich history, the splendid architecture, and the Great Refractor. He has been working on a project, documenting every detail of the extraordinary terra cotta façade... More 

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