Red Oak II is a cross between a living museum and an art exhibit, created by artist Lowell Davis as a tribute to Missouri of the past, and the original city of Red Oak, Missouri, as remembered from the artist’s childhood.
Today, Red Oak II sits in a quiet field a few miles outside of Joplin Missouri (though it is technically closer to Carthage Missouri. With few signs on the highway indicating its location, in my opinion, this is one of the most unique and authentic gems on Route 66- but sadly, it’s also one of the least well-known. Hundreds of thousands of travelers race down I-44 on their way to the national parks of the West or the coastal adventures offered by the South, but miss this immersive, massive, and whimsical art project just a few miles from Route 66, Interstate 44, and the more-popular nearby destination Grand Falls (Missouri’s largest waterfall).
Directions to Red Oak
Red Oak, MO can be a little tricky to find, since the village isn’t marked by the same obnoxious roadside signs that many Route 66 attractions are. Instead, use Google Maps to navigate to this dropped pin and keep your eyes peeled for small signs, handmade by the artist, as you approach.
Is a Red Oak Two a ghost town?
Although Red Oak II shows up on some listings of Missouri ghost towns, Red Oak II is not a ghost town– it lives on as an open-air museum and art gallery.
How Red Oak 2 got its Name
Red Oak II is an abandoned town now reenergized with new life. When the artist realized the tiny rural town of his youth was being abandoned, and businesses and homes were standing empty, he envisioned bringing the town back to life – and that’s exactly what he did. Lowell Davis began buying homes and businesses in the original town of Red Oak, Missouri and relocated each building just over 20 miles to what had previously been a cornfield on his farm, Fox Fire Farm outside of Carthage, Missouri.
Once this ghost town was carefully relocated and restored, it didn’t just remain an empty town in the field, buildings, where possible, actually housed inhabitants who were thrilled to live within this living art exhibit. Between the relocated buildings- what may have easily become a ghost town – flowers and sculptural art exhibits pepper the landscape.
What is the cost to visit Red Oak II?
Red Oak II does not have an entry admission fee – anyone can visit. There is, however, a box to leave tips or a donation for maintenance and upkeep. The buildings, art exhibits, and land all require regular maintenance and these costs are offset by donations left by visitors to Red Oak II. You’ll find the donation box on the right side of the general store.
A fun road trip stop for, family, and couples
Many people approaching Joplin, MO on I 44 (or on the “blue highways” following the original Route 66) pass-through this region without stopping. Both I-44 and the old route 66 trace a path from St. Louis, Missouri to Tulsa, Oklahoma without many major points of interest in between.
Rather than making this whole 6 to 8 Hour drive in one seat-numbing straight shot, Reds Oak II provides travelers an opportunity to not just see something interesting along the roadside, but also to get out and stretch their legs.
Red Oak Two is laid out in a large field in a horseshoe shape- the horseshoe driveway can be navigated by car (provided the gates are open allowing cars to pass). Many portions of the park, especially art exhibits, are not accessible to vehicles are visible from the car-friendly driveway that encircles the village.
Red Oak 2 is best seen through a combination of driving and walking. While it doesn’t appear that Red Oak two was designed to be wheelchair accessible, the flat terrain should make it accessible for people of many varying abilities and fitness levels.
When is the best time to go to red Oak II?
According to Red Oak II’s Facebook page the village is open to visitors from 7 AM to 9 PM seven days a week.
In my experience, Red Oak II has various “levels” of being open. If visiting during a weekday, for example, your visit may simply be wandering the village admiring buildings and art exhibits from the outside. However, if your visit on a Saturday in the spring, you may be lucky enough to find the general store or other buildings open, or a more interactive experience – perhaps even meeting the residents (yes, some of the homes are inhabited!) or caretakers of the village.
But The best time to visit Red Oak II is when an event is being hosted on the property. Events like Farm Fest or the annual Red Oak II Festival can be found on the events page.
Is it worth a detour to visit Red Oak II?
Although your experience may vary by season, weather, and other factors, I think Red Oak II is worth a detour from I 44 or Route 66. Even in the winter, when the village is not awash in wildflowers and Missouri native flowers, I think Red Oak II is a unique destination worth visiting. While Route 66 has seemingly thousands of roadside attractions- most of them rather expensive and not actually very impressive, Red Oak II is the real deal.
Never intended as a tourist attraction, Red Oak II was created by the vision of one man to create an art project that was truly unique. Even though Lowell Davis has passed away, his legacy endures- for now- and is well worth getting off the interstate to explore. Unlike most roadside attractions, there is no admission or entry fee to Red Oak II, only a passive request for donations to maintain the village.
Who Created Red Oak II
Red Oak was created by artist Lowell Davis. Sadly, Lowell Davis passed away in 2020, but it appears the village is being well-maintained and preserved as an open-air museum and art gallery. As Red Oak II included a churchyard cemetery, Lowell was buried in the graveyard. Some visitors bring wildflowers or small tokens to mark the grave during their visit. Prints of Lowell Davis’s art can be purchased on Etsy.
Reflections on my Last Visit to Red Oak Two
It’s been a long cold winter- the seventh coldest winter on record for the midwest- and projects and DIY adventures have taken a backseat to hot tea and movie nights. The cold is finally letting up and last weekend visiting family warranted a day trip to Carthage, MO, and the living art project that is “Red Oak 2”.
I hope to go back and take more photos when spring finally returns to our neck of the woods and brightens up the dull landscape, but a visit to Red Oak is fun during any season. This small village, located in rural Missouri, is the art project and brainchild of artist Lowell Davis who has interwoven relocated period buildings with art installments of every sort, all done with a sense of humor and classic rural American charm. Here are a few of my favorite photos from this trip.
One of my favorite parts of the epic barnyard and chicken coop, titled “Cackleberry Park”. The rustic building on the right side of this photo is the chicken coop.
I’ve always got an eye out spotting equestrian elements everywhere go- so had to snap a photo of this fence made with stone posts and brackets for the cross rails made using horse shoes.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.