The Top Ten U.S. Roadside Attractions

Make getting there part of the fun by dropping in (or re-routing to) one of these ten fantastic, weird, wonderful, and surprising roadside attractions.
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Secret Caverns
BILLBOARD PERFECTION: The billboard for Secret Caverns on Route 7  (courtesy, Secret Caverns)

Roadside attractions are as American as apple pie. Be it a vacation, long-distance school trip, or a Sunday drive, the uniquely American tradition of roadside attractions provides countless opportunities to stretch your legs, take funny photos, and even learn something about history, biology, or geography. And yes, many roadside attractions are a bit tacky—but that's part of the charm.

The phenomenon of these oddities began soon after the first roads were built. "How do you get people to stop?" was the first question. The second, of course, was: "How do I turn a profit?" Entrepreneurs, thinkers, inventors, and champions of the unusual built big, odd, and often flashy monuments: towers, men, animals, and other whimsical creatures. Some roadside attractions are celebrations of the wonders of nature, but all are testaments of the human imagination.

The next time you plan on hitting the open road, remember that every stop doesn't need to be the "main event." While kids love destinations like the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, or Washington, D.C., don't forget that it's all about the journey. A lot of fun can be had on a much smaller scale, with very little expense. From the giant beagles at Dog Bark Park along northern Idaho's U.S.Highway 95 to the graves of gunslingers, to shrunken heads and jumbo-sized elephants, a little research into odd, historic, or scenic roadside attractions can add laughter and spice to any trip. Some attractions are historical oddities, like General Santa Anna's wooden leg, while others involve live creatures, like Snakeworld in Berryville, AR, or impossibly kitschy collectables. If shopping is a priority, don't miss the chance to rummage through other people's lost luggage in search of treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama.

There are plenty of online and published resources that describe thousands of roadside attractions; many websites even compile an itinerary when you enter a specific route. Fun sites to browse include Unusual Museums, The World's Largest Roadside Attractions, Legends of America, and Roadside America. The New Roadside America by Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, and Mike Wilkins (Fireside Press, 1992) is also a good resource. With a little research, family car trips can become much more than DVDs, iPods, Game Boys, and "stop teasing your sister". Really—from toddler to teen to Mom and Dad, who can resist the mummified skeleton of Big Foot?

To get you started here's our ten favorite. Check them out—and be sure to let us know the ones you find in your next foray on the country's wild, black asphalt.

Published: 12 Sep 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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