TOP TEN: Iowa’s Most Boring Roads

Let there be no doubt, Highway 59 is the King of Boredom

Let there be no doubt, Highway 59 is the King of Boredom

Now that we are in the interim between the most traveled holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate to release my first Top 10 list covering the highways and byways we drive on to bring us home.  Iowa has its fair share of atrociously boring stretches of pavement and while this list will certainly miss a good handful of them, these are the Top 10 Most Boring Roads In Iowa from my experience.

Since I am drawing from my experience, the list is limited to my driving destinations.  This still encompasses a large swath of the great state of Iowa, giving to the fact that I’ve called the western, northwestern, southwestern, and central regions home and my in-laws are from northeast Iowa.  I guess the eastern and southeastern regions will be neglected, and for that, I’m sorry.  This list should still induce a coma worse than what your third helping of walking bird would cause.

What qualifies a road to be boring?  How does one distinguish the most boring for those just mildly unamusing?  I have developed a system based upon the following criteria, ranking each stretch of road from 0 to 5 in each category, then summing the rankings to get an aggregate score.  The highest score equals the most boring road.

THE 6 L’s

  1. Lay of the land and the road:  The straighter, the better.  Also, if the terrain is flat and does not offer any rise or fall, it is primed to bore you.
  2. Lack of towns:  Any inhabitated burg breaks up the monotony and often serve as endpoints to stretches of road.
  3. Law enforcement:  If the 55 mph speed limit is enforced by an overzealous sheriff’s department, the road just got a lot worse.
  4. Lack of scenary:  Trees, lakes, hills, anything but fields can break up the doldrums.
  5. Leaving the interstate?:  A road that leaves a freeway magnifies the slower speed limit and makes time stand still like a Rennor fastball (okay, if you don’t play Bases Loaded on Nintendo, that’s a bad simile).
  6. Length: Long stretches between towns or landmarks magnify the awfulness.

On to the list…

10.  Highway 20 from Fort Dodge to Cedar Falls.  While the speed limit and interstate exit tests fail on this stretch of pavement, it certainly scores high in length and lay of the land.  It is as flat as a table top in north-central Iowa, and the gratuitous curves in the road around Owassa do little to break up the boredom.  As a note, Owassa is the only town actually visible from the road until you hit Dike from I-35 going east, and it is the only town I have ever encountered that has no exit to it.  You must drive around the town and take either one of two county road exits.  Plus, drivers are entertained by “Hell was made for deadbeat moms” billboards.  Nice touch, Owassa.

Score:  3 | 4 | 1 | 1 | 0 | 5  (From the 6 L’s above)

9.  Highway 39 from Denison to Odebolt.  The law enforcement aspect of this drive makes it a boring road.  One is nearly guaranteed to meet an officer in Odebolt itself, but the sheriff’s departments of Crawford and Sac Counties certainly have nothing better to do than pull over speeding motorists.  Deloit and Kiron are unimpressive towns 39 goes past, but just their mere presence keeps this road from being too terribly bad. 

Score:  2 | 2 | 5 | 2 | 1 | 3

8.  Highway 92 from Carson to Treynor.  The only redeeming quality of this stretch is the fact it is short, and given that, no towns exist between T-Town and Carson.  The road is straight, but hills break up the monotony.  Cops are particularly bad here as they tend to bust illegals working in the meat-packing plant in nearby Oakland.

Score:  3 | 3 | 4 | 3 | 1 | 1

7.  Highway 191 from Earling to I-680.  191 certainly is windy and flat, as it follows the meanderings of  Mosquito Creek southwest towards Council-tucky.  The seemingly endless string of P-towns (Panama, Portsmouth, and Persia) have the effect of blending every mile into a traveler’s version of Groundhog Day.  The leaving I-680 at the Tri-Center exit makes the Interstate score go up.

Score:  3 | 1 | 3 | 3 | 3 | 4

6.  Highway 34 from Creston to Osceola.  From my good friend Adam Wuestewald: 

Your chances of either hitting a deer, meeting a state trooper, or getting behind some 95 year old farmer named Melvin and his wife Elma driving a Buick at 28 mph has to be better than any other road in Iowa.  All of this on a 30 mile stretch of pure misery with no slow lanes going eastbound.

