Extreme Roadside Adventures
The road trip is as American as apple pie. Grab a map, some snacks and your best playlists, we're taking to the open road and showing you some extreme roadside attractions.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Our first stop isn't a roadside stand, park, museum or fair -- it's an entire town. Pigeon Forge, TN, is a 5-mile stretch of Smoky Mountains Parkway packed with the world's most eclectic memorabilia commemorating Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and even the dinosaurs. It's home to the world's largest private Elvis collection featuring jewelry, costumes and Cadillacs.
Pigeon Forge's devotion to Dolly Parton isn't just another collection of memorabilia. The Dollywood theme park covers 150 acres and contains over 40 rides and attractions, including some extreme coasters. However, true fans will delight in exploring her tour bus and the replica of her Smoky Mountain childhood home.
The fun at Pigeon Forge is endless: head from Dollywood to the Dinosaur Walk Museum, home to a 45-foot T-Rex and a 35-foot prehistoric alligator. From there you can hit up the laser tag arena or go-cart track.
This small town is even home to America's first vertical wind tunnel open to the public. Flyaway Indoor Skydiving is home to a 21-foot-tall vertical tunnel that creates a powerful 120-mph column of wind.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Weeki Wachee, Florida
At the intersection of Highway 19 and State Road 50 in Weeki Wachee, FL, you'll meet real live mermaids. Weeki Wachee Springs is home to the world's only underwater mermaid cabaret. Scratching your head yet? This unique underwater spectacle employs 20 daredevil dancers who perform Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" and an original musical review called "Fishtails" 3 times a day, 7 days a week.
The undersea illusion is perfected by a unique breathing system invented by Weeki Wachee founder, Newton Perry. A small hose filled with compressed air allows the mermaids to breathe underwater without scuba gear.
The shows are a delight and if you have children, pull the car over now. It will capture their imaginations and become the highlight of any trip.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
No American road trip is complete without a friendly game of mini golf. Hawaiian Rumble in Myrtle Beach is the most extreme mini golf green in the country. It's home to the biggest smoke-spewing volcano in mini golf, standing 50 feet tall and reaching temperatures over 750 degrees. Every day up to 800 people play the 87,000-square-foot course. In fact, it's so challenging that Hawaiian Rumble is home to the Mini Golf Masters.
Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch
The Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch is without a doubt the most exotic roadside petting zoo in the country. It's the largest privately owned ostrich ranch in the world outside South Africa; it sprawls over 600 acres, houses up to 1,600 ostriches and brings in more than 50,000 visitors a year. Ostriches are the biggest birds on the planet, standing up to 9 feet tall and weighing up to 400 pounds.
While these mammoth birds are quite an attraction in and of themselves, there's also a heart-pumping monster truck tour that rips you through a 40-minute ride through the peaks and valleys of the Arizona desert. And we mean monster truck -- the wheels on this bad boy measure over 6 feet tall.
Leila's Hair Museum
This isn't a museum dedicated to antique hairdryers or barber chairs. It's not even a museum dedicated to the beehive, mullet or bob -- the walls at Leila's are adorned with artwork featuring human hair. Leila's is home to over 400 antique hair wreaths, an art form practiced by women in the Victorian period who collected hair from family members and twisted the strands into intricate patterns. The museum is also home to hatpins, necklaces, bracelets, broaches and rings all made with human hair.
Additionally, Leila claims to have hair from Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, George Washington, Aaron Burr, J.F.K. and John Lennon. Call ahead before you stop in and Leila herself will give you a personal tour.
Wall, South Dakota
For some classic road trip Americana, there's no better place to stop than Wall Drug in Wall, SD. It's more than a drugstore; it's an insane shopping experience right out of America's wild West. The 77,000-square-foot building is six times the size of an average drug store and stocked full of wacky Western wear. You won't miss it, because Wall Drug has more than 250 signs advertising its location along I-90. The tactic works -- Wall welcomes 2.2 million visitors a year, more than the entire population of South Dakota.
House on the Rock
Spring Green, Wisconsin
The House on the Rock is a 16-building, 29-room, 2 1/2-mile complex straight out of Alex Jordan's insane imagination. What started out as an architectural dream and weekend retreat blossomed into a full-fledged tourist attraction as word of his prolific construction spread. Jordan began asking for 50-cent donations, and with that, the funding for House on the Rock's expansion had begun.
