12 Unique Museums to Add to Your RV Route
12 Unique Museums to Add to Your RV Route
These museums can be easy to miss, but find out why you shouldn’t pass them by!
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
I love museums and visit dozens as I travel full-time in my 2016 Winnebago Travato. There are thousands and thousands of museums across this country on topics from fine art and natural history to dolls and marbles. Some of them are famous, but most are barely known and easy to miss.
How to Find Unique Museums while Traveling
A day or two before I reach an area, I will check an app called Roadside America. While known mostly for locating quirky things to see, it also lists a lot of cool and odd museums. I also research the best things to see or do in the area and, if something catches my eye, I note it on my Google Maps app and save it in a list for places I want to visit. Roadside billboards are also a great way to learn of unexpected treasures. My van makes a lot of unscheduled stops.
Referrals are another excellent source. Each time I read of another traveler’s experience that I think I might enjoy, I save it to Google Maps. Harvest Hosts locations are also a great way to combine museums with an overnight stay. Often when I am checking directions for a destination, I will simply notice a local point of interest on the map near my destination and add it to my route. There is no one way to find these gems, and that’s part of the fun.
Of course, you cannot stop everywhere and see everything on a single trip. This is why it is important to keep a list of the places you learn about (whether it be on a map app or in a notebook). I pace myself as to not to get exhausted or overloaded with information. RV travel should be fun and leisurely, whether you are on a vacation or a full-timer. If you are tight for time, see a few things and save others to be savored the next time you are in the area!
11 Unique Museums to Visit During Your RV Travels
Here are a few of my favorite unique museums that I think you will also enjoy discovering.
1. Strataca - Hutchinson, Kansas
This tops my list of favorite museums. Strataca is an underground salt mine museum located in Hutchinson, KS. Strataca was once a working salt mine, but now is only open for tours. To tour the museum, you don a hard hat and take an elevator deep into the earth.
The first half of the tour is a self tour, starting with a large exhibit about the geological makeup of the area and how salt is mined, followed by exhibits of the machinery used. From there you grab a rail car that travels along the rails used when the mine was active. While you ride, the operator provides information about life as a miner and parts of this specific mine. After the rail ride, you grab a small tram that takes you to other parts of the mine with another guide with more information.
It is truly an educational experience and is even a Harvest Host location!
2. Museum of Clean - Pocatello, Idaho
The name of this museum always evokes laughter and disbelief. A museum just about cleaning? Yes! Located in Pocatello, ID, the Museum of Clean is truly a unique museum and well worth the visit. This was the vision of Don Aslett, a man who spent his life teaching people the value of a clean home, environment, water, and life. It is in a large building with several floors dedicated to anything and everything used for cleaning.
Did you know that there was once a water-operated vacuum? I was amused to see the model vacuum my mother used for years, a blueish-green Electrolux. The displays are very well done and track the history not only of vacuums, but washers, bathtubs, cleaning products, toilets, and cleaning tools. If something was used in keeping us and our homes clean, it and its history are on display in this museum.
Not far from the Museum of Clean is the much less impressive Idaho Potato Museum, which is also a Harvest Host location – making it a potential overnight option in the area.
3. National Orphan Train Complex – Concordia, Kansas
Most of us have some bit of knowledge of the orphan trains that brought children from the crowded poverty of eastern cities to the rural Midwest from the mid-1800s to the 1920s. This museum and its grounds are dedicated to those children and their stories.
The National Orphan Train Complex is located in a converted train depot in Concordia, KS, and contains bios of the children, photos, and other artifacts in a moving and artful way. Outside, the small garden is filled with sculptures of some of the children who traveled the trains. A very emotional experience.
4. Esse Purse Museum – Little Rock, Arkansas
This was so much more than a purse museum. Located in Little Rock, AR, this small but lovely museum tracks fashion accessories over the ages, breaking the displays into specific decades. The Esse Purse Museum is not just a museum about accessories, it is also a display of the changing roles of women over the same time periods.
It was informational and fun, especially when you come across trends you might have worn yourself. Ah, the 60s and 70s! It is also a nice purse boutique. Yes, I bought one. Next door is a very good café called The Root Cafe.
5. Yuma Territorial Prison Museum – Yuma, Arizona
I found this place fascinating. Located in Yuma, AZ, the Yuma Territorial Prison operated from 1876 to 1910. Set up on a hill overlooking the Colorado River, it is often used for film locations. During its operation, it held some of the West’s most notorious outlaws, including women.
