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Snake Alley.
The lightly-traveled switchbacks of Snake Alley can be driven, but only at a crawl.

Snake Alley: A Very Crooked Street

Field review by the editors.

Burlington, Iowa

Snake Alley, called by some The Crookedest Street in the World, was built to move traffic up and down a hillside too steep for a straight road. A news clipping from 1894 described the serpentine roadway as "a triumph of practical street engineering." Its switchbacks were smartly designed to be steeper on the inside than the outside. Its paving bricks, instead of being laid smooth like on other brick roads, were laid edge-up and beveled to give better footing for horses (This required a lot more bricks).

Snake Alley.

Despite the purely practical motives of its builders, the block-long street was so odd that it became an attraction. It acquired its "Snake Alley" nickname soon after it opened, and was featured on some of America's earliest picture postcards.

It had less success as a functioning thoroughfare. Horses had difficulty climbing its curves, so the street was made one-way down, a restriction that remains to this day.

And when San Francisco built Lombard Street in 1922, the Crookedest Street Fight began.

Which street is more crooked? Our scientific testing equipment (ping pong balls and a stopwatch) only proved what any visitor to both streets can see: Snake Alley is slightly shorter than Lombard Street, and there's a lot less traffic

The battle is sometimes fought with stats -- steepness of grade, total degrees of turning -- but that only muddles what should be a straightforward choice: if you want the most numerous turns in your crooked street, Lombard Street wins; if you want the most extreme turns, Snake Alley is the victor.

Snake Alley has additional attributes. It's a frozen-in-time attraction that looks almost exactly as it did when it was built in 1894; even the bricks are the same. Its location in the heartland makes it accessible to more Americans than its Left Coast rival. And while it lacks the celebrity status of Lombard Street, it's also free of Lombard's perpetual tourist procession gridlock. During our visit to Snake Alley on a weekday afternoon, we saw only a handful of other cars driving down it.

You can walk on Snake Alley year-round, but the street is only open to cars during the warmer, ice-free months. That's when you want to visit. The engineering of Snake Alley is impressive on foot, but the fun is being able to inch down it in your vehicle, without anyone in front or behind you, at a heart-stopping 3 mph.

Also see: Steepest Street | Lombard Street

Snake Alley: A Very Crooked Street

N. 6th St., Burlington, IA
US Hwy 34 exit 262B. Drive south on N. Central Ave., then quickly make first left onto Court St. Drive four blocks. Turn right onto Sixth St. Drive one block to the entrance to Snake Alley.
Closed in winter. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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