Family Travel

America's wackiest roadside attractions, from combat vehicles to super-huge gnomes

Did you know two of the three tallest gnome statues are right here in the US of A?

Did you know two of the three tallest gnome statues are right here in the US of A?  (iStock)

Take a road trip in a foreign country and you’ll quickly notice something’s missing.

That’s because roadside attractions are an American phenomenon. These curiosities, often seen from the car, date back to the 1940s when interstate travel became popular and rural communities wanted to entice travelers to stop and spend money.

More than half a century later, we’re still building the world’s largest, most unusual oddities. Last summer’s biggest highway head-turner was the real-life replica of Noah’s Ark installed along I-75 Kentucky.

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Here are eight lesser-known newer photo-ops worth a stop on your next road trip across the USA:

  • 1. Seven Magic Mountains

    Seven Magic Mountains

    Art Production Fund; Nevada Museum of Art

    Las Vegas is America’s capital of over-the-top attractions. One of its newest roadside conversation starters is Seven Magic Mountains, seven 35-foot-tall columns of brightly painted boulders lined up in the desert. These neon stacks are just off I-15, only 10 miles from the neon signs of the Strip. Seven Magic Mountains is the work of Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, who says the location of his temporary exhibition (2016-2018) is “physically and symbolically mid-way between the natural and the artificial.”

  • 2. World’s Largest Adirondack Chair

    World’s Largest Adirondack Chair

    Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce

    This two-story-tall chair, designed and built by Amish craftsman in 2013, easily seats a family of eight. The hardest part is climbing into it and getting back down. Located just off Gainesville Highway in Blairsville, Ga., the chair belongs to Owltown Market, a furniture and gifts emporium that utilizes the curious chair to get travelers to stop and shop.

  • 3. Tanks, Choppers and Trenches

    Tanks, Choppers and Trenches

    Scot Gordon; Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau

    Visible from I-81 in Carlisle, Penn., this sprawling display of combat vehicles and battle scenes belongs to the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center. Since it opened in 2004, it’s been the premier research facility of the U.S. Army. Of course, for a closer look at the Huey helicopter, M-46 Patton tank and WWI replica trenches, it’s best to get out of the car and walk along the Army Heritage Trail. The trail is open to the public and admission is free.

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  • 4. World’s Third Largest Gnome

    World’s Third Largest Gnome

    Ulster County Tourism

    Although it’s a bit of a detour from a major interstate, “gnome on the grange” is worth the trip. Why? Because after posing in the shadow of the 13-foot-tall bearded giant affectionately known as Chomsky, you can eat ice cream, play mini-golf or shop for locally grown produce. Since 2006, Chomsky, designed by a Manhattan-based artist and built in New York City, has been greeting visitors to Kelder’s Farm located along the Hudson Valley’s Route 209.

  • 5. World’s Second Largest Gnome

    World’s Second Largest Gnome

    Reiman Gardens; Iowa State University

    In 2010, Chomsky lost his Guinness World Record title for world’s largest gnome to a 15-ft.-tall gnome serving as sentry for Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. (Shortly after, a 17-foot-tall gnome in Poland was discovered, knocking both U.S. gnomes down a notch.) Visible from Highway 30, this 3,500-lb. garden ornament is made of concrete and was delivered by truck from Wisconsin. Reiman Gardens is also home to the world’s largest buck rose.

  • 6. Dignity: Earth and Sky

    Dignity: Earth and Sky

    South Dakota Department of Tourism

    This striking 50-ft.-tall stainless steel statue honoring the Native American Lakota and Dakota cultures is more art than attraction. Dignity was originally presented to South Dakota in 2014 as a gift for its 125th anniversary of statehood. Since 2016, she’s stood on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and I-90 near Chamberlain, S.D. At night, she illuminates the dark sky with the LED lights glowing on her quilt, a Native American symbol for honor and respect.

  • 7. World’s Tallest Fork

    World’s Tallest Fork

    Jonathan Thorne

    Even Godzilla would have a hard time wielding this 40-foot-long, 600-pound fork located in the tiny town of Creede, Colo. The aluminium utensil was actually designed by two local artists commissioned to create it as a birthday gift for Denise Dutwiler in 2012. Dutwiler owns the community’s Cascada Bar and Grill where the fork leans, just off Highway 149.

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  • 8. World’s Largest Painting on an Easel

    World’s Largest Painting on an Easel

    Kansas Tourism

    Van Gogh might just be rolling over in his grave. Or, perhaps he’s proud of his legacy seen from Kansas’ I-70, where a 768-square-foot rendition of one of his sunflower paintings sits on an 80-foot, 18-ton easel. Although the painting was done by a Canadian artist, the community of Goodland was chosen as its resting place because of its role in sunflower production. In fact, the painting was officially dedicated in 2001 during the annual Goodland Sunflower Festival.

  • Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she's not working, she's chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.