The Weirdest Roadside Attractions

The stories behind these American road trip pit stops are as curious as the attractions themselves

America is dotted with random nonsense but not all roadside attractions are created equal. For every Mystery Spot or trippy theme park, there are hundreds of oversized things and fossil farms waiting to lure you off the beaten path. These are the true gems, the paragons of off-highway kitsch and wonder. Point the GPS in their direction, and your road trip automatically becomes more interesting. Or at least your photography will. 

With wanderlust and weirdness in mind, we road-tripped across the country and found the oddest, most wonderful, and most puzzling roadside attractions where least expected. Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods: there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

You’ll also want to read my articles on roadside attractions:

INSIDER TIP: For the deepest dive, jump off the interstate and wander the local or back roads instead.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mother of All Roadside Attractions

One of (if not the) the most prominent tourist traps has to be Wall Drug. The first time you see one of the charming, hand-painted Wall Drug signs on the highway leading to South Dakota, you’ll be charmed. By the 100th time, you’ll be confused, maybe swearing off visiting out of principle. But Wall Drug cannot be avoided if you’re on I-90, largely because it’s the last stop for fuel before/after the Badlands.

Spotted Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spotted Lake

The natural world has many wonders. One of the most remarkable is that of Spotted Lake near Osoyoos in the southern interior of British Columbia. It is a polka-dotted body of water that looks so bizarre you could be forgiven for thinking you were on an alien planet. During the summer the lake undergoes a remarkable transformation becoming spotted with different colors and the waters that resemble a polka-dot design. This lake is also an important spiritual site for the local First Nation Peoples.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World’s Only Corn Palace

This corn crazed prairie town in South Dakota is home to the high school sports teams the Kernels, local radio station KORN, and the architectural showplace of the world known as the Mitchell Corn Palace. Its czarist-Russia exterior and intricate murals are made entirely out of local corn and grains (it’s refurbished annually), and the onion domes and minarets make it the world’s only corn palace, but would the world really need more than one of these?

Mundare Sausage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World’s Largest Sausage

Mundare, Alberta, is known for its Ukrainian Home-Made Style Sausage produced by Stawnichy’s Meat Processing, a sausage factory famous for its kobasa. It is also the home of the world’s largest sausage replica (42 feet high and 6 tons) built by the Stawnichy family.

Started in 1959, the Stawnichy family, father and son, started smoking meat. Edward took over from his father in 1971 and now his daughter, Cheryl Zeleny, mixes all the spices. This immense Ukrainian sausage is the tallest piece of meat anywhere in the world.

The Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Peach of a Water Tower

You can’t miss it as you drive down I-85 in South Carolina. The Peachoid, as it’s called, is a massive peach-shaped water tower. In Gaffney, the Peachoid is more than a water tower. According to official literature, the Peachoid boldly “sets the record straight about which state is the biggest peach producer in the South. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT Georgia.”

Without a doubt, the best known, most photographed water tank in America. It is painted to match the kind of peaches grown in the area using 20 colors and 50 gallons of paint.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Town Too Tough To Die

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

Paisano Pete © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paisano Pete

There’s a really big roadrunner in Texas. His name is Paisano Pete and he wants to welcome you to the town of Fort Stockton (he is their mascot, after all). An off-beat roadside attraction, Paisano Pete has been a fixture in this West Texas town since 1979.

Paisano Pete was for many years the World’s Largest Roadrunner. In 1993, Pete lost his world’s largest title to an enormous statue in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but this hasn’t dimmed his appeal nor stopped him from becoming Fort Stockton’s most photographed resident. And at 22 feet long and 11 feet tall, he’s still pretty big.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The Roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the landfill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city.

Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s Pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sleep in a Wigwam

Have you slept in a wigwam lately? In the arid Arizona desert, the Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook still provides Route 66 aficionados the opportunity to “Sleep in a Wigwam!”

Fifteen concrete and steel freestanding teepees are arranged in a semi-circle around the motel office.

Each teepee is 21 feet wide at the base and 28 feet high. The teepees are painted white with a red zigzag above the doorway. If you were to focus on the front door, ignoring the quirky architecture that drew you here in the first place, you might think you’re entering a Hobbit hole. Vintage automobiles are permanently parked throughout the property, including a Studebaker.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase