Minnesota has long been home to some of the country’s kitschiest roadside attractions, and now a new generation of nostalgia-seekers has grown to appreciate them.
That means this summer’s road-trippers are not only likely to stop and gawk at a giant statue of a fish, an otter or a lumberjack, but they’ll probably snap a selfie, too.
At the “Big Fish” in Bena, Minn., owners Alan and Amy Hemme report that at least 50 people a day stop to take their picture inside the muskie’s massive jaws.
“It’s insane,” Amy Hemme said. “They hop out of the car, snap a photo and off they go.”
How many of these wonderful attractions are there in Minnesota? Since not everyone agrees on what makes something a roadside attraction, no one knows exactly. The website Roadside America, an organization dedicated to connecting road trip enthusiasts with fun roadside attractions, lists about 366 such attractions in the state.
We’ve rounded up the top 10 statues most likely to entice travelers off the highway. Some are big, some are weird, but all are worth a stop.
1. Paul and Babe
There are many Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox exhibits statewide, but the most famous resides in Paul’s birthplace of Bemidji. The 18-foot-tall, 2 ½-ton statue is the second most photographed statue in the country, after Mount Rushmore, according to Kodak. The 737 man-hours it took to build the roadside colossus in 1937 were worth it: Bemidji’s Paul and Babe were officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.
2. Jolly Green Giant
Thisisinsider.com called the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth the “strangest roadside attraction” in Minnesota. If by “strange” they mean “awesome,” then we agree. This smiling emerald giant towers 55 feet above the town, with his hands on his hips, and wearing a one-shoulder tunic (dress?) made of leaves. He weighs four tons and his feet are so big that he’d need size 78 shoes. You can find him on Green Giant Lane in the middle of Green Giant Statue Park, just off Hwy. 169.
3. Big Ole
Big Ole just went through more than $30,000 in renovations and he’s looking better than ever, but still rugged (in a good way). After all, he is believed to be the biggest Viking in America. Big Ole resides north of downtown Alexandria on the south shore of Lake Agnes in Big Ole Central Park. While Big Ole is 28 feet tall, his younger brother, Little Ole, is traveling the region this summer in inflatable form.
4. Lucette (Paul Bunyan’s Sweetheart)
As the saying goes, “Behind every giant man is a giant woman ... ” Or something like that. Lucette Diana Kensack of Hackensack is Paul’s other babe. She stands 17 feet tall and lives on the eastern shores of Birch Lake. Hackensack also claims to be the birthplace of Paul Jr. Lucette has a mysteriously misshapen bustle — some say she’s hiding something under her skirt. A chainsaw-sculpted version of Paul Jr. is in a nearby park.
5. Big Fish
Sometimes a roadside attraction is simply an attraction by the road that you can’t look away from. The Big Fish (part of the Big Fish Supper Club) has been a roadside fixture near Lake Winnibigoshish in Bena since the 1950s. Passersby could originally buy hamburgers and root beer from a walk-up window in the muskie’s belly or enter through the fish’s mouth to eat at a small counter inside. The 65-foot-long muskie was featured in the opening credits of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983, helping fuel today’s nostalgia and a mission to restore the fish in 2010.
6. World’s Largest Hockey Stick
A declaration of the “World’s Largest” anything is all you really need to get a passing car to pull over, but a massive hockey stick in hockey country is a slapshot. Located in downtown Eveleth (home of the United States Hockey Fall of Fame), the “Big Stick” became a landmark in 1995. In 2002, a bigger and better stick arrived to “Hockeytown USA” complete with a State Patrol escort. Weighing in at five tons and 110 feet long, the Christian USA-branded stick is displayed as it’s about to slap a 700-pound puck.
7. Leapin’ Walleye
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes there are a lot of fish statues, but there’s only one equipped with a riding saddle. Kabetogama (near Voyageurs National Park) is the home to the ultimate photo op. You can climb the stairs and hop on the back of the fish for a photo. At 14 feet long and 7½ feet tall, the “Leapin’ Walleye” is the winning fish of kitsch.
8. Rocky Taconite
In Silver Bay on the North Shore stands a bulbous, metalloid little man welcoming visitors to the birthplace of taconite production. The cartoonish character is made of steel storage tanks, wears a miner’s hat and red gloves, and holds a mining pick. According to his sign, Rocky assumed his perch on a 7-foot slab of taconite in 1964 to commemorate “the transition of taconite to steel” and honor the “genius” of those who figured out how to change “a useless rock into a valuable product.”
9. Sinclair Dino
The full-service Sinclair gas station in Champlin is chock-full of nostalgia, including a costume-clad green dinosaur. With every changing season, holiday or news of the day, “Dino” changes his outfit. During an especially cold winter about 10 years ago, the station’s co-owner, Diana Merkl, decided to knit Dino a scarf to keep him warm. Today he’s a Twins superfan, but he’s also been a high school graduate and Prince. During the holidays, kids can leave a letter for Santa in Dino’s mailbox. If they leave a return address, Dino writes them back, letting them know he saw Santa and delivered their letter.
10. Otto the Big Otter
The teenagers of Fergus Falls had so much school spirit in 1972 that they built a 15-foot-tall, 40-foot-long version of their school mascot, the otter, which still stands in Adams Park. Despite Otto’s “stay off” sign, many people can’t resist the opportunity to climb on his back and pose for a photo. Otto has been the backdrop for many weddings, birthday parties and reunions.
Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715 • @aimeeblanchette