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.
Editor’s Note: We updated this article April 2022 to include this video of a drive down Snake Alley. It was originally published in 2015.
A 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.
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.
Don’t miss a Midwest Wanderer post. For a FREE subscription, enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe2 box to the right and click Subscribe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address to the right and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm. – Connie