11 Hidden Gems on the Ultimate Road Trip Through the Midwest

What the Midwest lacks in elevation, it more than makes up for with quirky, memorable sights and attractions. Here are 11 pit stops you should add to any trip through Middle America.

1. Serpent Mound – Bratton, OH

This 1,330-foot-long prehistoric effigy mound is a relic of the Native American Adena culture, which flourished between 800 B.C. and 100 A.D. Even after extensive study, the main purpose of the mound is still unknown. Some scientists believe it may have served religious purposes, while others think it was created to mark the changing of the seasons because the head aligns with the sunset during the summer solstice.

2. World’s Largest Catsup Bottle – Collinsville, IL

Built in 1949, this 170-foot behemoth is located just off US Route 159 in Collinsville, IL. There’s more to the giant bottle than meets the eye - it’s actually a 100,000-gallon water tower. The “Brooks Catsup” on the label is an actual company that sells catsup (or “ketchup”), and despite limited distribution in the US, it is more readily available in Canada.

3. Smith Falls – Valentine, NE

Outdoorsy adventurers flock to this partially secluded 70-foot spring-fed waterfall (the highest in the state) as they canoe or kayak along Nebraska’s Niobrara River. Although Nebraska isn’t known for its waterfalls, this picturesque spot is worth a visit – it’s the remnant of glaciers that passed through the area thousands of years ago.

4. International Peace Garden – Rolette County, ND

You’ll have to drive all the way to the U.S.-Canada border to visit this destination in North Dakota, first planned and unveiled during the Great Depression in 1932. Created as a symbol of the bond between the United States and Canada, the garden now features more than 150,000 freshly planted flowers every year, as well as other attractions like the 120-foot, quadruple-columned Peace Towers and the permanent floral designs depicting each nation’s flags.

5. World's Largest Ball of Twine – Cawker City, KS

First started in 1953, the world’s largest ball of twine is constantly being fortified by people who stop by to see this quirky attraction. The ball was originally started by a Cawker City resident in 1953 as a way to store twine remnants before turning into a project the entire town embraced. As of late last year, the ball weighed nearly 20,000 pounds.

6. American Gothic House – Eldon, IA

Grant Wood’s iconic painting “American Gothic” is imprinted in the mind of anyone who’s taken an art history class, but what professors fail to mention is that the house in Wood’s masterpiece is a real home. The house’s memorable Gothic windows still make it the perfect photo op for anyone who’s passing through Eldon, IA, and a helpful visitors’ center even provides overalls, jackets, dresses, glasses, and pitchforks to help tourists capture the perfect homage to Wood.

7. The Viking – Geneva, IL

One of the showpieces of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was the Viking, a replica of a ninth-century Viking ship. The Viking was built in Norway and then sailed across the Atlantic and through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to appear at the exposition, where it was such a hit it was eventually honored on a U.S. postage stamp. The replica ship has had several homes since the exposition ended, but today it sits in a covered dry dock in Geneva’s Good Templar Park, a local hub for Scandinavian culture.

8. Cahokia Mounds – East St. Louis / Collinsville, IL

Cahokia, a massive ancient Native American city inhabited from 700 to 1400 CE, covers nearly six square miles. During its heyday, it was a booming population center – anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 inhabitants filled the city at any given time. The reason for the decline of this ancient metropolis is unknown, but the city’s downfall may possibly be due to depletion of resources as well as war, disease, and cultural power struggles. Today the mounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an incredibly important archaeological site that’s worth a visit.

9. Mitchell Corn Palace – Mitchell, SD

The Corn Palace is a multi-purpose arena with an exterior decorated entirely with corn and other grains. Thirteen different colors of corn are used to create murals based on a rotation annual theme (this year’s theme is “Remember When”), which are usually finished sometime in October. The current building is the third iteration of the Corn Palace, and was erected as a permanent establishment in 1921.

10. The National Mustard Museum – Middleton, WI

If you’re looking to elevate your appreciation of mustard from the purely culinary realm to a more scholarly one, set a course for Middleton, WI. The museum’s collection began as a former lawyer’s passion project in 1986 and has soared to incredible heights – the museum currently boasts over 5,600 mustards from over 70 countries. Admission is free, and becoming your social group’s resident expert on mustard is priceless.

11. Wabasha Street Caves – St. Paul, MN

These caves on the shore of the Mississippi River have done a little bit of everything. They’ve been shelters for Native American tribes, silica mines for 19th century glass making, a site for mushroom farming, and even a speakeasy during Prohibition. Today, the natural caves have transformed into an event hall that hosts swing dancing on Thursday nights, so if you’re in the Twin Cities and want to dance in a historic venue, head for the caves.

Wherever your Midwestern adventures take you, the all-new Hyundai Sonata is the perfect way to get there. Find out more about the All-New Sonata’s 3,000-Mile Test Drive at HyundaiSonata.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
11 Surviving Drive-In Theaters That Are Worth a Road Trip

Watching a movie from the comfort of the driver’s seat with hundreds of your closest friends is a disappearing treat, but you can still find an iconic drive-in if you know where to look. These 11 are worth the drive.

1. 66 Drive-In, Carthage, Missouri

This classic drive-in was reopened in 1998 after being closed for thirteen years. It’s most famous for its neon, art deco marquee. Movies are shown on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.

2. Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre & Diner, Honor, Michigan

The Cherry Bowl still uses the original speaker posts for that authentic old-time feel. Be sure to come hungry—the diner offers chili cheese fries, ribs, sweets, and other delicious snacks that trump multiplex popcorn any day of the week.

3. Hull’s Drive In, Lexington, Virginia

Hull’s has the distinction of being the only non-profit drive-in theater in the world. Thanks to generous donors, the theater is able to stay open and show movies on weekends every summer.

