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There are more than 4 million miles of road in the US. That’s enough pavement to drive around the earth 160 times, which means there’s a lot more to see out there besides California’s Pacific Coast Highway or Route 66. Don’t get us wrong, we love a classic journey as much as the next road-tripper, but with Americans hitting the highway more than ever, now is a perfect time to get off-the-beaten-path. To inspire your next outing, here are 17 roadside pics we bet you haven’t seen a thousand times before.
Burlington, Vermont conjures up images of beautiful Lake Champlain, Ben & Jerry’s factory tours and—let’s be honest—a hippie or two. But for a winsome roadside oddity, visit the World’s Largest Filing Cabinet which was created by sculptor Bren Alvarez in 2002 and is located on Flynn Avenue near the lake. Just remember, you’re on vacation, so try not to let it remind you too much of the office.
North Dakota is one of the least visited states in the continental US, which means a lot of folks are missing out on the rugged landscapes and infinite horizons that define Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In addition to the beauty of the Badlands, be on the lookout for bison and prairie dogs—they are everywhere!—while driving the park’s Scenic Loop Drive.
No wonder Dorothy returned home to Kansas. In addition to Midwest charm, the Sunflower State boasts stunning prairie sunsets like this one which was captured in the small town of Galena. Fun fact: The night this photo was taken, the un-dead were everywhere; it was Halloween weekend and locals were out celebrating with a Zombie Crawl!
Does this body of water look familiar? Probably not, but this shimmering beauty is the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. A man-made lake that has been drying up for decades, it makes for an excellent day trip from Palm Springs thanks to attractions like Slab City, Salvation Mountain and art-filled Bombay Beach. Just don’t plan on swimming in it—it’s rife with toxins like arsenic and pesticides.
This T-Rex probably doesn’t conjure the same fear as something out of a Spielberg franchise, but you still might gasp if you stumbled upon it—in Michigan of all places. The Prehistoric Forest in Onstead (70 miles southwest of Detroit) is an abandoned theme park built in 1963 and closed since 2002. It’s located right off Route 12, but check with locals before trekking on the property.
Move over Cadillac Ranch! Route 66 is full of lesser-hyped gems including Oatman, Arizona, a former mining town located close to the Nevada and California borders where gold was discovered in 1915. Prospectors used burros to help them haul their bounty to and from the mines and to this day, this Wild West town is full of the adorable and free-roaming critters.
The Grand Canyon is a National Parks giant and Saguaro National Park—which practically surrounds Tucson—is likewise pretty hard to miss. That’s why we love Petrified Forest National Park, a park stunner that is bisected by I-40 and littered with the remains of ancient tree trunks and fossils. As you’ve probably already guessed, the park is pretty Instagrammable.
While most visitors to Houston are checking out the Space Center, those in the know are admiring the porcelain perfection of Grover Cleveland. The Houston Presidential Heads are the work of artist David Adickes and sit behind a fenced-in studio on Nance Street (don’t worry, you can still see them). Not into politics? Scattered among the presidents is a giant Charlie Chaplin and all four Beatles.
If you can pull yourself away from the pool, exploring Joshua Tree National Park makes for a perfect Palm Springs day trip. Just past the park’s entrance, on Twentynine Palms Highway, is the Glass Outhouse Art Gallery, a collection of sculptures sprinkled across the desert and open most afternoons (check hours ahead of time). Yes, there is an actual glass outhouse on site, so drink up!
The Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile scenic route that runs through North Carolina and Virginia and links Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park, is beloved year round. But if you’ve only traversed it during spring wildflower season or in peak summer, this glimpse of the parkway when the leaves are beginning to change should prime you for an autumn visit.
Savvy travelers might be tempted to misidentify this lunar-like landscape as being part of Iceland. They would be wrong. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, three hours directly east of Boise along I-20, offers visitors the chance to walk an otherworldly black lava landscape formed thousands of years ago. It’s pretty awesome.
A classic car junkyard in the middle of a forest? Yes, please! Old Car City USA in White, Georgia (off I-75 about 45 minutes north of Atlanta) is the world’s largest collection of used cars. It spans more than 34 acres and includes 4,000 defunct vehicles. This family-friendly car graveyard even includes a few legends like the last car purchased by Elvis Presley a few months before he died in 1977!
Chicago likes to think of itself as the “hub of the world,” and there’s a lot of truth to that claim. Not only is O’Hare among the world’s busiest airports, but numerous major interstates pass right through the city. I-90 and I-94, for example split off on the city’s South Side just west of gems like Washington Park, Jackson Park and the pictured Johnny Twist Blues Museum in the historic Woodlawn neighborhood.
Built as a gimmick to attract cross-country motorists traveling Route 66 (now I-40), The Leaning Tower of Texas in Groom (not, Britten) tilts purposefully. Despite it no longer serving its marketing function, it nevertheless breaks up the otherwise monotonous panhandle scenery. Fun fact: Tiny Groom is also home to the world’s seventh largest free-standing cross.
After traversing all 2,400 miles of Route 66, a stop at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch offers one final eye grabber before reaching the famed Santa Monica Pier. Located about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Bottle Tree Ranch is a found art project consisting of hundreds of “trees” constructed using glass bottles and other junkyard artifacts. Yeah, have your camera ready.
Yabba dabba do! Ever wanted to meet the Flintstones? Head over to this theme park known as Bedrock City, located an hour northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, and live life as America’s fictional Stone Age family once did. The park closed in 2019 and is now operating as Raptor Ranch, a birds-of-prey educational facility. But tours of Bedrock City are available—until renovations that is.
Part of Montana’s Ghost Town Loop which includes other fascinating places like Virginia City and Nevada City, Bannack State Park, about a half hour west of I-15, is where gold was struck in 1862. The town served as the capital of the Montana Territory in 1864 and was abandoned by the 1970s. Explore the more than 60 remaining structures at this fascinating National Historic Landmark.
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