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7 of the most unusual, must-visit Midwest tourist attractions

I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. Because my dad raised a few dairy cattle, we never took a family vacation. That is, not until my mom discovered The House on the Rock. It was my first Midwest tourist attraction. I still remember it like we visited yesterday.

Mom figured we could drive to The House on the Rock located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, see the sights, and drive home again the very same day. This would allow Dad time to milk the cows in the very early morning. We would return in time for a late milking in the evening. Only now do I realize the momentous sacrifice my folks made for that brief family vacation.

Attractions close to home

Ever since that childhood vacation, I’ve made a point to check out any and all Midwest tourist attractions along our travel routes. If you’ve wondered about attractions in the Midwest, and want to save on fuel costs this year, consider staying closer to home—if you are fortunate enough to live in fantastic flyover country, that is.

House on the Rock

The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Things have changed since my family and I visited in the late ’60s. The Infinity Room is still there. It extends out from the house over 200 feet, off the side of a cliff. Without any visible support beams, you are suspended above the forest floor far below. Today, the many rooms in this fantastic house are home to many rare (and odd) collections of varying items. The House on the Rock holds special events at Halloween and Christmas. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop.

The Infinity Room. Photo courtesy of HighestBridges.com

SPAM Museum

Austin, Minnesota. Mystery meat lovers unite! A tour of the SPAM® Museum is led by professional “SPAMbassadors” who will tell you that 44,000 cans of SPAM come down the conveyor belt each hour! There are nine galleries in this 14,000-square-foot museum. Each gallery features interactive games, information, and photo opportunities. Best of all, this museum tour is free.

Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk

Riverside, Iowa. Star Trek fans will delight to see the predicted birthplace of Kirk, captain of the famous Starship Enterprise. (His birthdate? March 22, 2233.) A stop at this unusual Midwest attraction will allow visitors to view a bronze statue of Captain Kirk, and tour the Star Trek Voyage Home Museum. Who wouldn’t want a selfie with Spock, McCoy, or Kirk?

Lambert’s Café

Sikeston, Missouri. If you’re traveling on Interstate 55 along Missouri’s eastern border, stop and eat at Lambert’s Café. You’ll see billboards advertising this iconic restaurant. “Home of the throwed rolls” is Lambert’s famous motto. That’s because years ago, the owner was swamped with customers. He was so busy that rather than deliver his yummy wheat rolls to a table, he tossed them to customers instead. The practice continues today. It’s really fun—and the food is good, too!

Carhenge

Alliance, Nebraska. You’ve heard of Stonehenge. This is Nebraska’s version. Jim Reinders built Carhenge in tribute to his father, who once lived on the site. Reinders used Stonehenge as a model. Instead of boulders, Reinders used cars. Yes, he used 38 cars (mostly models from the ’50s and ’60s). He arranged the cars in a circle with the same diameter as Stonehenge. The cars were placed in the same positions as the famous English monument, too. Carhenge is off the road a bit, but worth the trip. Hint: If you can’t visit Carhenge, check out The Cadillac Ranch off Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas.

Photo Credit: @carhengealliance, Instagram

Leaning Tower of Niles

Niles, Illinois. Located outside of Chicago is a little piece of Italy. This half-size replica of the original Leaning Tower of Pisa was the idea of prominent businessman Robert Ilg. Dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the region, Ilg made a 22-acre park. The Leaning Tower was constructed in the 1920s, to disguise a water tower that supplied water to one of the park’s pools. It makes a perfect backdrop for photos and is well worth the stop. The Leaning Tower of Niles is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dorothy’s house in the “Wizard of Oz”

Liberal, Kansas. Fans of the iconic movie will love touring a replica of Dorothy’s cottage home. You can relive parts of the movie as you tour the 5,000-square-foot animated exhibit hall. The gift shop offers lots of movie memorabilia, of course. For fans of the Oz movie, it’s a must see!

Sure, they’re on the “kitschy” side of tourism, but that’s what makes these unusual Midwest tourist attractions so much fun. Do you have favorite places to put on the list? Please comment below.

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Uncle Swags
25 days ago

The Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN is just off the Interstate and they have a Sprout also.

Ben Gohlke
26 days ago

A visit to Strataca in Hutchinson, KS is definitely worth the stop. This Underground Salt Museum is really facinating!

Paul Fredendall
24 days ago
Reply to  Ben Gohlke

I agree!

Laurie S
26 days ago

Don’t forget Pioneer Village Museum, Minden, NB – wow. Take your time – it might take two days! See how America grew with items from before the industrial age and originals of models as they changed. I got a kick out of the dishwashers and the irons. Husband liked the vehicles and, if I remember right, there was a jet hanging from the ceiing.

J h
26 days ago

Lamberts is also in ozark, Missouri right by Springfield Missouri. I believe the worlds largest fork is in Springfield missouri

Laurie S
26 days ago
Reply to  J h

And throw rolls in Foley, AL

Joe
27 days ago

Just down the road from the House on the Rocks is Taliesin, the home, studio, school, and estate of Frank Lloyd Wright. House on the Rocks is one weird collection of all different things and is self guided. Worth the stop the tour will take about 3 hours +/-.

Greg
27 days ago

The National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin is a lot of fun – if you’re willing to visit the Spam Museum, you should hit this one as well.

Christine
27 days ago

Collinsville, IL has a giant bottle of Brooks Catsup for its water tower.

Paul
27 days ago

After a visit to Dorothy’s House drive just a few miles to Mid-America Air Museum where you can boondock in their parking lot and tour the museum which houses many general aviation aircraft from the early days of flight.

Kit Vargas
27 days ago

And, don’t forget the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, IA. Dubuque riverfront. Iowa state fair with the famous butter cow, bridges of Madison county, world’s biggest truck stop Walcott I-80, grotto in West Bend, Iowa CIty has several museums associated with the University of Iowa. Great city, county and state parks with lots of camping and fishing opportunities. Can you tell where I’m from. lol Beautiful state, many interesting things to do.

Angelack
24 days ago
Reply to  Kit Vargas

John Wayne’s birthplace in Winterset. I’m an Iowan too. My mom’s family is from Winterset.

T. Helms
27 days ago

There is also the World’s Largest ball of twine in, Cawker City, Kansas

Uncle Swags
25 days ago
Reply to  T. Helms

And it’s close to Lake Elder SP. You can even add to it but make sure you have the right kind of twine.

Herman Vogt
27 days ago

And then there is Wall Drug, South Dakota.
And then if you are a Missilier (or had been), they used to offer up a free coffee!

Laurel B
27 days ago

Metropolis, Illinois has a giant statue of Superman on the town square.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
26 days ago
Reply to  Laurel B

Used to have a comics museum when I passed thru back in 2013. As an original Merry Marvel Marching Society member I had to see it- plus the tribute to the paratrooper who wound up dangling from the church steeple in France during the American counter offensive. He survived. Most people don’t look up in the sky, even to possibly spot Superman. This is Mitzi.

Clangm
27 days ago

I think it was a small town in Arkansas where we spent the night. We had dinner at a restaurant that was located in train cars. They had a dessert called Possum Pie (contains no Possum). It was so good that I want to go back for another piece. I live in Florida so you know it was good. I can’t remember where we were. If this rings a bell with anyone, please share the location.

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