In my time, I’ve done the drive along Interstate 80 many times. I went to college in Iowa and my parents lived in Colorado; I became intimately familiar with the long, straight, flat, featureless drive through the Platte River Valley. But is it actually that featureless? It turns out that there are a number of fascinating roadside attractions along I-80!
From sculptures and towers to museums and collections, you don’t need to drive I-80 straight through unless you want to… But as we know, there’s plenty to make the Great Plains worth exploring.
In choosing these roadside attractions along I-80, I tried to keep the stops within a few miles of I-80; you won’t find some of the other great roadside attractions in the Great Plains on this list if they’re too far from Interstate 80 itself. I’ve also listed them from east to west, rather than ranking them in a certain order. In any event, this will hopefully inspire your current road trip plan – and to explore more of the region on a future road trip too.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha), Jiwere, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Pâri (Pawnee), ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), Cheyenne, Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Arapaho, and S’atsoyaha (Yuchi) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Featured photo credit: Doug Kerr via Flickr
While it might surprise you, Nebraska – which does not border any major body of water – has a lighthouse! Located outside of Gretna, Nebraska about 25 minutes down I-80 from Omaha, the “Landlocked Lighthouse” overlooks a beach and small lake. Built in 1939, the landlocked fared well through the many storms that roll across the Great Plains.
World’s Largest Covered Wagon
About an hour west on I-80 and after passing Lincoln, take the exit for Milford, Nebraska. Here you can make a short detour to see the World’s Largest Covered Wagon. Technically this roadside attraction isn’t along I-80 (it’s south a few miles) and is permanently closed. But it’s still a bizarre relic of the bygone road explorer era. If you are curious about stopping here, check out the history and how different it looked during its prime (it had wheels!).
World’s Largest Time Capsule
Located in Seward, Nebraska, the World’s Largest Time Capsule is a huge concrete vault filled with over 5,000 relics. It’s actually only a few minutes from the World’s Largest Covered Wagon in Milford; you may want to choose to stop at only one of these two roadside attractions along I-80.
Weighing up to 45 tons, Harold Davisson built this monument; it was dedicated on July 4, 1975. The time capsule is set to be opened in 2025, the 50th anniversary of when it was sealed.
Lee’s Legendary Marbles & Collectibles
Another few miles (about 30 minutes) west from Seward, there’s another roadside attraction you may want to stop at: Lee’s Legendary Marbles & Collectibles. Why this particular shop, you ask?
Lee’s Legendary Marbles & Collectibles is home to what is possibly the world’s largest collection of marbles! Lee Batterton, who started the collection in 1954, claims that his collection has over 1,000,000 (yes, one MILLION) marbles and is the largest in the world. They are housed at the “Marble Museum” in York, Nebraska.
Classic Car Collection
The town of Kearney, Nebraska, seems like it is halfway along I-80 in Nebraska; in fact, it’s halfway between Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California (1733 miles from each!). It’s also home to two roadside attractions along I-80 that you might want to stop and visit.
The first is the Classic Car Collection. Over the past 50 years, this collection has grown to over 200 vehicles; the cars themselves date back to the 1910s! This is the perfect stop for those who wish they were road-tripping Interstate 80 in a classic car.
The Kearney Archway is a sight you’ll see if you drive I-80 and don’t stop – it’s also a roadside attraction you can stop and visit if you choose to!
This Archway is actually a museum, which covers travel across Nebraska dating back to the Oregon Trail. This is poignant as you can see and hear the cars and trucks roaring along Interstate 80 below you as you visit the exhibits and learn more about the Great Platte River Road.
Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles
About 40 minutes west from the Kearney Archway, military buffs will find one of several roadside attractions along I-80 to visit. The Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles (HMMV) houses over 100 military vehicles including helicopters, tanks, ambulances, and jeeps from every branch of the military. (Not sure about the Space Force though!)
Even if you’re not big into military history, this is a great family-friendly museum as many of the vehicles are touch-friendly and there are several you can even climb into and get a sense for what it was like to operate or drive them!
Golden Spike Tower
It’s another hour west from Lexington (where the HMMV is located) to the Golden Spike Tower in North Platte. You might be confused: Wasn’t the golden spike driven in Omaha? Yes, it was! But North Platte is actually home to the largest rail yard in the world and the actual location where the East and West rail lines actually meet.
Today you can visit the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center to learn more about rail history across the Great Plains – and the entire country. You can ascend the seven-story tower for a view of the rail yard, and future attractions will allow visitors to experience old rail travel in its glory days.
ICBM Missile Museum
It’s a long drive to the next of the best roadside attractions along I-80; it’s 3.5 hours from North Platte, Nebraska, to Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming where you can visit the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Museum. You can’t actually go onto the base to see ICBMs, but this small military museum is located in former commanders’ headquarters and will teach you all about air missile defense in the U.S.
Wyoming Territorial Prison Dumping Station
I’m ending my list of roadside attractions along I-80 in Laramie, Wyoming, where you move out of the Great Plains and into the Mountain West. The first attraction in Laramie is the Wyoming Territorial Prison Dumping Station; while this sounds like a landfill, it’s actually a historic site.
This 197-acre prison has held many a villain and criminal over the 30 years it was in operation, including – most famously – Butch Cassidy. It’s now a museum where you can learn more about territorial Wyoming history beyond the Hollywood version you may have in mind.
Giant Head of Abraham Lincoln
Last but certainly not least, Abraham Lincoln is honored in stone too – but not at Mount Rushmore! Instead, you can find Lincoln immortalized in clay and peering out over Laramie, Wyoming. Originally located along the old Lincoln Highway, this sculpture was opened to the public in 1959. Today Lincoln is located at the Summit Rest Area and there are several other markers noting the history of the Lincoln Highway in the area too.
Those are some of what I consider to be the best roadside attractions along I-80; do you know of others? Let me know in the comments!