Strange Americana: The Best Roadside Attractions in the Western States

A diving board and swing set installation art in the Salton Sea near Bombay Beach, California. It’s nighttime and the water is calm and reflective. Photo Courtesy: Kevin Key/Slworking/Moment/Getty Images

The western portion of the United States is filled with a stunning array of environments, from arid desert landscapes to dense forests to glimmering beaches. The region is also a great place for roadside attractions; some are rife with history, while others are downright strange — in an unforgettable sort of way. Wondering where you should stop on your next road trip down the coast? These are some of our favorite roadside attractions located in the western half of the country, from the mountains of Colorado and Montana to the Pacific Northwest.

Editor’s Note: For information on the latest pandemic-related travel requirements and advisories, be sure to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and official local and state websites. Due to the surge in Delta variant-related cases, all travelers should check into destination requirements regarding mask wearing, quarantine, and COVID-19 testing, even when traveling by car.

Additionally, travelers should keep themselves informed of the latest wildfires and related safety concerns and warnings, especially when traveling to, or around, the West Coast of the U.S. this summer.

Bishop Castle | Rye, Colorado

People often flock to Colorado for the gorgeous scenery, but off State Highway 165 in Rye, Colorado, sits a piece of architectural history. That piece of history is none other than Bishop Castle, a monument of great size that stretches several stories high.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Waits/flickr (see below)

The castle’s determined creator, Jim Bishop, built the structure single-handedly across 50 years. The landmark includes a metal dragon roof, a sickeningly twisty staircase, and an authentic castle-style tower. All of this is, of course, complemented by a lovely mountain view. 

While the castle is stunning to behold, some might be wary to ascend the hand-crafted staircases. If you do venture inside, you can pick up proof of your courage at the gift shop.

Bishop Castle | Chris Waits/CC by 2.0

Big Boy Statue | Near Wapiti, Wyoming

In the low-occupancy area between Cody, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park sits a local treasure: the Big Boy statue. In 2013, a replica of the Big Boy burger mascot appeared along the stretch of highway leading into the National Park. Since then, it has become something of an icon, especially on Instagram. 

 Photo Courtesy: Patricia Marroquin/Getty Images

The once-popular fast-food chain mascot can be seen holding a hamburger above his head, ready to serve out the piece of plastic to whoever rolls by. Fortunately, this grinning fiberglass statue doesn’t seem too sad to be stuck in the middle of the Wyoming countryside, so, on your way to Yellowstone, be sure to grab a selfie. 

Havre Beneath the Streets | Havre, Montana

One of Montana’s many hidden gems sits right beneath its surface. When a raging fire knocked out small-town Havre’s businesses in 1904, the townspeople decided that there was only one way to prevent a repeat disaster: setting up shop underground.

Photo Courtesy: Havre Chamber of Commerce

Although the town eventually relocated topside, the abandoned catacombs still entertain tourists. Rife with semi-apocalyptic vibes, these underground tunnels feature the eerie sights of abandoned common spaces, including stores, saloons, and more. 

During the summer months, tours run from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm from Monday to Sunday, while winter guests can will find that tours run from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm Monday through Saturday.

Oasis Bordello Museum | Wallace, Idaho

This quirky museum was once the site of a former bordello. That is, until all the occupants suddenly vanished, leaving behind everything — including a fresh bag of groceries. 

Photo Courtesy: Oasis Bordello Museum/Visit North Idaho

Though this quick departure has a ghostly air to it, there are even more haunting details to unearth in the $5 tour, which offers insider information about the reason behind the former occupants’ hasty departure. Check out the Oasis Bordello Museum for an authentic slice of Idahoan history, all located in the mining town of Wallace.

Afterglow Vista | Roche Harbor, Washington

This stunning mausoleum near Roche Harbor, Washington, is the final resting place of John S. McMillin and his family, who were mineral magnates known for their successful lime works business. Previously called the McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, Afterglow Vista looks mythical in its construction, with a massive carved rotunda, Doric-style columns, and a limestone table.

 Photo Courtesy: TripAdvisor

While you might not want to have a picnic here, it’s worth bearing witness to the sight of the memorial, especially when the sunlight hits the stone. To up the creepiness factor of visiting a site like this, reaching the mausoleum requires cutting through the local cemetery, so maybe it’s worth saving this local haunt for the fall. 

The Oregon Vortex | Gold Hill, Oregon

The Oregon Vortex is advertised as a “House of Mystery,” where the laws of physics are reversed. While this may inspire some eye rolls, the optical illusions in this attraction will challenge even the most headstrong skeptics. 

Still from the short film “The Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery.” Photo Courtesy: XRATS Productions/YouTube

The mystery house is filled with naturally occurring phenomena that are odd enough to seem paranormal, though there are scientific explanations behind each and every mind-bending illusion. Plus, the spot is epic enough to inspire elements of the hit television show Gravity Falls. Currently, tours can be booked through EventBright.

Hole in the Rock | Near Moab, Utah

Despite its underwhelming name, you’ll get more than you bargained for at this Utah attraction. The Hole “N The Rock is carved into the side of a canyon near Moab, Utah, originally serving as a house or shelter for settlers who slowly carved away at the canyon walls.

 Photo Courtesy: Ted Soqui/Corbis/Getty Images

The hole is 5,000 square feet and includes fine art, furniture, and an array of vintage items. Since tourism has had quite an impact on this site, you’ll also find an exotic petting zoo, a trading post, a gift shop, and a general store. How does all that fit into this attraction? You’ll have to see for yourself. But one thing is for certain: Hole “N The Rock checks a lot of strange-road-trip-attraction boxes in one fell swoop. 

Goldwell Open Air Museum | Beatty, Nevada

This eccentric outdoor spot features art outside of the typical museum habitat. Rather than being locked in display cases, these installations are incorporated into the surrounding area. Often, the artwork offers stark spots of color against the browning landscape. 

“The Last Supper” by Charles Albert Szukalski, 1984. Photo Courtesy: Goldwell Open Air Museum

Best of all, your experience can change drastically depending upon what time of day you visit. The unique viewing experience is open 24/7, though be sure to bring water, as the heat often shuts the visitor’s center down in the summer months. You can find the Goldwell Open Air Museum near Beatty, Nevada, just off of State Highway 374.

Salvation Mountain | Niland, California

Located about an hour and a half south of Palm Springs, Niland, California is just a few miles from the once-popular desert resort spot, the Salton Sea. And although the area may not be as hopping as Palm Springs, the vibrant Salvation Mountain, and other desert art installations, are worth the drive. 

Photo Courtesy: Micha Pawlitzki/Corbis/Getty Images

Leonard Knight constructed Salvation Mountain out of clay and straw, then painted the entire mound with personal messages, symbols of nature, and religious markings. The mountain sits at 50 feet in height and measures 150 feet wide. Moreover, it was this installation that helped inspire the creation of several nearby art communes. 

The “Dr. Seuss House” | Willow, Alaska

“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!” certainly rings true here. The so-called “Dr. Seuss House” was named for its odd appearance, looking as if it were plucked straight from The Lorax. This towering structure in Willow, Alaska, is a whopping 185 feet tall, but it’s not just the house’s height that’s impressive. 

 Photo Courtesy: Atlas Obscura/YouTube

The unfinished house was a mystery until KTVA reached out to the owner, Phil Weidner. He shared fascinating construction details, even disclosing that portions of the house were stacked atop one another with a crane. Want to visit the fantastical abode? It’s reachable from Parks Highway.