Visit These Hidden Gems Around the States for the Perfect Road Trip
When you want to get out and really see the country, flying just isn’t going to cut it. Taking a road trip is the only way to really see the beauty and wonder of America up close. You can have a destination in mind, but taking the scenic route is definitely the way to go.
There are many small towns and cities in this great nation, each with their own history, traditions, and institutions, it could take a lifetime to see them all. But if you’re fixin’ to take a road trip you’ll never forget, check out this guide to the best-hidden gems around the 50 states!
Bigfoot Discovery Museum
There’s definitely a sense of self-aware humor at the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, California. Proprietor Michael Rugg has been a devoted fan of the mysterious forest creature ever since he was a kid, and his one-of-a-kind museum is filled with all kinds of memorabilia he’s collected over the years.
Part artistic labor of love and part public art institution, Tinkertown Museum has been a New Mexican hidden gem for over 30 years. Ross Ward was a lifelong tinkerer, miniature-maker and painter who spent most of his life traveling the country painting carnival murals, but his true passion was creating the wild folk art that eventually came to be known as Tinkertown.
Dinosaur National Monument
Start driving west from Denver along 1-70 and eventually, you’ll arrive at the small town of Dinosaur, Colorado. Once a booming mining center, the town (which was originally named Artesia) renamed itself Dinosaur in the 1960s to capitalize on its proximity to Dinosaur National Monument, an archeological site where visitors can touch real-life dinosaur bones and explore the area’s prehistoric beauty.
South Park City Museum
Set against the Rocky Mountains in Fairplay, Colorado, South Park City Museum is an open-air, historically accurate restoration of the town from its heyday. South Park City was a thriving mining outpost in the latter half of the 19th century. Forty-four original buildings line the museum’s main drag, with some standing in the same location they did over 100 years ago!
The Big Duck
There’s not much to see on the drive between New York City and the East End of Long Island except the playful freestanding building known locally as The Big Duck. A favorite of locals and tourists since 1931, the eye-catching building was the brainchild of Martin Maurer, a successful Long Island duck farmer who sold his wares from a shop hidden inside.
Mitchell Corn Palace
For over 125 years, Mitchell, South Dakota, has enjoyed the distinction of being the home to the world’s largest – and only – corn palace. Originally designed to celebrate the staple agricultural crop of this town in the southeast corner of South Dakota, the Mitchell Corn Palace dazzles visitors with elaborately designed murals made entirely of corn.
If you find yourself driving along the bluffs of Anstead, West Virginia, and come across a brightly colored and decorated hut that simply reads “Mystery Hole,” do yourself a favor and pull over immediately. This enigmatic attraction has been in operation (albeit, in various capacities) since the 1970s, and it simply has to be seen to be believed.
American Gothic House
If you want to take in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” you’ll have to fight the crowds at the Art Institute of Chicago where the iconic painting has been on display since the mid-1930s. But if you happen to be driving near Eldon, Iowa, you can take your very own photo in front of the Carpenter Gothic house that inspired Wood’s most famous work of art.
This sprawling, 900-acre estate once belonged to President Ulysses S. Grant who built a cabin on the property that still stands today. Now it belongs to the wealthy Busch family (of Anheuser-Busch brewing fame) who have transformed it into a one-of-a-kind wildlife sanctuary that houses the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses. Did we mention it’s free?!
World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
Everyone knows someone who really loves ketchup. But if that person is you, the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, is a must-see attraction when driving down Route 159. This 170-foot-high water tower, originally built in 1949 as an advertisement for Brooks catsup, is a classic example of the kind of roadside Americana that was once prolific along Route 66 and other major highways.
A trip to England to see the ancient monoliths of Stonehenge is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but if roundtrip flights to the UK are a little out of your price range, consider a visit to this archeological wonder in eastern Illinois a decent back-up plan that won’t break the bank.
National Mustard Museum
Just a short drive outside Madison, Wisconsin, this single-serving museum dedicated to all things mustard got its start in 1986 and now holds the world’s largest collection of prepared mustards. Barry Levenson started collecting mustard while working as Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General and turned his love of the spicy, vinegary condiment into an offbeat attraction that’s become a local institution.
Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden
Some artists work in clay or concrete, others with paint or metal. Pearl Fryar works in plants, trees, and shrubs. His lush backyard topiary is a hidden oasis off Highway 20 in South Carolina. Fryar started his topiary in 1988 using discarded plants he salvaged from local nurseries and his abstract horticultural sculptures simply have to be seen to be believed.
Tank Town USA
If you ever dreamed of driving an armored tank (or even crushing a car Demolition Derby-style, for you more rambunctious folks out there), Tank Town USA is for you. Tucked away in the Appalachian mountains of northern Georgia, Tank Town lets anyone with a valid driver’s license get into the driver’s seat of an armored personnel carrier and let their imaginations run wild.
Grotto of Redemption
The story behind this unique Roman Catholic shrine is as incredible as it is moving. Father Dobberstein was a young seminary student in West Bend, Iowa, who fell deathly ill and made a vow to the Virgin Mary that he would build a shrine to her glory if he recovered. It worked: Upon his miraculous return to health, the artistically gifted priest dedicated his life to telling the story of Christ through his grotto.
Rip Van Winkle Gardens
Tucked away on a secluded property on the shores of Lake Peigneur in southern Louisiana lies the gorgeous and historic Rip Van Winkle Gardens. The estate, which was named by owner Joseph Jefferson after his most famous stage role, encompasses 15 acres of semi-tropical gardens and centuries-old oak trees that offer guests peace and quiet any time of year.
Drive about an hour northeast of Boston, Massachusetts, and you’ll come across what appears to be a medieval castle perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Welcome to Gloucester’s famous Hammond Castle, the former residence of John Hays Hammond Jr., an early 20th-century inventor with a passion for medieval architecture and antiquities.
About an hour west of Chicago lies one of the state’s true hidden gems: a full-size replica of a 9th-century Viking ship docked in the suburban town of Geneva at Good Templar Park. The ship’s rich history dates back to the early 1890s, when Norwegian shipbuilders used traditional methods to build it and sailed the 78-foot-long ship all the way from Norway to Chicago for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
You’re enjoying an afternoon stroll along the Wichita River and you pass over a storm grate. To your surprise, you spy a wrinkled, ugly face peering insolently up at you from the bottom of a storm grate! You bend over to take a closer look and are startled to realize that the ugly creature staring back at you is a troll!
The Heidelberg Project
The city of Detroit, Michigan, is often thought of as a city whose best days are long gone, which is exactly the kind of thinking the arts non-profit The Heidelberg Project rejects. It’s no secret that many houses in the city’s historically African American neighborhoods have been abandoned and left to decay. Since 1986, The Heidelberg Project has been dedicated to transforming these vacant spaces into vibrant, artistic masterpieces.
Nestled on the shores of the Little Miami River (which snakes through the town of Loveland, Ohio), Loveland Castle is the brainchild of Harry Delos Andrews. Andrews was a brilliant and eccentric figure who built this medieval fortress as a testament to his love of European castles, swords, and valor. There’s even a contingent of “knights” (more like local Boy Scouts) who stand guard every day.
Lemmon Petrified Park
This massive, petrified wood park takes up an entire city block in downtown Lemmon, South Dakota, making it one of the biggest of its kind. Fossils and stone were also used in the construction of the park in the early 1930s under the supervision of local amateur geologist, Ole S. Quamman.
Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium
There’s a few different reasons to visit this Victorian-era museum located in central Vermont, but the biggest one is that tucked away inside is the world’s foremost collection of bug art. And we don’t mean art about bugs. The nine murals on display at the Fairbanks Museum are made of bugs – moths, beetles, and butterflies are all used in this rare collection of mosaics from English artist, John Hampson.
One Square Inch of Silence
If you crave quiet, then this tiny patch of land at Olympic National Park in Forks, Washington, is where you need to be. Dubbed “One Square Inch of Silence,” it claims to be the quietest place in the country and can only be reached via a two-hour hike from the visitor’s center.
The Fun Farm
Describing The Fun Farm is a little hard to do. Located five miles outside of Bend, Oregon, it’s a junkyard heaven-flea market hybrid mixed with outsider art installations. It’s also populated with chickens, goats, dogs, and whatever other animals owner Gene Carsey has on deck at the moment. One of the biggest draws? An electric kaleidoscope trained on an endless loop of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Home of the White Squirrels
This evocative nickname for the town of Olney, Illinois, sounds mysterious — but it’s actually pretty literal. Olney is famous for its large population of albino squirrels, which are pretty darn cute. The town is quite protective of its small residents and even conducts an annual census to ensure their safety.
Ray Murphy’s Chainsaw Show
Before you start envisioning the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the answer is no – Ray Murphy doesn’t give that kind of chainsaw show. Instead, safe in the sound-proof booth of his massive warehouse on the coast of Maine. Murphy dexterously carves, shears, and whittles works of art with his trusty chainsaw – a unique form of folk art he’s perfect over nearly 40 years.
World’s Largest Ball of Twine
When Frank Stoeber of Cawker City, Kansas, began saving little scraps of sisal twine way back in 1953, he had no idea his dedicated attempts at recycling would one day end up becoming the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Today, his massive monument is a beloved local institution and tourist attraction that still draws visitors from all over.
Potter’s Wax Museum
Long before Madame Tussauds, there was Potter’s Wax Museum, located in St. Augustine, Florida. It was opened in 1948 by George L. Potter who became fascinated by the art and craftsmanship of wax figure-making after a childhood trip to London. He dedicated his life to his namesake museum.
Cave Hill Cemetery
It’s never a bad idea to check out a local cemetery, and there’s one in Louisville, Kentucky, that’s worth checking out. Established in the late 19th century (after being purchased from a local farm), Cave Hill is a great example of a Victorian-era garden cemetery that also happens to be the resting place of several notable local (and national) figures.