Building on rock is no picnic, and it took Alex 13 years to complete the first 13 rooms, including the massive library and a living room with beautiful stained glass windows. The Infinity Room is the 14th and final room constructed at the House on the Rock: it's 218 feet long and has 3,264 windows as walls. From the farthest end, you can look down from your perch on the rock to the forest floor 156 feet below.
The complex now houses a street lined with 19th century store fronts and a Heritage of the Sea Building, a museum housing a 200-foot-long sea creature sculpture. Be sure to check it out.
World's Biggest Ball of Twine
The center of the small township of Darwin, population 300, revolves around its pride and joy: the world's largest ball of twine. Thirteen feet in diameter and weighing in at 17,400 pounds, the project started when Minnesota native Francis A. Johnson became obsessed and wrapped string for four hours a day for 23 weeks straight (some might call it borderline psychotic). The outcome of Johnson's toil is housed in a gazebo on Main Street and is honored each August on Twine Day.
Why fly all the way to England to see a big pile of rocks arranged in an annular formation when you can witness a similar visual constructed out of auto parts somewhere in the High Plains? Carhenge features 38 vintage American cars planted in the ground or stacked upon each other, spray-painted gray and positioned in a circle 96 feet in diameter. Geologist Jim Reinders first suggested the project during a family reunion following Reinders' father's funeral in 1982. Five years later in June 1987, roughly 35 relatives met in rural Nebraska and went to work. The end product was dedicated weeks later on the summer solstice of that year as a memorial to Reinders' dad. The artist himself formerly resided in England, where he spent much time studying the purpose and design of Stonehenge. The number of cars matches the number of boulders that form the English monument, and the circle is arranged in direct relation to it, as well.
Jolly Green Giant
Blue Earth, Minnesota
As if sporting the world's biggest ball of twine weren't enough, Minnesota's set on stealing all the glory, by boasting a mega-statue of the Jolly Green Giant himself. In 1978, a 55-foot fiberglass replica of the pea promoter was erected to commemorate the linking of the east and west parts of Interstate 90 -- 3,028 miles worth of road, from Boston to Seattle. The giant arrived via flatbed truck, and it took a 65-foot crane to hoist him to his new resting place. And the jovial lad came at a pretty penny, too: Blue Earth paid $43,000 to induct him into their town. He receives one bath a year by the City of Blue Earth, as well as festive garnishes during holiday months.
World's Largest Catsup Bottle
The towering 170-foot-tall water tower shaped as a bottle of catsup has been in existence since 1949. Strangely enough, this odd monstrosity does hold some historical significance. In 1891, a canning company was born, changed management many times over the years and successfully survived the Great Depression. One of the company's best sellers was "Brooks Old Original Tangy Catsup" -- the product was well-promoted and at one time, the top seller nationwide among tangy catsups. When the town realized the need for a water tower, the president of the bottling company suggested they build it in the shape of one of his distinctive-shaped catsup containers. Amused, the town agreed, not knowing that more than 50 years later, the monument would be "famous." The Catsup Bottle Preservation Group -- yes, apparently, there is such a thing -- then saved it from an untimely demolition in 1995 and fully restored it later that year. The monument even has its own website and fan club.
Mitchell, South Dakota
You've visited Cinderella's Castle at Disney World and Queen Elizabeth's home, Buckingham, in London, so the next logical progression is to make a pit stop at the world's only palace built out of corn. A prime example of South Dakota's agricultural strengths, the original palace, the Corn Belt Exposition, was established in 1892 to showcase the area's rich soil and encourage people to settle there. The current building -- and the third to occupy the spot -- has been around since 1921; its Moorish domes and minarets were added in 1937. Each year, the city spends $130,000 to strip down the old designs and redecorate the palace with murals made from corn and other grains. The "Corn Crib," as it's also called, now plays host to concerts, sports events and other community gatherings. More than 500,000 people visit it annually.
From seasoned road tripper Mike Shubic to founder and CEO of RoadTrippers.com James Fisher, meet the panel of advisors behind Travel’s Best Road Trips 2015.