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America’s Trails

America’s Most Unique Trailside Attractions

By: Amy Kapp
July 27, 2020

Longeberger Basket Company former world headquarters along the T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail in Ohio | BY-NC-ND 2.0
Longeberger Basket Company former world headquarters along the T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail in Ohio | BY-NC-ND 2.0

For years, we’ve been hearing about those strange and extraordinary attractions that have made for classic road trips across the country. But what about trailside? Connecting some of the most diverse communities, landmarks and geography in America, trails are the perfect places to find the inspiring, the unique and—in some cases—the truly bizarre.

In that spirit, here’s our developing list of (currently) 28 of the most unique trailside attractions in America. Fun fact: Many of the trails featured fall within the footprint of two Rails-to-Trails Conservancy signature projects, including the Great American Rail-Trail™, a 3,700-mile cross-country trail connecting Washington, D.C., and Washington State, and TrailNation™, a portfolio of eight developing trail networks around the country.

We’ll be doing updates in the future—so let us know what we missed! Speaking of which, we may not have a giant rubber band ball … but we do have Rocky! Enjoy.

Equine Gargoyles – Indian Bend Wash Path (Arizona)

Equine Gargoyles along the Indian Bend Wash Path in Arizona | Photo courtesy City of Scottsdale
Equine Gargoyles along the Indian Bend Wash Path in Arizona | Photo courtesy City of Scottsdale

Along the 11.8-mile Indian Bend Wash Path in Scottsdale, Arizona, you’ll find “Water Mark,” a series of 14-foot-high equine gargoyles by artists Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan that invoke the McCormick Arabian Ranch that once existed adjacent to the site. During flash flooding, water emits from the mouths of the sculptures! 

Cupid’s Span – Embarcadero Bike Path/San Francisco Bay Trail (California)

Cupid's Span along the Embarcadero and San Francisco Bay Trails in California | Photo by Dewet via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
Cupid’s Span along the Embarcadero and San Francisco Bay Trails in California | Photo by Dewet via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

At San Franciso’s Rincon Park (Embarcadero and Folsom Sts.), tucked along the Embarcadero Bike Path/San Francisco Bay Trail, you’ll find this gigantic Cupid’s bow and arrow by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, inspired by the city’s reputation as the “home port of Eros.”

Lupe the Mammoth – Guadalupe River Trail (California)

Lupe the Mammoth along the Guadalupe River Trail in California | Photo by Richard Masoner via Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Lupe the Mammoth along the Guadalupe River Trail in California | Photo by Richard Masoner via Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This 12.5-foot-high sculpture—located at the Trimble Road Trailhead of the Guadalupe River Trail in San Jose, California—commemorates “Lupe” the Mammoth, a real mammoth (an 8-foot juvenile) whose remains were discovered by a resident along the river in 2005. It was created by Greenmeme artists Freyja Bardell and Brian Howe. 

Bigfoot Sighting? – Mineral Belt Trail (Colorado)

Bigfoot cutouts along the Mineral Belt Trail in Colorado | Photo by Scott Stark
Bigfoot cutouts along the Mineral Belt Trail in Colorado | Photo by Scott Stark

Even if you don’t believe in Bigfoot, you still might see him along the 11.6-mile Mineral Belt Trail in Colorado, at mile markers 3 and 9, where he peeps out of the trees at trail users. Of course, they’re just cutouts (origin unknown), but one might assume Bigfoot (with his big feet and gait) would appreciate rail-trails. 

Viking Ship – Illinois Prairie Path (Illinois)

Viking ship along the Illinois Prairie Path | Photo by Kyleschmitt via Wikipedia Commons | CC BY 3.0
Viking ship along the Illinois Prairie Path | Photo by Kyleschmitt via Wikipedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

On the 58-mile Illinois Prairie Path, one of the oldest rail-trails in the country, you’ll find another old attraction in the form of this Viking shipHoused at Good Templar Park in Geneva, Illinois, the 76.5-foot-long structure was built for the 1893 World’s Fair as a duplicate of an ancient ship discovered in 1880 in Gokstad, Norway.

Jazz Walk of Fame – Cardinal Greenway (Indiana)

Duke Ellington - Gennett Walk of Fame along the Cardinal Greenway in Indiana | Photo by Natasha Marco
Duke Ellington – Gennett Walk of Fame along the Cardinal Greenway in Indiana | Photo by Natasha Marco

In Richmond, Indiana, at the southern end of the 62-mile Cardinal Greenway at Whitewater Valley Gorge Park, the Gennett Records Walk of Fame honors 35 jazz legends—such as Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and Alberta Hunter—with stunning bronze medallions resembling 78 rpm records and featuring their images and achievements. 