4. Moonlite Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia

The Moonlite was opened in 1949 and earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Here’s hoping more drive-ins receive this honor in the future so these American originals get the preservation and attention they deserve.

5. Spud Drive-In Theatre, Driggs, Idaho

The Spud is a true Idaho original, named after the potato farms that surround it. Briefly closed in 2011, the theater is now back in operation and also serves as a concert venue.

6. Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

As Cape Cod’s only drive-in, this Wellfleet mainstay is the only movie theater in the world where you can eat oysters while watching a flick. When not showing movies at night, the lot serves as a bustling flea market on summer weekends.

7. Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater, Trenton, Georgia

Catch a movie in the great outdoors at this Georgia drive-in. The massive screens on which it shows first-run movies are some of the biggest in the world.

8. Bengies Drive-In Theatre, Baltimore, Maryland

Bengies has been a Baltimore institution since 1956. Figuring out movie times is easy—the night’s first show starts with the sunset.

9. Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre, Montclair, California

Pay at a thatch-roofed hut and drive past a replica Easter Island head to get to this tiki-themed California drive-in. The Mission encapsulates a specific brand of mid-century exotic Americana like nowhere else.

10. Redwood Drive-In Theatre, West Valley City, Utah

Beautiful surroundings and great weather make for a perfect night at this Utah drive-in. A trip to the classic concession stand helps complete the time-warp feel during your visit.

11. Cumberland Drive-In Theatre, Newville, Pennsylvania

This immaculately preserved drive-in has been in the same family since its opening in 1952. The Newville area’s dark skies help picture quality, so support a classic theater by treating yourself to a great American night out.

If you’re cruising to a drive-in or filming your own travels, the all-new Hyundai Sonata is the perfect companion to get wherever your adventures take you. Find out more about the All-New Sonata’s 3,000-Mile Test Drive at HyundaiSonata.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
11 Beautiful Stops on a Tour of America's Most Incredible Ferry Rides

Ferries are more than just valuable tools for commuters. If you have time to stop and look around, you’ll notice they can also offer some of the country’s most incredible views.

1. Seattle to Bainbridge Island, Washington

Crossing Puget Sound only takes 35 minutes, but during that time you’ll be treated to views of the Seattle skyline and, behind that, the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades. On a particularly clear day, you should be able to see Mount Ranier, the tallest point in the mountain range, over 100 miles away.

2. Alaska Marine Highway Inside Passage from Sitka to Juneau

Because of the unique geography of Alaska, much of the state is only accessible by air or sea. The 3,500 miles of “Marine Highway” are the only marine route to be designated a National Scenic Byway and an All American Road. In particular, the nearly nine-hour voyage between Sitka and Juneau takes passengers on a tour of the Alaskan wilderness, past glaciers and forests with a chance to see humpback whales, sea otters and black bears.

3. Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor, Maine

Hop aboard the 40-person ferry to the tiny fishing village on Maine's remote Schoodic Peninsula and along the way you’ll be able to take in views of lighthouses along the coast of Acadia National Park. Keep your eyes peeled and you might catch a glimpse of seals, porpoises, and bald eagles.

4. Sausalito to San Francisco, California

If you’re up for it, bike across the bridge from San Francisco to the upscale suburb. But after perusing the art galleries and dining at a waterfront restaurant, load your bikes onto the ferry for a more relaxing ride back into the city. Plus, you’ll get a much better view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island State Park, and the Oakland Bay Bridge.

5. Halls Crossing, Lake Powell, Utah

This largely utilitarian ferry serves as a bridge between the northern and southern sections of Utah's State Highway 276. But during the 30-minute ride across the perfectly still waters of one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, passengers will get to see the spectacular colors juxtaposed between the often clear blue skies and the bright orange Navajo sandstone formations.

6. Boston to Harbor Islands, Massachusetts

Pick one of Boston’s Harbor Islands and head out on the ferry. The ride is quick - depending on which island you’re headed for, the trip runs 20 to 40 minutes - but you’ll get a great view of the Boston skyline and Boston Light, the country’s second oldest working lighthouse.

7. French Quarter to Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana

Get a great view of New Orleans and see why it’s nicknamed the Crescent City on this passenger ferry across the Mississippi River. The ride takes you from the heart of the action to a charming, residential section of the city.

8. Rocky Hill-Glastonbury, Connecticut

The ferry, which is part of Route 160, connects two towns in Central Connecticut. The short trip would be relatively unremarkable except for its historical importance: It’s the oldest continuously operated ferry service in the United States, dating all the way back to 1655.

9. Catalina Express, California

Take a roughly one hour cruise aboard state-of-the-art, high speed catamarans from stops along the southern California coast out to Catalina Island, which served as a stand-in for exotic locales in early Hollywood films. Look out for whales and flying fish along the way.

10. Waterton Shoreline Cruise, Montana

This one is only half in the United States, as it takes you from the Canadian side of the seven-mile-long Waterton Lake into Montana. Passengers are surrounded by the towering cliffs of the Rocky Mountains and should keep an eye out for otters, beavers, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, or bears along the way.

11.  Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Line, Michigan and Minnesota

There are no cars allowed aboard the GPIR, or in the rest of the designated biosphere-reserve, for that matter. Instead, the two-day voyage with eight stops provides transportation to hikers and campers looking to traverse the chilly waters. While on board, passengers have a chance to spot an expansive array of wildlife, including moose and wolves.

Whether you’re trying to commute across a river or just take in beautiful scenery from a ferry’s deck, the all-new Hyundai Sonata is the perfect way to get wherever you’re going. Find out more about the All-New Sonata’s 3,000-Mile Test Drive at HyundaiSonata.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios