If you’re not from Iowa and not into cycling, chances are you’ve probably never heard of RAGBRAI. Each summer, thousands of (potentially crazy) cyclists embark on a week-long ride across the state of Iowa. RAGBRAI (which stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) began in 1973 when Des Moines Register feature writers John Karras and Donald Kaul decided to go on a bicycle ride across Iowa.
While I won’t be riding this year, I thought it might be fun to create a road trip inspired by the 2016 route, which winds through the small towns of southern Iowa. Beginning in Glenwood on the eastern Iowa border and culminating in Muscatine to the west, the 2016 RAGBRAI route is sure to pass by some offbeat attractions.
RAGBRAI-Inspired Roadside Attractions
Check out a few road trip highlights…
Villisca Ax Murder House
Located in the small town of Villisca, Iowa—population 1,250—this white farmhouse could easily be the clone of its neighbors, that is, except for the plywood sign erected in its front yard. On June 10, 1912, eight people, including six children under the age of 12, were murdered while they slept. An eerily staged crime scene and utter lack of suspects rocked the small town, leaving many questions unanswered for decades. Today you can pay to tour the house and (if you’re brave enough) even spend the night.
Johnny Carson Birthplace
Born in Corning, Iowa in 1925, Johnny Carson is most well-known as the host of The Tonight Show. Today you can visit his birthplace and take a tour of the home Carson grew up in, historically preserved and filled with memorabilia from the iconic host’s career.
World’s Largest Town Square
Iowa is all about quirky claims to fame and RAGBRAI will pass right through one this year! Centerville, Iowa is home to the World’s Largest Town Square. The continuous city square received the title because there are no stoplights or stop signs within the area.
Originally constructed in 1886, Columbus Junction’s Swinging Bridge spans 262 feet across a ravine near Highway 92. The bridge was originally called the Lovers Leap Bridge because local legend says that a heartbroken Indian maiden jumped to her death in the ravine below.