I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. Because my father raised a few dairy cows, we never took family vacations. Which is to say, not before my mother discovered The House on the Rock. It was my first tourist attraction in the Midwest. I still remember it as we visited it yesterday.
Mom figured we could drive to The House on the Rock located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, see the sights and get home the same day. That would give Dad time to milk the cows very early in the morning. We were back in time for a late evening milking. Only now do I realize the considerable sacrifice my parents made for this brief family vacation.
Attractions near you
Since that childhood vacation, I’ve made it a point to check out all the Midwest tourist attractions along our travel itineraries. If you’re wondering about Midwest attractions and want to save on fuel costs this year, consider staying closer to home, if you’re lucky enough to live in fantastic flyover country.
House on the Rock
The house on the rock in Spring Green, Wis. Things have changed since my family and I visited in the late 60’s. The Infinity Room is still there. It extends from the house over 200 feet, down the side of a cliff. With no visible support beams, you’re suspended above the forest floor far below. Today, the many rooms of this fantastic house house many rare (and strange) collections of various objects. The House on the Rock hosts special events on Halloween and Christmas. If you’re in the area, it’s worth the trip.
Austin, Minnesota. Mystery meat lovers, unite! A visit from SPAM® Museum is run by professional “SPAMbassadors” who will tell you that 44,000 boxes of SPAM come down the conveyor belt every hour! There are nine galleries in this 14,000 square foot museum. Each gallery offers 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 be delighted to see the Kirk’s intended birthplace, captain of the famous Starship Enterprise. (His date of birth? March 22, 2233.) A stop at this unusual Midwestern attraction will allow visitors to see a bronze statue of Captain Kirk and visit the Star Trek Voyage Home Museum. Who wouldn’t want a selfie with Spock, McCoy or Kirk?
Sikestone, Missouri. If you’re traveling on Interstate 55 along the eastern Missouri border, stop and eat at Cafe Lambert. You will see billboards advertising this iconic restaurant. “The homeland of the rolls thrown” is Lambert’s famous motto. This is because years ago the owner was overwhelmed with customers. He was so busy that instead of delivering his delicious wheat buns to a table, he instead threw them to customers. The practice continues today. It’s really fun and the food is good too!
Alliance, Nebraska. You have heard of Stonehenge. This is the Nebraska version. Jim Reinders builds Carhenge in honor of his father, who once lived on the site. Reinders used Stonehenge as a model. Instead of rocks, Reinders used cars. Yes, he used 38 cars (mostly 50s and 60s models). He arranged the cars in a circle with the same diameter as Stonehenge. The cars were also placed in the same positions as the famous English monument. Carhenge is a bit off the road, but worth the trip. Index: If you can’t visit Carhenge, go to the Cadillac Ranch on Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas.
Leaning Tower of Niles
Niles, Ill. Located outside of Chicago, it’s a little piece of Italy. This half-size replica of the original Leaning Tower of Pisa was the brainchild of prominent businessman Robert Ilg. Dedicated to preserving the area’s natural beauty, Ilg created a 22-acre park. The leaning tower was built in the 1920s to conceal a water tower that supplied water to one of the park’s swimming 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 film will love visit a replica of Dorothy’s country house. You can relive parts of the film by visiting the bustling 5,000 square foot exhibit hall. The gift shop has plenty of movie memorabilia, of course. For fans of the Oz movie, this is a must!
Sure, they’re on the “kitschy” side of tourism, but that’s what makes these unusual Midwestern tourist attractions so fun. Do you have any favorite places to put on the list? Please comment below.