If you’re looking to take a fun-packed vacation that won’t cost an arm and a leg or require the complications of air travel, consider piling into the family car and setting out on a road trip.
But don’t just drive nonstop to your camping destination. Take advantage of the many unique roadside attractions and drive-through destinations scattered across the country, and you might find that the journey is just as fun as the destination.
It’s time to pack up some road trip essentials, plan your playlist, and hit the road. If you find yourself anywhere near any of these unique destinations, we highly encourage you to stop and check them out.
- Location: Regent, North Dakota
Starting on Interstate 94 near Gladstone, North Dakota, you’ll find a series of giant metal sculptures along the Enchanted Highway. Each sculpture also features a parking lot so you can stop and snap some photos. It’s free to stop, and the seven sets of sculptures, from “Geese in Flight” to “The Tin Family,” are also available as miniatures in the highway’s gift shop.
Winchester Mystery House
- Location: San Jose, California
Inside this spooky old house, there are 24,000 square feet of oddities: staircases that lead nowhere, windows that peer into other rooms, and even random toilets. Rumor has it this was to prevent spirits from haunting the place. Tickets cost $41.99 for ages 13-64, $19.99 for children ages 5-12, and children under 5 are free. Separate tours of the garden are available as well. You can also tour the Winchester Mystery House virtually.
- Location: Niland, California
Local resident Leonard Knight created this colorful adobe clay mountain intended to spread the message, “God is love.” It’s covered with religious scripture, along with painted flowers, trees, and birds. At 150 feet wide and 50 feet high, Salvation Mountain is certainly awe-inspiring and well worth a stop.
The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things
- Location: Lucas, Kansas
If you don’t have time to visit the world’s largest bottle of catsup or ball of twine, you can see tiny versions of all the world’s largest things in Erika Nelson’s shop in Lucas, Kansas. It’s only open by chance or by appointment, but if you happen to be driving by, it’s worth even just looking in the window.
- Location: Alliance, Nebraska
Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge, the historical landmark in England. It was built with old cars and also features sculptures made of old car parts. It’s free to park and walk around the trails, and you can visit any time during daylight hours. In the summer, the gift shop is open as well.
- Location: Cave City, Kentucky
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to walk among the dinosaurs, Dinosaur World is about as close as you’ll get. See hundreds of life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor setting, and check out the indoor museum and gift shop as well. The property is even dog-friendly (with leashes), and you’re encouraged to bring your own drinks and snacks, so this could be an ideal picnic spot as well.
- Location: Valentine, Texas
Prada Marfa is a permanent art installation located on Texas Highway 90. It’s designed to look like a Prada boutique filled with designer bags and shoes from the 2005 Prada collection, but it doesn’t function as a store. In fact, the door is always locked. Instead, this work by artists Elmgreen and Dragset is intended to degrade over time, serving as commentary on American consumerism. It’s “open” 24/7 year-round and free to visit.
- Location: Yucca, Arizona
This UFO museum is housed in a 40-foot geodesic dome that was originally built to represent a golf ball and promote land sales for a non-existent property development. The exterior alone is worth snapping a photo. Inside, you can walk through exhibits, look at FBI documents, and watch a film. Area 66 is open Thursday through Sunday, and there’s also a gift shop on the grounds.
- Location: Turner, Oregon
Situated beside Oregon’s Interstate 5 is this fairytale amusement park filled with fantasy villages to walk through, roller coasters and water slides to enjoy, and a haunted house to visit. Enchanted Forest features a carousel, bumper cars, and rides for younger kids as well. Take a picture in front of the giant witch’s head and enter through the mouth to find a slide. Tickets are $22.00 for teenagers and adults. Rides are $3 to $5 each.
- Location: Antonito, CO
This set of four towers was built out of beer cans and other metal pieces like hubcaps and grills. The reflective structures were constructed by a Native American Vietnam vet, Donald “Cano” Espinoza. He cites “vitamin Mary Jane” as part of the inspiration for his work, and also believes that Jesus has been living inside the castles. It’s free to visit, but a donation is recommended if you want to speak to Cano.
The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
- Location: Arlee, Montana
Located near medicinal hot springs and Glacier National Park, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a botanical garden, public park, and Buddhist center. It features symbolic sculptures, tons of green space, beautiful ponds, and gorgeous views of the Montana wilderness. Many retreats and festivals are also hosted at the garden, including the free annual Peace Festival. The garden itself is also free to visit, but donations are encouraged.
American Sign Museum
- Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Road trippers with an affinity for neon signs will be delighted by the biggest public sign collection in the nation. The American Sign Museum intends to preserve historic signage, from early gold-leaf signs to art deco neon. You can take pictures with the signs, and self-guided audio tours are available as well. Tickets are $15 for adults (up to three children 12 and under get in free with each paid adult).
Doll’s Head Trail
- Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Located near Constitution Lakes Park is an unusual outdoor found art project. Local carpenter Joel Slaton began constructing art along the trail from doll parts and other junk found in the area. Visitors are encouraged to add their own found objects to the trail. The trail is mostly dotted with doll heads, but you’ll see collages and decorative items as well. All items in the collection were discovered in the park itself.
Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum
- Location: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
There’s something undeniably creepy about the world’s only ventriloquism museum. Vent Haven is home to more than 900 ventriloquist dummies from the 19th century and beyond, along with posters, recordings, memorabilia, and more. Museum tours are available by appointment only, and there’s a $10 suggested donation per person. As of March 2022, the museum is currently closed for renovations and is expected to reopen in mid-2022.
Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park
- Location: Foyil, Oklahoma
This outdoor museum features the largest totem pole in the world, a 90-foot, intricately decorated work of art. The inside is hollow and the walls are covered with murals. Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park also includes several other totems and art objects, and a museum resembling a Navajo hogan also sits on the property. It’s free to visit.
Unclaimed Baggage Center
- Location: Scottsboro, Alabama
The Unclaimed Baggage Center collects the .03% of orphaned baggage that gets lost at the airport and never makes its way back to its owner. Some items from the baggage are repurposed or recycled, and about a third of the items are sold at the store. You can find some pretty unusual treasures at the center, and if you don’t want to spend money, it’s free to look around.
- Location: Howes Cave, New York
An elevator takes you 156 feet below ground to explore this enormous cave system. At Howe Caverns, you’ll take an underground boat ride and explore large galleries. A traditional tour costs $25 per adult, and specialty tours are available as well. Advance reservations are required.
The House on the Rock
- Location: Spring Green, Wisconsin
This resort and museum is filled with some very bizarre collections. There’s a giant indoor carousel, a dizzying infinity room sitting high above a forest floor with thousands of small windows, a collection of antique music machines, and a beautiful Japanese garden. Tickets to the House on the Rock start at $28.95 for adults.
The Heidelberg Project
- Location: Detroit, Michigan
Painter and sculptor Tyree Guyton transformed this rundown area of Detroit into landscape art. You’ll see painted houses hung with stuffed animals and yards full of random objects. It’s colorful, strange, and full of photo opportunities. The Heidelberg Project is free to explore.
Drive through a Redwood tree
- Location: Northern California
There are three opportunities to drive through the center of a giant Redwood tree in Northern California. Each located just off Highway 101, they are privately owned and cost a small fee. The Shrine Tree in Myers Flat has a natural cleave you can drive through, and the Chandelier Tree and Klamath "Tour-Thru" Tree have manmade openings.
- Location: Amarillo, Texas
This sculpture park, which features 10 Cadillacs partially buried in a field, has been attracting tourists since 1974. The cars are covered with graffiti that was added by visitors, and you’re welcome to leave your own mark on the sculptures. Cadillac Ranch is also pet-friendly and free to visit, and it’s open year-round.
Connie’s Photo Park
- Location: Madrid, New Mexico
Dozens of face-in-a-hole signs provide numerous photo opportunities at this unique roadside attraction. Become an alien, a hippie, or an “Easy Rider” as you put on your best silly face for the camera. It’s a small park, but it’s an easy stop that’s fun for kids and adults alike.
Art Cartopia Museum
- Location: Trinidad, Colorado
This museum houses a striking collection of sculpture art made from cars. You’ll see a van covered in eyeballs, a Volkswagon adorned with cigarette butts, a giant skeleton sitting atop a car, and so much more. There’s even car-themed artwork hanging from the walls and ceiling. What’s more, admission to Art Cartopia is free, and the guides are fun and entertaining. As of March 2022, Art Cartopia is temporarily closed to the public and will reopen April 2022.
Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland
- Location: Calvert City, Kentucky
Open all year from 8 a.m. until dusk, this park features a garden packed with folk art sculptures. Walk through the woods to see art made out of trash, and explore the giant Toyland diorama, which is packed with 3,500 nostalgic toys that are sure to bring out the kid in you. Admission to Apple Valley is free, but donations are welcome.
Abandoned Fairy Village
- Location: Waterbury, Connecticut
There are many tales about why this miniature village exists, and although it’s most likely just an abandoned tourist attraction, it still feels magical. You’ll find tiny houses nestled in the forest and overgrown gardens that have become part of the scenery. It’s difficult to access directly by car, and the closest place to park is at a restaurant called Maggie McFly’s, but it makes for a nice roadside adventure and won’t cost you anything.
The bottom line
No matter where you’re driving, you’re sure to find stops along the way that could turn your journey into a wacky adventure. Road trips are as fun as they are budget-friendly, especially with today’s low gas prices. You can even earn some serious rewards on the gas if you use one of the best gas credit cards. You may also want to apply for one of the best travel credit cards so you can earn rewards that could cut the cost of future trips.
A road trip may be the simplest way to travel this summer, but it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. If you plan your itinerary so you can stop at awesome restaurants and roadside attractions, the drive won’t feel tedious, and your family will create unforgettable memories along the way. And don't forget to have the right credit cards along so that you can maximize your rewards.