Tourist traps are part of America’s road culture. Since people have been traveling cross-country in their vehicles (particularly the 1950s), small towns have been building the “world’s biggest” of various things and drawing attention with billboards littering the roadside. A good number of these tourist traps and “attractions” only serve to be a backdrop for a quick selfie and a hefty groan when you realize how far out of the way you are. But there are a few that really—I promise—aren’t that bad. Really, it’s all about how you approach the journey.
House on the Rock, Wisconsin
Exactly why The House was built is the subject of many stories. But regardless of those, exist it does, and it draws tourists every year. Originally just a lavish house with architectural cues drawn from Asian influences and built upon Deer Shelter Rock, The House blossomed over time. It now includes several rooms and other buildings dedicated to various collections, including model planes, dolls, and a variety of knickknacks.
The Infinity Room juts 218 feet from The House (without support), and offers unparalleled views of the Wyoming Valley. You’ll find automated musical instruments, a 200-ft. model of something resembling a sperm whale, and of course, the “world’s largest indoor carousel” which—with 269 animals—doesn’t feature a single horse.
The Stanley, Colorado
A common stop if you’re a cinephile, an avid reader, or a general ghost hunter, The Stanley is a grandiose hotel outside Estes Park, Colorado. If you’re up to snuff on your horror literature/movies, you’ll know that The Stanley served as inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining—a story about a serious case of cabin fever and a little ESP.
The hotel is still quite the attraction and is a beautiful place to stay. They offer ghost tours that are kitschy, but isn’t that the point? There are also excellent meals to be had at The Cascades (which is also home to a remarkable whiskey bar). And if music is your thing, they play host to intimate shows in their very own concert hall.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
I can hear some collective scoffing right now, but hear me out: Mackinac Island’s main street has no fewer than seven fudge shops—and it’s not a long strip of property. However, once you’re outside of the main strip, the island is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Miles upon miles of hiking trails trace through the island and take you past geological formations like Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf.
Otherwise, numerous old homes and buildings dot the island. Much of the island’s beauty is maintained thanks to a motorized vehicle ban, and taking a bike ride around the island (maybe even a few laps) gives you access to many rocky beaches. Have an evening meal at Woods, a spot tucked back away from the main street accessible via horse-drawn carriage. And, of course, indulge in some fudge.
The Biltmore, North Carolina
If you happen to find yourself in Asheville, North Carolina, The Biltmore Estate is hard to miss. The large gates, fences, and the community just outside exude wealth (even the McDonald’s). Inside, down several miles of driveway, you’ll see one of the grandest private homes in America.
Set with a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Biltmore Mansion and Estate was built by railroad tycoon George Vanderbilt II. Today it’s still owned by his descendants, and tours guide you through the private home and its collection of 250 rooms. You’ll find priceless art, imported antique tapestries, lavish furniture, both guest rooms and servant quarters, an observatory, and even a 70,0000-gallon indoor heated swimming pool. That doesn’t even touch the garden and its greenhouses, nor does it mention the shops and restaurants in Antler Hill Village—and let’s not forget the on-site winery.
Rock City, Georgia
The ads for this place may be more famous than the attraction itself. If you’ve been within about 600 miles of Chattanooga, Tennessee, you’ve probably seen a barn with “See Rock City” painted on the roof. Rock City sits atop Lookout Mountain and has been well known as a geologist’s dream for quite a long time.
In Rock City, you’ll find a meandering path that winds its way through various rock formations lined with local trees and plants (hundreds of which are labelled). The long path ends at Lover’s Leap atop the High Falls. Plus, there’s the legendary (or perhaps mythical?) opportunity to “See Seven States.” It’s never been surveyed to support the claims, but you can purportedly see Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Have a favorite tourist trap that you adore? Let us know in the comments below.