RELATED: 16 HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS ALONG THE GREAT AMERICAN RAIL-TRAIL


College Bound Garfield – Sweetser Switch Trail (Indiana)

College Bound Garfield waving on the Sweetser Switch Trail in Indiana | Photo courtesy Sweetser Parks Board
College Bound Garfield waving on the Sweetser Switch Trail in Indiana | Photo courtesy Sweetser Parks Board

Statues scatter Grant County, Indiana, to honor the world’s most famous orange (technically red) tabby, Garfield, and his cartoonist creator, area native Jim Davis—including this one on the 4-mile Sweetser Switch Trail (Main Street trailhead). Situated at two restored railcars and a caboose, “College Bound” Garfield waves hi (or goodbye?) to passersby. 

Albert: The World’s Largest Bull – T-Bone Trail (Iowa)

Albert, the World's Largest Bull, along the T-Bone Trail in Iowa | Photo by Brandi Horton
Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, along the T-Bone Trail in Iowa | Photo by Brandi Horton

According to RoadsideAmerica.com, Albert, the World’s Largest Bull, has been watching over Audubon, Iowa, since 1964. Located along the 19.6-mile T-Bone Trail (East Division St. and Stadium Dr.), Albert is 28 feet tall, and spans 15 feet between his horns (and is ridiculously adorable, we think). 

World’s Largest Wooden Nickel – Iowa River Corridor Trail (Iowa)

World's Largest Wooden Nickel along the Iowa River Corridor Trail in Iowa | Photo by Kevin Belanger
World’s Largest Wooden Nickel along the Iowa River Corridor Trail in Iowa | Photo by Kevin Belanger

Along the Iowa River Corridor Trail in Iowa City (near Dubuque St. NE and E. Oakdale Blvd.) is the World’s Largest Wooden Nickel, created in 2006 by Jim Glasgow (and designed by cartoonist David Morice). For the title, the 16-foot nickel supplanted its predecessor, a 13-footer located at the Historical Nickel Museum in San Antonio.  

Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail (Kentucky)

Mammoth Cave along the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail in Kentucky | Photo by Thomas J. Caldwell
Mammoth Cave along the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail in Kentucky | Photo by Thomas J. Caldwell

At the northern end of the Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike & Hike Trail is impressive Mammoth Cave, the world’s longest cave with 390 miles of passages. Fun fact: It is named for its massive size and not woolly mammoth fossils, which have not been found there.

Historic Flood Lines – C&O Canal Towpath (Maryland)

Historic flood lines on the Whites Ferry Store & Grill along the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland | Photo by Neil Arnold
Historic flood lines on the Whites Ferry Store & Grill along the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland | Photo by Neil Arnold

Whites Ferry—along the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath in Dickerson, Maryland—provides a crossing along the Potomac River for cars, bicycles and people. On the Store & Grill building (open Fri. to Mon.—we hear the food’s great!), line markers designate three historic floods that devastated the area in 1972 (Hurricane Agnes)1985 (Election Day Floods) and 1996.

Beautiful Connection – Bridge of Flowers (Massachusetts)

Bridge of Flowers in Massachusetts | Photo by David Alexander
Bridge of Flowers in Massachusetts | Photo by David Alexander

Just a tenth of a mile in length, the beautiful Bridge of Flowers, a pedestrian walkway built on an old trolley bridge over the Deerfield River, connects two communities in northwestern Massachusetts: Shelburne Falls and Buckland. The 400-foot bridge springs to fragrant life every year from April to October. 

Our Lady of the Rockies – Milwaukee Road Rail-Trail (Montana)

Our Lady of the Rockies along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in Montana | Photo courtesy USDA Forest Service
The Our Lady statue sits atop the East Ridge near Butte, Montana, before sunrise September 15, 2019. USDA Photo by Preston Keres

This 90-foot statue, made in a likeness of Mary, Mother of Jesus, watches over Butte, Montana, and is accessible from the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. At Pipestone Pass, that trail converges with the 4.5-mile Milwaukee Road Rail-Trail traversing Thompson Park. Completed in 1985, the statue is dedicated “to women everywhere, especially mothers.”


RELATED: TRAIL OF THE MONTH: MONTANA’s MILWAUKEE ROAD RAIL-TRAIL (Thompson Park)


Pollyanna Gateway – Littleton Riverwalk (New Hampshire)

Pollyana Gateway along the Littleton Riverwalk in New Hampshire | Screen shot by Suzanne Matyas
Pollyana Gateway along the Littleton Riverwalk in New Hampshire | Screen shot by Suzanne Matyas

Around Littleton, New Hampshire, it’s clear how much the town has embraced their hometown author, Eleanor H. Porter, who created “Pollyanna”—one of literature’s most optimistic characters—in 1913. This is particularly evident along the Littleton Riverwalk, which features this colorful “Pollyanna Trailhead.”  

