The Midwest is home to a lot of unique attractions, but its sculpture gardens may rank among the most unusual. From giant bull heads to artsy designs, visiting sculpture gardens offers an opportunity to enjoy fresh air and blue skies while walking along some of the most beautiful art in the country.
In no particular order, here’s a look at some of my favorite sculpture gardens in the region, along with a bonus sculpture walk.
1. Porter Sculpture Park
Montrose, South Dakota
Covering more than 10 acres on a hillside pasture outside Sioux Falls, Porter Sculpture Park offers a walk among off-the-wall art, some featuring humorous pokes at politics. With more than 50 sculptures, Wayne Porter has shared his art with visitors since 2000. Instead of pursuing a career as a lawyer, Porter decided to focus on his metal art, beginning with a 60-foot-tall bull’s head that weighs about 25 tons. It seems appropriate that the bull was the prominent piece of art at the sculpture garden, since his first artwork as a child was also a bull’s head. Standing tall on the prairie, and easily viewed from Interstate 90, the bull is joined by other statues, including four guards with goat heads and red-clad figures walking towards it. Other featured sculptures include vultures, a fly playing tennis with a fly swatter as a racket, and a grown man riding a stick horse (Porter jokes that it’s his brother). Porter added a 40-foot-tall steel horse in 2018.
Pro Tip: Porter Sculpture Park, located about 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, is open seasonally, from mid-May to mid-October. Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the surface is uneven and hilly. There are no paved paths.
2. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
If you like your sculpture with a cherry on top, then the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is the sundae to enjoy. Located outside the Walker Art Center near downtown Minneapolis, Spoonbridge and Cherry is the premier art piece in the garden. The 11-acre park houses more than 40 statues, such as the Walking Man by artist George Segal. Two major exhibits were added to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in recent years, including Okiciyapi (Help Each Other) — a concrete circular piece seeking to offer an area to reflect among the land, water, people, and languages. The piece was created by Dakota (Sioux) artist Angela Two Stars. The second exhibit, opened in 2021, is Simone Fattal’s Adam and Eve. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is also home to a botanical garden and greenhouse.
Pro Tip: With free admission, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is open year-round and features paved paths, as well as gravel walkways.
3. Art Garden At Wichita Art Museum
Located among several acres of trees, shrubs, and botanicals, the Art Garden at the Wichita Art Museum includes 13 unique pieces, from a bison to a field of lights. Pulse Fields features dozens of light poles with LED bulbs that periodically illuminate, creating a field of lights atop a berm. In a bed of botanicals, Wind Screen features three semicircular pieces with unique cuts, representing the wind that blows across Kansas. Open around the clock, the 8-acre park is located along the banks of the Arkansas River.
Pro Tip: Head to the Keeper of the Plains at night for the nightly fire illumination at the base of the sculpture. The Native American sculpture, representing the tribes of the Plains, is located a short distance from the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
4. Enchanted Highway
Regent, North Dakota
In southwest North Dakota, about 70 miles east of the North Dakota-Montana border, you’ll find giant grasshoppers, geese, pheasants, and even a farm family. Covering a 30-mile stretch south of Interstate 94, the Enchanted Highway is a series of sculpture gardens. With seven stops leading to the small town of Regent — hometown of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Byron Dorgan — exploring each stop is a walk among some of the largest metal statues in the world. Beginning with a 110-foot-tall geese exhibit, the Enchanted Highway’s stops are a few miles from each other. A grasshopper exhibit features prairie locusts in a variety of sizes, from knee-size to as large as a tractor. A farm family consists of larger-than-life parents and children, created from oil barrels and pipes. Another exhibit features a giant stagecoach in front of a 51-foot-tall sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse.
Pro Tips: While it may be small, Regent is a perfect spot to spend a night or two as you explore the area. With accommodations such as Enchanted Castle, Crocus Inn Bed and Breakfast, and Prairie Vista Bed and Breakfast, you’re sure to find a comfortable place to stay. While in town, visit the Hettinger County Historical Society Museum, which features four historical buildings.