There is a museum with information about the various inmates and history of the prison, and you can stroll amongst the brick-walled cells and creepy solitary confinement cells, which are in total darkness. Can you imagine being held here in the 100+ temperatures in the summer?
There is also a lovely walking path overlooking the river, and other historical buildings.
6. International Petroleum Museum and Exposition — Morgan City, Louisiana
Have you ever wondered what it would be like on an offshore oil rig? Then this museum, located in Morgan City, LA, is the place for you. Mr. Charlie (as the rig is called) is a real oil rig platform, now stationary, that offers tours. It is also used for training workers and the occasional film location.
You have to call ahead to book a guided tour, and there are a lot of steep steps involved, but it is well worth it. Your guide will show you all aspects of the rig from the living quarters and galley to how drilling works. The views from the platform are also spectacular. Note: There are several low rail overpasses on the streets near the rig, so check your route before you go. There is a simple way around the overpasses. (This is also a Harvest Host location!)
7. SPAM Museum – Austin, Minnesota
I grew up eating SPAM and when I noticed this on the map after leaving the 2019 GNR, I just had to go. Located in Austin, MN, it is not far from Forest City, IA. The SPAM Museum maps in colorful and fun displays the history of the Hormel company and SPAM. There are fun things for kids too, and many great photo opportunities. While you tour, you will be given samples of SPAM, passed around like high-end hors d’oeuvres.
8. PEZ Visitor Center – Orange, Connecticut
This was another childhood memory I had to visit when I learned it existed. Located in Orange, CT, this museum is packed with PEZ history, memorabilia, and collections. Great fun for both kids and adults. There is also a window through which you can watch workers making and packaging PEZ products. Do you remember your favorite PEZ dispenser? Mine was Popeye.
9. Walmart Museum – Bentonville, Arkansas
Located in Bentonville, AR, and housed in the original Walton’s 5&10, this museum surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Inside the Walmart Museum, you will find every detail of how the mega retail company began, grew and expanded. Sam Walton’s office is even there, painstakingly moved and reconstructed to show exactly how it was when he died.
Next door is the Spark Café where you can order an ice cream in Walmart’s signature colors of yellow and blue. The museum is across from the lovely town square where you can sit and enjoy your ice cream or walk around and enjoy the cute shops and restaurants surrounding the square. Also in Bentonville is the stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
10. Cherokee Nation History Museum – Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Located in Tahlequah, OK, the seat of the Cherokee Nation, this is actually a collection of historical buildings, all within walking distance of each other. The Cherokee Nation History Museum is housed in the stately original Cherokee Nation Capitol Building.
It is a beautiful two-story museum telling the history of the Cherokee people from the time they arrived on this continent until present. The grounds surrounding the museum are also worth exploring. After visiting the museum, walk to the original courthouse and jail where you can go inside and view more exhibits.
11. Texas Cotton Gin Museum – Burton, Texas
This tiny museum in the equally tiny town of Burton, TX, will teach you everything you would want to know about cotton and cotton gins. It was informative and fun, and the curator gave us many insights into the lives of those who grew, harvested, and ginned cotton. You can also take a guided walking tour of the large cotton gin.
12. Waylon Jennings Museum — Littlefield, Texas
If you love country music, and Waylon Jennings in particular, you should not miss this museum. Located in Littlefield, TX, Jennings’ hometown, this tiny one-room museum is housed in the back of Waymore Liquor, which is owned by Jennings’ brother. Anything and everything having to do with Jennings’ career is crammed into this small space. Admission is free. And a block down the road is the Waylon Jennings RV Park, which is free for up to four nights with hookups and a dump station.
Honorable Mention Museums:
- Tallahassee Car Museum — Tallahassee, Florida (Harvest Host location)
- Texas Quilt Museum — La Grange, Texas
- John Deere Tractor Museum — Waterloo, Iowa
- Vermilionville Historic Village — Lafayette, Louisiana (Harvest Host location)
- Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum — Parker, Arizona
- Evel Knievel Museum – Topeka, Kansas
- Oz Museum – Wamego, Kansas
- And, of course, the RV and MH Hall of Fame and Museum — Elkhart, Indiana (Harvest Host location). Read my article on this museum here.
The above are just a few of my favorites. There have been so many that I cannot begin to list them all. Not to mention, I have a bunch on my list still to visit. Feline Historical Museum, anyone?
If you have a favorite unique museum, please share it in the comments!