Gnome Homes – Columbia Trail (New Jersey)

Gnome Homes – Columbia Trail (New Jersey)
Gnome homes along the Columbia Trail in New Jersey | Photo by George Marinich

The magic of nature is alive on New Jersey’s 15-mile Columbia Trail, which—in addition to stunning backdrops—features some 40 to 100 gnome homes, created by locals. The first home was created to encourage a child to go for a walk, and trail managers have embraced them with the goal of helping children understand “the connectedness of all things.” 

Glittering Glass Art at Ariel-Foundation Park – Heart of Ohio Trail (Ohio)

Glass art at Ariel Foundation Park along the Heart of Ohio Trail | Photo by Eric Oberg
Glass art at Ariel Foundation Park along the Heart of Ohio Trail | Photo by Eric Oberg

Along the 15.7-mile Heart of Ohio Trail (part of the 326-mile Ohio to Erie Trail) in Mount Vernon, Ariel-Foundation Park honors the industrial heritage of the area, and in particular the glassmaking families of PPG Industries via its unique “River of Glass” sculpture, which flows down a hillside and is fashioned with “cullet” and crushed glass. 


RELATED: SEVEN WONDERS OF THE OHIO TO ERIE TRAIL

Longaberger Basket Headquarters – T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail (Ohio)

Longaberger Basket Company former world headquarters along the T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail in Ohio | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Longaberger Basket Company former world headquarters along the T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail in Ohio | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Along the 10-mile T.J. Evans Panhandle Trail in Newark, Ohio, sits this majestic former home of the Longaberger Company—a seven-story replica of the company’s best-selling and iconic Medium Market Basket. The “basket” ceased to be the company’s headquarters around 2016, and there are efforts under way to turn it into a luxury hotel. 

Scioto Deer: Scioto Greenway Trail (Ohio)

Scioto deer statue along the Scioto Greenway Trail in Ohio | Photo by Tom Ramsey
Scioto deer statue along the Scioto Greenway Trail in Ohio | Photo by Tom Ramsey

Three bronze deer by artist Terry Allen are found along Columbus, Ohio’s 12-mile Scioto Greenway Trail—sitting pensively at Genoa Park, lounging by the river, and watching over the city on the Rich Street Bridge. Why? The Scioto River was home to many Native American cultures; the word “Scioto” is derived from a Wynadot (Iroquois) word meaning “hairy deer.” 

Going Global: Eco Earth Globe – Riverfront Trail (Oregon)

Eco Earth Globe along the Riverfront Trail in Oregon | Photo by David Lebech
Eco Earth Globe along the Riverfront Trail in Oregon | Photo by David Lebech

In Salem, Oregon, near the Riverfront Trail and the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge and Trail, is Riverfront Park—the home of Eco Earth Globe, an art installation created by a local geographer and artists in 2003. A plan is underway to restore the sculpture, which features the continents, regional wildlife and global culture.  

World’s Smallest Park – Waterfront Bike Path (Oregon)

Mill Ends Park, the World's Smallest Park, along the Waterfront Bike Path in Oregon | Photo by David Thulmer via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
Mill Ends Park, the World’s Smallest Park, along the Waterfront Bike Path in Oregon | Photo by David Thulmer via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Big attractions are cool—but what about the smallest … like the World’s Smallest Park? That title goes to Mill Ends Park along Portland’s Waterfront Bike Path, which—at just 2 feet wide—exists in a median of (busy) Naito Parkway (at S.W. Taylor St.). “Created” by journalist Dick Fagan in 1946, it was dedicated in 1948.  

Land Buoy – Delaware River Trail (Pennsylvania)

Land Buoy along the Delaware River Trail in Pennsylvania | Photo by Douglas Bovitt, courtesy Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
Land Buoy along the Delaware River Trail in Pennsylvania | Photo by Douglas Bovitt, courtesy Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Located at the Washington Avenue Pier along the 2.1-mile Delaware River Trail in Philadelphia, “Land Buoy,” a 55-foot spire by artist Jody Pinto, emits a soft blue light and features a 16-foot staircase offering expansive views of the waterfront. The structure honors immigrants who arrived in America via “Philadelphia’s Ellis Island.” 


