Wall Drug Wall, S.Dak. Visited: June 28, 2004 NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site Local Website
WHAT IS IT? America’s most famous tourist trap due to its ubiquitous billboards, traveler-rich location, shameless self-promotion and free ice water.
BEAUTY (2/10) Wall Drug is a drugstore on drugs. It takes over an entire city block and has grown over the years to include souvenir shops, a cafeteria, ice cream shop and a courtyard of overgrown fiberglass creatures like dinosaurs and jackalopes. One might call it an eyesore. We call it delicious fun. We don’t think anyone would call it beautiful.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (2/10) Wall Drug’s history is a story of how one good idea – free ice water for hot and weary travelers - saved one family’s fading business. A little more innovation in the shape of roadside billboards and signs across the U.S. and the world put the family’s store on the map. Wall Drug now employs one third of the workforce in Wall, S.Dak. We saw several young international workers there, too.
CROWDS (7/10) The place was packed. On a good summer day, over 20,000 people will visit Wall Drug. Know what? Everyone we saw was happy – except for the petrified three-year old (see FUN).
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5) All signs lead to Wall Drug. They are impossible to miss. All areas in Wall Drug are accessible. Larger bathrooms are located through the Courtyard in back of the main building. You may find some aisles in the gift store a little cramped.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) Really quite excellent. A great selection. Good prices. Each of the Wall Drug top ten best selling books would have a nice home on our bookshelf (if we still had bookshelves). Wall Drug did not skimp in its offerings of books, magazines, books on tape and video cassettes. That lightweight paperback you wanted for the beach, the recipe book you’ve regretted not picking up back in North Dakota, the guide book you wish you had three hundred miles ago – they are all here.
COSTS (5/5) Wall Drug is free and they give you free things. Perfect.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) No Rangers. No guides.
TOURS/CLASSES (1/10) Aside from the pamphlets explaining the history of Wall Drug and a few framed newspaper articles on the wall, there is little in the way of classes or educational opportunities at Wall Drug.
FUN (7/10) Good clean fun. Not only did we help ourselves to some free water and bumper stickers, we treated ourselves to 5 cent coffee and some delicious doughnuts. The ice cream looked too good to resist as well. It seems that the Hustead’s plan works perfectly. Come for the freebies. Enjoy the kitsch. Buy some stuff while you’re there.
We watched the animatronics cowboy band with a banjo player that looked eerily like the late Ronald Reagan. We took pictures of each other and other tourists as we sat next to Poker Alice and other crusty looking cowboy types and climbed on the structures outside that perhaps were there for the kids. We laughed as a three year old turned and sprinted, wide-eyed, silent and determined, as the fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex came to life in the Backyard. His parents laughed too. In fact, I’m giggling remembering the scene.
Now if only that little girl would get off the jackalope. Where’s her mom?
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10) There is a huge bulletin board on the way to one set of bathrooms where people can leave notes for the international workers. There are at least forty languages and nations represented on the board.
Imagine yourself a young student from overseas lucky enough to have a work visa for the summer. Your first introduction to the United States is the wacky world of Wall Drug in the middle of nowhere South Dakota. What assumptions would you make about the rest of our nation based on your time there? Hopefully your memories are of tourists of all shapes and sizes laughing and having a good time despite their better tastes.
Wall Drug is the very definition of a tourist trap. Doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Take a break from the dusty road, get some free water and a 79 cent doughnut. You probably need to buy more sunscreen anyway.
USA-C2C.com is an independent website, not affiliated in any way with the National Park Service, the National Parks Foundation or any of their partners.