When driving through Minnesota, don't be surprised if you come across something claiming to be the "world's largest" of its kind. From animals to mythological creatures to the infamous ball of twine, roadside attractions are almost as common as the state bird. Seek out these one-of-a-kind sights on your next road trip.
Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox
But until Paul and Babe were given physical form, no Minnesota town had seen the likes of such storybook statues. Debuting in 1937 for a winter carnival, the 18-foot-high Paul Bunyan, painted in signature red and black plaid, and the stocky blue ox, were an instant sensation. It has been a rite of passage for thousands of visitors, young and old, to get a photo with these figures.
And there’s more Paul Bunyan to go around. A talking Paul (from 1954) and Babe (1964) are located at Paul Bunyan Land, 6 miles east of Brainerd. In Akeley, also in northwest Minnesota, visitors can crawl into a tall Paul Bunyan’s extended hand and visit the nearby Paul Bunyan Historical Museum. Paul’s girlfriend, Lucette, has been a towering centerpiece in Hackensack since 1950. The town of Ortonville claims Paul Bunyan’s boat anchor, and Kelliher displays his gravestone. It reads: "Here lies Paul, and that's all."
Other Legendary Figures
Other statuesque figures ranging from historic warriors to workmen stand tall over towns across the state. Perhaps the tallest roadside legend in Minnesota is the 55-foot-tall, toga-wearing Jolly Green Giant, which welcomes visitors to Blue Earth and the new Giant Museum.
In southern Minnesota, New Ulm’s Hermann the German has been the town’s symbol of Teutonic heritage since 1897. The 27-foot-tall, sword-wielding chieftain stands atop a monument you can climb in Hermann Heights Park. Iron Range heroes are memorialized in the town of Chisholm in northeast Minnesota, where a large sculpture of a brass-colored miner stands 36 feet tall.
In central Minnesota’s Battle Lake, Ojibwe legend Chief Wenonga is represented by a large statue and celebrated each July at Wenonga Days. Alexandria’s Big Ole, a 28-foot-tall, helmeted Viking warrior, is an artifact of the 1965 New York World’s Fair. Today, he symbolizes early Norse exploration in the area.
It’s almost impossible to go on a Minnesota road trip without seeing unusually large roadside animals that represent towns’ high school mascots, local wildlife, industry and local lore.
Fantastic fish are well-represented. Minnesota’s state fish, the walleye, is especially popular, with magnificent renditions in Baudette, Garrison, Isle, Rush City and near Lake Kabetogama. Fishing fans should also look for the tiger muskie in Nevis, lutefisk in Madison, northern pike in Deer River and trout in Preston. A 65-foot muskie next to the Big Fish Supper Club in Bena stands in a category of its own.
In Crosby, a legendary serpent named Kanabec assumes a fierce pose next to the comparatively serene Serpent Lake. Fergus Falls is flanked on one end of town by a giant otter in Adams Park and on the other by a goose in flight, located at the Otter Tail County Historical Museum.
Other big birds include the Rothsay prairie chicken, Ashby coot, Vergas loon (on land), Virginia loon (in water), Frazee turkey, Wheaton mallard and the pelican in Pelican Rapids.
Other Man-Made Marvels
The tiny central Minnesota town of Vining has been transformed by the industrious creativity of one man. Ken Nyberg, a town resident in his 70s, built and installed over two-dozen large sculptures in and near Nyberg Park. Nyberg welds scrap metal to create objects that range from realistic elephants and rhinos to surreal depictions such as a bug scaling a pair of giant pliers.
The small town of Darwin, west of the Twin Cities, preserves and celebrates Francis A. Johnson’s 29-year project, the world’s largest ball of twine made by one man. See the 9-ton, 12-foot-wide twine ball in its glass-walled enclosure and take part in Twine Ball Day in August.
Artists and commercial businesses have also produced roadside odes to food, including corn (Rochester and Olivia), ice cream (Wadena), the Culvert Man (just off I-90 north of La Crescent) and a famously giant boot (in Red Wing, home of Red Wing Shoes).
Many of Minnesota’s roadside attractions claim to be the “world’s largest,” and perhaps some of those claims are true. What is undisputed is the state abounds with quirky, larger-than-life objects that inspire local pride and draw travelers to discover or re-experience legends, marvels and wonder.
Explore more Minnesota roadside attractions at the Minnesota Historical Society website.