Snake Alley: The Crookedest Street in the World

If you’re thinking I’m talking about Lombard Street in San Francisco, you’re wrong. The crookedest street in the world is Snake Alley in Burlington, Iowa.

Snake Alley, Burlington IowaA quick online search for the “crookedest street in the world” brings up several articles about Lombard Street. But read the articles, and you’ll see that they use terms like “often called” or “one of the crookedest streets.” In fact, some articles concede that Lombard Street isn’t even the crookedest street in San Francisco.

Ripley’s Says It’s So

On the other hand, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! lists Burlington’s Snake Alley as the crookest street in the world. Who can argue with that?

Do the Math

San Francisco’s 600 foot-long Lombard Street has eight switchbacks, or one switchback for every 75 feet. Burlington’s Snake Alley has five switchbacks in its shorter 275 foot length, or a switchback for every 55 feet.

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Snake Alley History

Snake Alley was built as an experimental street design in 1894 in an attempt to find a shorter route from the Heritage Hill residential neighborhood down to the business district, 58.3 feet below. Locally-fired blueclay brick was laid short-side up and at an angle to give horses better footing. Besides the five switchbacks, there are two quarter-turns in the road. Unfortunately, the road didn’t pass the experiment. It was too difficult to navigate the curves with a horse and buggy. But it makes a great tourist attraction today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bricks on Snake Alley

Driving Snake Alley

Snake alley is open to drive on. We drove on it several years ago when we visited Burlington. It’s a one-way street from top to bottom, so you don’t have to worry about passing cars on a curve. On my most recent visit, our group was touring in a large van, so we didn’t attempt to drive down the road. We walked it instead.

Driving Snake Alley, Burlington IowaCobblestone Alley

A quarter-block east of Snake Alley glimpse the only remaining limestone block alley in Burlington, referred to as Cobblestone Alley. No curves in this alley; it’s a straight shot down the incline. A chain across the entrance bears a “closed” sign, so I didn’t attempt to walk it. Besides, if I walked down, I would have had to walk back up. And I had just walked up the world’s crookedest street.

Cobblestone Alley

Snake alley is located in the 600 block of Washington Street Burlington, Iowa.

Disclosure: My visit to southeast Iowa was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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8 thoughts on “Snake Alley: The Crookedest Street in the World

  • July 14, 2015 at 11:11 pm
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    So interesting to read about the this little street. It seems so unique, but very hard to walk on. You probably can’t even do it without a good pair of walking shoes.

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  • August 7, 2015 at 7:49 pm
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    What a nice article, I grew up in Burlington and still cant resist driving down it wheneber I am home. We had to drive Snake Alley as part of our drivers ed class…..its a real treat when there is a car parked on it. Snake Alley is lined with a few beautiful homes so occasionally you will encounter a parked car. The Snake Alley Art Fair is a “must do”. The vendors set up on Snake Alley and the streets at the top. Wonderful event! And p.s…..our Snake Alley is much prettier than Lombard, if I do say so myself. :0)

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:42 pm
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      I would have hated to have to drive Snake Alley as part of driver’s ed. That would be an ultimate test. People really park their cars on it?
      I heard about the Snake Alley Art Fair. Sounds awesome.
      Thanks, Joanie.

      Reply
  • August 12, 2015 at 10:18 pm
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    I lived in Burlington the last 3 years of high school and yes, we do drive it for drivers ed. Lol. If you aren’t interested in driving snake alley, but you want to see or walk it, the best time to visit is during winter around Christmas. Downtown Burlington and especially the historical landmarks are breath-taking with fresh snow and holiday lights making everything seem like you have stepped back in time.

    Further facts: Lincoln did a presidential address while in Burlington. There is even a memorial of it. And, Burlington was the place Louis and Clark landed after crossing the Mississippi River during their expedition of the west.

    And if you are stopping there for tourism, eat at. Hungry Bear. Anyone in town can tell you where it is. If you want a view and don’t mind paying a bit more, Martini’s is only a few blocks from Snake Alley.

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    • August 13, 2015 at 10:41 am
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      Thanks for the additional information about Burlington, Misty. Christmas sounds like a lovely time to visit.

      Reply
    • October 19, 2017 at 10:50 am
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      Apologies for commenting on a thread that is 2+ years old, but I am not certain the information regarding Lewis & Clark landing in Burlington is correct. They began their journey West a short ways North of St. Louis at Camp Dubois and followed the Missouri River North and West following along the Western border of Iowa. I am rather certain that Lewis & Clark were never in the Burlington, Ia region… at least never during their expedition West.

      At or near the same time that the the expedition West (Missouri River) began another expedition went North along the Mississippi River headed by Lt. Zebulon Pike who made landfall at one point near the current location of Crapo Park in Burlington, Ia. which is why there is a marker there commemorating such an event.

      Both of these expeditions were solely performed so that the United States government had a better idea of what they actually purchased following the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

      Reply
      • October 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm
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        Hi Alex. Thank you for your feedback. Which article are you referring to? You commented on the Snake Alley article, which doesn’t mention Lewis & Clark. Thanks.

        Reply

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