Minnesota’s Highway Highlights: Will Stop for Fun

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

The bright yellow roof and believable claim as "Minnesota's Largest Candy Store!" pulls a steady stream of shoppers—650,000 a year, in fact—to Jordan’s expansive and seasonal Jim’s Apple Barn off Highway 169.

"Whoa!" says a first-time visitor as he gets a first glance at aisles heaped with imported and exotic chocolates, gummies, licorice and gum. Teens giggle at a wall stacked with a rainbow of cotton candy, including a yellow flavor inspired by the president’s hair. Shoppers of a certain age beeline for the rare sight of candy cigarettes and long-ago dime store staples.

With an expansion last year that added a domed observatory-like addition, the favorite shop amped up its entertainment. Giant automaton candies on a stage belt out 1969's pop song "Sugar, Sugar!," and adults dig for change to seek their fortune from Zoltar, the spooky fortune-telling machine from the 1988 Tom Hanks movie, "Big." Kids pose by the Incredible Hulk, duck into a British phone booth, and marvel at what feels like the United Nations of candy.

This mother ship for sweet tooths also sells fresh local produce, warm pies, pastas, condiments and sauces, popcorn, puzzles and oddities from bacon-scented soap to pickle-juice pop—plus hundreds of other soda pop flavors.

Don't expect a quick visit and be sure to take cash or checks. As for the "world's biggest outhouse" sign? It's a gag. Flush toilets await behind the green plastic door.

Here are some other one-of-a-kind Minnesota roadside stops with free fun and photo ops worth pulling over for this summer.

Lark Toys, Kellogg

Lark Toys carousel in Kellogg
The whimsical carousel at Lark Toys will delight visitors of all ages

With the 80th anniversary of America’s Great River Road in 2018, take a scenic spin down Highway 61 and stop at this delightful collection of shops selling toys, games, costumes, musical instruments, books and retro fun in Kellogg. Leave time for exhibits of toys from every decade and a ride on the hand-carved custom carousel with a moose, otter, wizard and more.

Spam Museum, Austin

Go ahead and make fun of the much-maligned canned meat: The Austin-based Hormel Co. that created Spam takes a similarly lighthearted approach in this playful (and free) hands-on museum dedicated to the role of canned meat in nourishing WWII soldiers and earning a cult status across the globe. Look for Spambassadors handing out Spamples, and don’t go home without visiting the gift shop.

Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer

franconia sculpture park in fall _mali mish family.jpg
Interacting with the sculptures is encouraged / Mali Mish Family

More than 100 funky sculptures, from geometrics and a disembodied head to a spotted lizard busting out of a lounge, rise above 43 acres along Highway 8 on the way to Taylors Falls. Artists-in-residence programs keep adding new work to this free, family-friendly attraction.

Treasure City, Royalton

This Highway 10 souvenir stop north of St. Cloud looks so 1960s with wooden signs, pirate cutouts and a man-eating clam, you expect a wood-paneled station wagon in the parking lot. Inside, you can grab a free coffee, cookie and ice for the cooler while browsing a maze of cap guns, sling shots, seashells and tchotchkes. Pick up a handy field guide, wild rice, Minnetonka Moccasins or a snack for the road.

Nyberg Sculpture Park, Vining

Ken Nyberg's sculptures such as a cup pouring coffee and a giant bare foot look fascinating from a distance and can be even more intriguing up close. Check out the details, such as an elephant built from more than 900 lawn mower blades, on display in the tiny town of Vining along Highway 210 and the Otter Trail Scenic Byway.

Other Roadside Giants

Big Fish Supper Club in Bena_Jim Hoffman
Big Fish Supper Club in Bena / Jim Hoffman

For sheer novelty, Minnesota boasts roadside attractions that let you sit in Paul Bunyan’s hand at Akeley, saddle up on Kabetogama's whopper walleye, and pose by Blue Earth’s 55-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant. In Angle Inlet on Lake of the Woods, there’s a new photo op with a monument marking the northernmost point in the contiguous United States. It’s modeled after the well-known southernmost U.S. marker in Key West, Fla.

For big eats, enjoy a Dilly Bar in the shadow of a giant version at Moorhead’s Dairy Queen, where the famed treat was invented. In Bena, walk through a mammoth musky’s mouth for dinner at the Big Fish Supper Club.

Find more roadside attractions and other highway highlights on your next Minnesota road trip.