How to Have a Whimsical Road Trip on the Enchanted Highway
For a stretch of 32 miles, there is a highway in North Dakota that’s home to a collection of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures, aptly named the Enchanted Highway. Known for its whimsical and larger-than-life roadside attractions, this unnumbered stretch of road brings plenty of tourists through Gladstone, North Dakota and extends to Regent, North Dakota.
But how did a seemingly obscure two-lane highway turn itself into a destination spot for road trippers looking for their next unforgettable adventure?
Sculptor Gary Greff realized that North Dakota was suffering from a lack of tourism and set out to personally fix that issue. In 1990, Greff got to work and created a handful of behemoth sculptures and placed them along Regency-Gladstone Road.
Next to each sculpture, he decided to place picnic areas and playground attractions – with everything facing north, to pique the curiosity of oncoming traffic. Seven sculptures have since been completed, with plans of building three more to total 10 pieces of art along the Enchanted Highway.
What You’ll Encounter
Navigate your way down I-94 and take exit 72 to reach the first installation, located in Gladstone, North Dakota. You’ll surely not miss the towering sculpture, "Geese In Flight," which was erected in 2001. It’s listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, standing at a jaw-dropping 110 feet tall.
This installation makes use of oil tanks and pipes to create a stunning masterpiece depicting a flock of geese flying through a dazzling sky, and it’s said that on a clear day, it can be easily seen from upwards of five miles away.
Travel just over three miles to reach the next installation, “Deer Crossing.” Constructed in 2002 just outside of Gladstone, travelers enjoy seeing a 75-foot-tall buck and 50-foot-tall doe, constructed from oil well tanks, hopping over an enormous fence. Playing up North Dakota’s wildlife, it’s obvious that Greff wanted to emphasize the beauty of this often underestimated state.
To reach the third sculpture, you’ll need to pass through the town of Lefor, North Dakota. Though at first glance it may seem like a ghost town that’s not necessarily worthy of unbuckling your seatbelt and stretching your legs, there is a bit of history that might interest those who are intrigued by strange oddities of the past.
The Lefor State Bank took a hit when the Great Depression rolled through the United States in the early 1900s and ended up shuttering its doors, but there’s one piece of the building that has yet to be torn down: the bank vault. A metal arch acts as a marker to draw attention to this small and desolate block of brick, but as you draw closer, a photograph of the bank in its heyday shows visitors just how important this insignificant vault truly was nearly a century ago.
After your pit stop in Lefor, head about 12 miles down to reach “Grasshoppers in the Field,” which was completed in 1999. Ranging from 12- to 40-feet-tall, these impressive insects seem to be in their element, enjoying the long stretch of field that they are dwelling in. Greff added looming metal structures that look like wheat to make this sculpture seem even more realistic.
Head about 15 miles south to reach the newest installation, “Fisherman’s Dream,” which depicts a group of large fish leaping through the air in an effort to catch a giant dragonfly. While each sculpture makes use of interesting elements, this is undoubtedly Greff’s most colorful and complex piece of work throughout the entire highway. Completed in 2007, these colossal trout are a must-see.
Just over four miles south you’ll reach the Enchanted Highway’s fifth structure, “Pheasants on the Prairie.” Here, a 13,000-pound rooster stands next to a 12,000-pound hen and their three baby chicks, each weighing a whopping 5,000 pounds. Constructed of pipes and wire mesh, this sculpture has ironically become a nesting ground for many birds over the years.
The sixth stop contrasts drastically from its predecessors: while every other installation honors the integrity and wonder of nature, this one instead honors a very prominent person. “Teddy Roosevelt Rises Again” depicts a gigantic wire sculpture of America’s 26th president galloping his way down the highway on his horse. At 51-feet-tall, this roadside stop is meant to pay homage to the inventor of the United States National Park System.
The final and oldest of the sculptures is the “Tin Family”, which is just over 3 miles south of “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again.” This installation, showing a family made of telephone poles, farm tanks, and a myriad of other metals, is an appropriate end to a unique road trip: it’s the people of North Dakota’s way of thanking you for taking part in their community, and seeing you out with a wave and a smile.
Good to Know
The Enchanted Highway is not known for its amenities, so be sure to fill up on gas and food before your journey. About two miles after the final installment, you’ll reach the town of Regent, North Dakota. Here, you’ll be able to locate a gas station and, if you’re lucky, one of the town’s two cafes will be open.
There is an Enchanted Highway Visitor Center as well, but it may not be open depending on what time of year you travel around.