5. Pappajohn Sculpture Garden
Des Moines, Iowa
More than 25 modern sculptures fill a 4.4-acre park, using the Des Moines skyline as a scenic backdrop. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park features artwork from 21 international artists, including Nomade, a 27-foot-tall sculpture from Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The piece: a human form consisting of white letters. Standing inside Nomade offers a unique view of the area, especially on a sunny day, when you can see the blue sky through the letters. Swiss sculptor Ugo Rondinone’s Moonrise resembles the statues found on Easter Island. As you traverse the park, you’ll find horses that look like they were made from driftwood, as well as Thinker on the Rock — a spin off of Rodin’s The Thinker — using a large hare sitting on a rock in the famous pose. In 2018, the park added a giant pumpkin, standing nearly 8 feet tall with polka dots to resemble its ripeness. Open since 2009, the park is accessible daily from 6 a.m. until midnight.
Pro Tip: For a truly unique experience, enjoy lunch or dinner at nearby Zombie Burger. With a post-apocalyptic décor, the restaurant gives off a Walking Dead vibe, only with really good burgers with names like 28 Days Later, They’re Coming to Get You, Barbara, and Undead Guy BBQ Burger. The eatery also features salads and room for a sweet ice cream shake.
6. Honoring-The-Clans Sculpture Garden And Cultural Plaza
Celebrating the 12 clans of the Ho Chunk (Winnebago) Nation, Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza offers a look into the history of the tribe. A sculpture representing each clan includes the responsibilities and roles they played in ensuring the safe operation of tribal government, including security for chiefs, peacetime leadership, water and land management, and communication. Clan names include Thunder, Bear, Buffalo, Pigeon, and Eagle. Created by Ho Chunk artist Charles Aldrich, Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza is located on the north end of town, and is open year-round.
Pro Tip: Winnebago is home to the oldest pow wow in North America. The Homecoming Celebration — honoring the Winnebago scouts led by Chief Little Priest — is held the last weekend of July.
Located in downtown St. Louis, Citygarden grew from a couple blocks of open space among skyscrapers. Covering almost 3 acres, the sculpture park — described as an urban oasis — showcases 24 sculptures. From a Pinocchio-looking sculpture named Big White Gloves, Big Four Wheels to the bodiless Big Suit sculpture, each statue is a hands-on experience for visitors. Citygarden is a beautiful area to visit, with six rain gardens, a spray plaza (popular during the summer heat), and a 180-foot-long pool featuring a 6-foot waterfall. Two tall walls run along the park, offering perfect spots to enjoy lunch or people watching. The park has been popular with locals and visitors alike since opening in 2009.
Pro Tip: Located just west of Gateway Arch National Park, Citygarden includes an excellent view of the Arch. It’s an easy stroll to the national park, where you can ride the tram to the top of the Arch and view the area, as well as walk the grounds along the Mississippi River. The Old Courthouse, home of the famous Dred Scott Supreme Court case, is featured as part of the national park.
Bonus: City Of Presidents Walking Tour
Rapid City, South Dakota
As the home of Mount Rushmore, it makes sense to honor all the American presidents along with the four appearing on the side of the mountain in the Black Hills. In 2000, locals started recognizing each president with a statue along the City of Presidents walk, covering a 12-block area of downtown. The sculptures feature a president in a pose significant with his story, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt standing behind a podium as he speaks. Roosevelt, who was diagnosed with polio when he was 39, used a cane and wheelchair during the second half of his presidency. Ronald Reagan is featured wearing a cowboy hat, a regular sight at his California ranch. Calvin Coolidge’s statue depicts him waving a cowboy hat while standing next to a saddle that was gifted to him during a visit to Rapid City. A map can be downloaded, which you can use for a self-guided tour.
Pro Tip: While in Rapid City, combine the City of Presidents walking tour with a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which includes a beautiful avenue featuring state flags. You can also hike the area in front of the monument.