As of 2019, public entities (state, cities, counties, etc) within the State of Iowa owned more than 115,000 miles of roads or ramps to roads. That's a lot of concrete, gravel, dirt, asphalt, and cobblestones. Yet, of all of those many miles, there's one little section in Burlington that is arguably the most famous of all: Snake Alley.
Ripley's Believe it or Not, the popular show and organization celebrating oddities and uniqueness worldwide, has dubbed it "One of the most unbelievable spots in America". There's now even a nice plaque celebrating that distinction near Snake Alley's exit sign. Snake Alley has also become engrained into the culture of the town with a film festival named after it, an art fair, and an uphill bicycle race.
So what makes Snake Alley so unique? Built in the 1894, the street was designed to mimic vineyard paths in Germany and France. According to the city's website, "The alley is composed of limestone and blue clay bricks. The constantly changing slant from one curve to the next necessitated a complicated construction technique to keep the high grade to the outside. Snake Alley curves over a distance of 275 feet (83.8 m), rising 58.3 ft (17.8 m), a 21% grade, from Washington Street to Columbia Street."
The road is open to both pedestrians, bicyclists, and even cars. However, it's only a one-way street. According to what I read on Wikipedia, "The alley originally provided a shortcut from Heritage Hill to the business district. Bricks were laid at an angle to allow horses better footing as they descended. Unfortunately, riding horses back up the alley often resulted in a loss of control at the top; for this reason, even to this day, Snake Alley remains a one-way street, with all traffic heading downhill."
While Iowa Adventurer had been to Burlington a number of times prior, my visit to Snake Alley in the warmer (and greener) months of 2020 was actually my first. If you've never been, don't hesitate. It's quite amazing. I first drove down the street in my car and then went back and walked down it. If you are wondering what it's like to see a car go down it, Iowa PBS' Iowa Land and Sky program had a drone follow an SUV as it made the trek. I would encourage you to both drive it and walk it to get the full experience, as long as you confident in your mobility. Keep in mind, many of the bricks are laid at an angle.
When you are ready to head down Snake Alley, you'll do so from Columbia Street. This street and area is a beautiful part of Burlington and it is lined with many historic and well maintained structures.
I did not make time to check out this museum, but I've added it to my list for a future trip to Des Moines County.
The whole trip down obviously does not take too long, but there is a lot to appreciate along the way. Beautiful flowers and other accents have been added.
Some parts of the street even have brick retaining walls. You'll obviously want to drive slowly so as to not catch any of these with the front bumper of your car.
You can enjoy some nice views of Burlington as you go.
There are a few nice lamps that add to the old-world ambiance.
The grass between the curves is beautifully manicured.
Concrete edges line the street, separating the brick from the grass, all the way down.
In a spot or two, there are exits for the nearby property owners.
If you want, you can even stay in a home that is right on the alley. After a very quick search, I found the listing on Airbnb.
Once you make it to the bottom, you find yourself on Washington Street, another road with a number of historic and beautiful structures.
A visit to Snake Alley can be as quick as about 2 minutes or it could be 20, depending on your schedule and interest. While a road trip to just see Snake Alley alone may be worth it, there's much more to see and do while you are in Burlington, Des Moines County, and the surrounding area. After your visit, I think you'll agree that while we may have tens of thousands of miles of roadways in Iowa, but there's truly nowhere else that compares to Snake Alley.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Des Moines County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.