Top 3 Most Underwhelming Roadside Attractions

I will understand if you can no longer bear to be my friend after skimming through this post. As a warning to the fainthearted, I may come across as heartless or even, quite possibly, un-American. But keep in mind that my excitement leading up to seeing all three of these sites rivaled only that of Kristin Bell’s sloth meltdown, with the significant difference being that my excitement did not result in cuddling with a sloth. Also, as you read, try to conjure up your most disappointing encounter with an American treasure. There will be ample time to share. 

Here’s the thing: The Village of Mt. Horeb is absolutely darling. Gingerbread houses, covered pavilions, general Midwest niceties every which way. But if you’re going to call yourself “The Troll Capital of the World” and have a literal Trollway (aka, Main Street), I need you to really troll yourself up. For instance: toll trolls, under the bridge trolls, a bevy of troll dolls doing people things in a model town exhibited at the local museum–and I’m just spitballing here… But Mt. Horeb’s troll village is basically just a few artfully placed wooden trolls. Yes, they are adorable and greet you in front of the major municipal buildings and adorn signage. But, and perhaps my expectations were too high, Troll Town, USA really let me down. It didn’t help that I was expecting something more along the lines of this:

Magical Super Trolls! A thing to note: “Horeb” may mean either “glowing/heat” or “desolation as after a mighty battle.” Discuss.

2. Wall Drug, South Dakota.

Charming billboards that lined the what seemed like 3,000 miles of South Dakota aside, Wall Drug was just, well, lame. A frontier shopping mall. A place where traveling folks may stop for a free glass of water, or five cent coffee. It was purchased by a man named Ted Hustead in 1931. Mr. Hustead bought it mainly because of its main attraction: “It was in the middle of nowhere.” He wondered why business was so slow. Then his wife, Dorothy, a budding entrepreneur herself, said why not advertise free ice water to the tourists making their journey to Mt. Rushmore, a recently opened tourist trap 60 miles west of Wall Drug. Business began to boom and Wall Drug installed 500 miles worth of self-promoting billboards and the rest is history. They also have a giant jackalope, which should have astounded us but sadly, after 500 miles of Wall Drug anticipation, we were left annoyed and underwhelmed. Sorry, Wall Drug, you are so not, as you overzealously claim, “America’s favorite Roadside Attraction,” at least not in my book. 

1. [Drum roll please….] Mount Rushmore!

GASP! I know, right? How can you be underwhelmed by a massive granite sculpture of not one, not two, but FOUR presidential heads of state? Did I mention that it’s on the side of a mountain? And each face stands 60 feet high? Impressive, for sure. But why did it have to look so small from way down on the ground? And, more importantly, where was the vault? I was ruined by the movie Richie Rich, and the tantalizing mountain chase across the family vault, Mount RICHMORE. Get it?? “Man, it must be COOL to have everything!” One day, Mount Rushmore, maybe you will be as cool as Young Richie. Now, friend, do tell me your worst or most underwhelming encounter with the world’s vast treasures.

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  1. says

    Mt Rushmore, for sure. Such a letdown! Those heads were so far away and small!

    Roswell, NM was a bit like Trolltown for me, in that I was expecting EVERYTHING to be all alien-themed and wacky, but instead it was just one sad little "museum" and every so often a laundromat called "Out of This World Fluff and Fold" or whatever. Very underwhelming.

    I'm kinda relieved to learn that Wall Drug is not all it makes itself out to be. I always feel a twinge of guilt when I am chugging across the country and, after the 500th billboard, decide to keep driving. Deep down I've always wondered what I've missed. Good to know it's not much. I will be able to sleep more peacefully now I think!

  2. says

    I thought Wall Drug was AMAZING. But I also went to it right after Rushmore, so my expectations were pretty darn low. To call Rushmore disappointing is beyond an understatement.
    It isn't technically a roadside attraction, but the Cold Cereal Festival in Battle Creek was so horrifically disappointing I almost cried with rage.

  3. says

    Just have to say that Kristin Bell's meltdown made me laugh so hard, almost as much as envisioning you melting down in a similar fashion with anticipation, haha. Those troll people should really hire you for some consultion, I mean, the toll troll?! Pure genius!

    Sorry I can't really contribute to the underwhelming destination discussion. I liked Rushmore as a 17-year-old who'd never been ANYWHERE before, but I also completely understand that it's a bit disappointing after all the hype.

  4. says

    After all billboards for Wall Drug, it just didn't seem to live up to the hype. But we did like the Badlands and the rest of the state; besides Mt. Rushmore.

  5. says

    Yes! Thank you for saying what I've been thinking since my summer road trip. Mt. Horeb = cute, and home to delicious fried cheese curds, but not as troll-centric as I'd hoped.

    And the Mt. Rushmore heads…so small and far away! It was nothing like what I always imagined. It didn't help that the whole place seemed so crowded and commercialized. Badlands NP, on the other hand, was cooler than I expected.

    P.S. Did you see all the signs in SD for 1880 Town? I kind of wished we'd stopped to see the alleged Dances with Wolves props.

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