Well put.  I couldn’t have said it better.  The only time I have driven this myself was two years ago this month when the temperature was exactly 1 degree and met not one, not two, but three officers of the law between Creston and Osceola.

Score:  4 | 3 | 5 | 2 | 1 | 3

5.  Highway 25 from I-80 to Greenfield.  Yuck, yuck, and more yuck.  The interstate exit comes in huge here, as well as the straight stretch of pavement that leads seemingly nowhere.  A big rock with randomly changing “art” greets you at a quarry immediately off I-80, but nothing but a mini-water tower entertains the weary traveler until Greenfield.

Score:  3 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 5 | 1

4.  Highway 92 from Griswold to Fontanelle.  Despite Highway 71 breaking up the trip between Point A and Point B, this road has no landmarks or curiosities to make things interesting.  Highway 92 passes by Lyman and Massena, but the outlying areas are as desolate as the moon.  Deer love the rolling hills of southern Iowa and about a million, give or take a few thousand, live right here.  Any one of them is prepared to tap dance on your hood.

Score:  3 | 5 | 3 | 3 | 1 | 4

3.  Highway 17 from Wesley to Highway 3 junction.  The wind-blown Pancake Flats are famous in and around area Bristol grew up in (always inducing the obligatory “It’s sooo flat up here!” comment), and with more paved county roads than you can shake a stick at, any one of them makes a strong case for inclusion in this list.  Highway 17 gets the nod due to the straightness and flatness, the lack of scenary, and the lack of towns other than Renwick make for a catatonic state for the passengers of any vehicle.  One awesome surprise just south of the Lu Verne turnoff has twice made me check my pants for accidents.  Some joker made a donkey-shaped mailbox that looks EXACTLY like a deer with evil thoughts on his mind.  It gets me nearly everytime.

Score:  5 | 4 | 2 | 5 | 1 | 2

2.  Highway 141 from Bagley to Perry.  This is the road most traveled since moving to the Des Moines area back home in Western Iowa and few things are worse than the Dreaded 17 Miles.  What makes this extremely bad is the middle 10 miles that offer little if any chance for a driver who wants to drive faster than 50 mph to pass slow motorists.  Oncoming traffic is usually heavy enough to prevent an easy pass.  If cornfields and no towns are your ticket to fun, Highway 141 is your best bet.

Score:  4 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 1 | 3

1.  Highway 59 from Avoca to Harlan.  Admittedly, Highway 59 is much worse going north to south, as I-80s Exit 40 turns up the interstate factor up to the maximum.  But the total lack of landmarks (other than the airport), the high probability of encountering a cop, no towns other than that sorry excuse for a community called Corley, and the lay of the road make this nomination king.  It should be noted that anyone living around Harlan almost has to take 59 to get anywhere (or 191 from Earling as mentioned above) and familiarity breeds contempt.  Or in this case, boredom.

Score:  4 | 4 | 4 | 2 | 5 | 2

Others receiving votes:  M-68 from Odebolt to Hwy 20 (11 mile stretch of the Autobahn to Storm Lake), Hwy 20 from Sac City to Fort Dodge, Hwy 71 from I-80 to Audubon, Hwy 20 from Waterloo to Manchester.  Hwy 37 from Earling to Dunlap.  Hwy 44 from Portsmouth to Hwy 30 junction.  M-47 from Irwin to Walnut.



~ by goetgre on December 18, 2008.

3 Responses to “TOP TEN: Iowa’s Most Boring Roads”

  1. Fantastic – I was proud to see #3 on the list. It should be noted that I was once a passenger on a school bus that hit a reindeer approximately 20 feet from the donkey mailbox. True story.


  2. I believe Hwy 63 from Tama to hwy 96 and Hwy 30 from CR to Tama should be included.

    Donkey Mailbox – two words I never thought I’d see cosecutivley in a sentence.


  3. An excellent list, but I would like to add a few of my own.
    The stretch of highway from Mt. Pleasant to Burlington is nightmarish. I will drive three hours out of the way to avoid that. You need to a column on roads outside of Iowa. Like Minneapolis to Duluth, or Omaha to Denver, or the first 4 hours in Texas, or anything in North Dakota.


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