RELATED: THE CIRCUIT TRAILS

Monument to Cacique Mabodamaca – Túnel de Guajataca (Puerto Rico)

Monument to Cacique Mabodamaca along the Túnel de Guajataca in Puerto Rico | Photo by Jorge A. Borrelli
Monument to Cacique Mabodamaca along the Túnel de Guajataca in Puerto Rico | Photo by Jorge A. Borrelli

This giant sculpture is carved into a mountainside near Puerto Rico’s Túnel de Guajataca, a former railroad tunnel on a route that once transported sugarcane and passengers between San Juan and Ponce. The “Monument to Cacique Mabodamaca” honors the Taíno chief whose tribe existed in the region and went to war with Spanish invaders. 

Cooper-Young Trestle (Tennessee)

Cooper-Young Trestle in Memphis, Tennessee | Photo by Jill Turman, courtesy Urban Art Commission
Cooper-Young Trestle in Memphis, Tennessee | Photo by Jill Turman, courtesy Urban Art Commission

Though not a trail, this century-old former railroad bridge turned art installation + community gateway in Memphis’ Cooper Young neighborhood encapsulates its namesake—with 12 steel structures by artist Jill Turman Brogdon that are based on local buildings and homes. Dedicated in 2000, the installation was a project of the UrbanArt Commission.

Dandelion Fountain — Buffalo Bayou Trail (Texas)

Gus S. Wortham Memorial Foundation along the Buffalo Bayou Trail in Texas | Photo by TrailLink user quinnpenny
Gus S. Wortham Memorial Foundation along the Buffalo Bayou Trail in Texas | Photo by TrailLink user quinnpenny

Donated to the City of Houston, Texas, by the Wortham Foundation and dating from 1978, the misty and magical Gus S. Wortham Memorial Foundation, created by William T. Cannady, was inspired by a similar fountain in Australia. The iconic bronze structure is located at Buffalo Bayou Park (Allen Parkway) along the 15-mile Buffalo Bayou Trail

Chinese Arch – Golden Spike National Historical Park (Utah)

Chinese Arch at the Golden Spike National Historical Park | Photo by Victor Solanoy via Flickr | CC by 2.0
Chinese Arch at the Golden Spike National Historical Park | Photo by Victor Solanoy via Flickr | CC by 2.0

A natural wonder to behold, the Chinese Arch is accessible via a 4-mile out-and-back trek on a stretch of the original transcontinental railroad corridor (Golden Spike National Historical Park) in Utah. It honors the thousands of Chinese workers in the 1860s who, despite enduring harsh treatment and conditions, were vital contributors to the railroad’s completion.

Big Red Wagon – Spokane River Centennial State Park (Washington)

The Childhood Express along the Spokane River Centennial State Park in Washington | Photo by Barbara Richey
The Childhood Express along the Spokane River Centennial State Park in Washington | Photo by Barbara Richey

The nearly 40-mile Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail in Washington features the world’s largest Radio Flyer wagon, “The Childhood Express,” at Spokane’s Riverfront Park (W. Spokane Falls Blvd. and N. Stevens St.). Designed by artist Ken Spiering, and commissioned in 1989 by the Junior League, it weighs 26 tons.  

Chew On It: Seattle Gun Wall – Elliott Bay Trail (Washington)

Seattle gum wall along the Elliott Bay Trail in Washington | Photo by marroyo12 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
Seattle gum wall along the Elliott Bay Trail in Washington | Photo by marroyo12 via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Certainly the least appetizing of the attractions featured, the Seattle Gum Wall, located near the Elliott Bay Trail and Pike Place Hillclimb Walk, is never-the-less a sight to behold—hosting some 250,000 pieces of chewed gum on a 54-foot stretch of alley near an improv theater and Pike Place Market.

Rocky Statue – MLK Drive Trail (Pennsylvania)

Rocky Balboa statue along the MLK Drive Trail in Philadelphia | Photo courtesy Eva Garcia
Rocky Balboa statue along the MLK Drive Trail in Philadelphia | Photo courtesy Eva Garcia

It’s one of the most memorable runs in cinematic history—when Rocky Balboa completes an epic 30-miles-plus route that ends atop the Philadelphia Art Museum steps in Rocky II. His world-famous statue—seen at that epic spot in Rocky III and IV—is now located at the bottom of the steps, at the start of the 4-mile MLK Drive Trail, arms raised in victory. 

Acknowledgments: Special thank you to contributor Laura Stark. Additional acknowledgments go out to Brandi Horton, Suzanne Matyas, Ken Bryan, Laura Cohen, Ben Kaufmann, Kayla Walker, Kevin Belanger, Derek Strout, Jorge Brito, Eric Oberg and Anya Saretzky for their assistance in developing this list.

This article was originally published in the 2020 Green Issue of Rails to Trails magazine. It has been reposted here in an edited format.

Amy Kapp | Photo courtesy Amy Kapp
Amy Kapp

Amy Kapp serves as Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America's rail-trails, parks and public lands.

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