These places are worth taking the long way
With all due respect to our nation's gas stations, fast food joints, and rest stops... they're not always the most picturesque places. We here at The Southern Weekend think you should practice road trip self care in one-of-a-kind locales whenever possible. These nine roadside distractions will provide beautiful, unique, and occasionally spooky stops wherever you're headed.
An iconic stop on Route 66; the Cadillac Ranch sits just off I-40 between Amarillo and Bushland. Created by hippies and immortalized by Bruce Springsteen, this art instillation livens up a long and lonely dessert. These 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the ground have faced decades of graffiti and inclement weather but their classic tail fins remain. Bring your camera or a can of spray paint and make your mark on a time-honored roadside attraction.
This massive former pig iron production facility is only a few blocks from Highway 280 in downtown Birmingham. Wander the site, take a tour, show up for one of their many arts and education events, or even get your own iron poured; there’s no shortage of things to do at this national historic landmark. If you need some more time out of the car, Sloss Furnaces sits right in the middle of a particularly delicious neighborhood. Avondale Brewing and Cahaba Brewing are right down the road if you decide that’s enough driving for one day.
First of all, any stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway will be amazing. This particular stop is located at mile marker 350 and it will bring you to the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Enjoy the view from the observation deck, have a picnic with a view, or stretch your legs on the family-friendly Balsam Trail (more strenuous hikes are also waiting for you if you need a longer break). Have a jacket handy in the car though. The Alpine conditions on Mount Mitchell might make you forget you’re still in the South.
Worried you’ll fall asleep on a drive through Louisiana? Pull over and scare yourself awake at the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville. Built in 1796 and home to at least 10 grisly murders over the years, the Myrtles is said to be the South’s most haunted house. Visitors can hear a former slave, Chloe, singing in the hallways. Others report the sounds of children singing or hands tugging on their clothes. It’s a great place to stop and learn some history, but please do not speed as you leave the grounds.
This stop will take some pre-planning but it’s well worth it. Hidden in the woods of Brookville, Indiana, the Wolf Creek Habitat is a sanctuary for rescued wolves. Visitors can view the animals from an observation deck and learn about wolf communication, pack hierarchy, and everything else about our lupine friends. Call ahead to make sure you can visit and bring a few bucks for a donation. It will absolutely be more interesting than a rundown rest stop.
The Abita Mystery House is definitely one of the South’s strangest museums. Covered in folk art and full of mutant fish trophies, dancing vaudeville toys, and plenty of buttons and levers to push, the entire point of this Louisiana gallery is to make you say, “Oh my.” Whether or not you find it charming or a little creepy, the Mystery House will certainly give you something to talk about as you head back down the road.
The Pomona Natural Bridge in the Shawnee National Forest is a perfect respite from the never ending asphalt of a road trip. Located half a mile into a dense forest of hickory, beech, and oak trees this natural sandstone bridge is accessible for every nature lover. The loop trail starts and ends in a parking lot with plenty of picnic tables but be careful to plan ahead; there aren’t any bathrooms at the trail head.
Need a little pick up on your road trip? Go right to the caffeine source at the Charleston Tea Plantation. This is the only large-scale tea farm in the country and it’s home to hundreds of thousands of tea plants. Take a trolley tour or stroll through the sprawling fields of the plantation; this spot is sure to both relax and energize you for the road ahead.
The Sunphere, located right off of the I-40 interchange in downtown Knoxville, is almost impossible to miss. The 266-foot tower adds a flourish to the Knoxville skyline with a 75-foot gold sphere at the top. Don’t worry though, there’s an elevator to take you to the viewing platform up top. When you’re done you can stroll through the park or walk along the Tennessee River before you hop back in the car.
What did we miss? What is your favorite roadside distraction on a long road trip? Let us know on our Facebook page.