Visiting Buddy Holly Crash Site & More in Clear Lake, Iowa


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Are you looking for Buddy Holly Crash Site Directions? If you’re heading to Clear Lake, Iowa to learn about the Surf Ballroom’s Rock-n-Roll history and the infamous plane crash that killed three famous musicians, here’s what you need to know!

the glasses making trail head to buddy holly crash site

The Buddy Holly Crash Site Address: 22728 Gull Avenue in Clear Lake, Iowa

I have visited the Buddy Holly Crash Site and Attractions as part of two hosted press trips with other travel writers. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Listening to the song American Pie takes me back to my college days. I have vivid memories of singing this song at fun college parties with my friends. Back in the day, I had no idea the song referenced. I also didn’t know that I would visit the place that served as its inspiration later in my life.

Music enthusiasts, lake lovers, nature admirers will all love the small town of Clear Lake, Iowa. Home to the Surf Ballroom and the site of Buddy Holly’s plane crash, Clear Lake is infamous as “the place the music died,” the inspiration for Don McLean’s iconic 1971 hit song, “American Pie.” I’m sure you know it!

don mclean's signature in the surf ballroom

“I started singing bye-bye, Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee

But the levee was dry

Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die”

This will be the day that I die”

Don McLean “American Pie”
who died in the plane crash in clear lake

Who died in the plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa?

Three big rock-n-roll stars, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson, plus the 21 year old pilot, Roger Peterson, died in that fateful plane crash on February 3, 1959. Investigators didn’t ascertain the exact cause, but they suspected that bad weather and instrument disorientation were to blame.

How did Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP Richardson end up on that flight?

In 1959 the first ever Winter Dance Party was held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Buddy Holly and many more musicians were there to perform. After the heat went out on their tour bus, Buddy Holly chartered a plane to take him and bandmates Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to Fargo, the next stop on their tour.

None of the other musicians wanted to take the cold bus either, so bandmates bartered with each other to get the plane seats. Ritchie Valens won a seat on the plane in coin toss with Tommy Allsup. JP Richardson had the flu, so Jennings gave up his seat. 

Instead of Holly, Jennings and Allsup on the plane, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP Richardson got the flight. Apparently Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings joked with each other: Holly hoping the bus would freeze up and Jennings hoping the plane would crash. Jennings said his plane crash comment haunted him badly for the rest of his life.

Can you visit the Buddy Holly Crash site?

Wondering if you can visit the Buddy Holly Crash site? The answer is yes, even though you might think you are trespassing when you first get to the right spot!

Located along a working farm field just north of Clear Lake, Iowa, it is possible to see the exact spot where the plane went down. However, you do have to be able to find the site and you must be willing to walk about a quarter of a mile down uneven farm ground.

walking the trail to buddy holly crash site

Buddy Holly Crash Site Directions from Clear Lake, Iowa

Where is the plane crash site of Buddy Holly?

The crash site address is 22728 Gull Avenue in Clear Lake, Iowa. It’s about a 15 minute drive from the Mason City airport and a little longer from the town of Clear Lake.

But you’ll need more than the address to find the spot.

To get to the Buddy Holly Crash Site from Clear Lake, Iowa, you have two choices. You can hop on I-35 and head north, or you can head north on North 8th Street (which turns into Grouse Avenue). If you take I-35, exit on 300th street and head West, then turn North on Grouse Ave.

Side of the road at the Buddy Holly Crash Site

You’re looking for 310th Street off of Grouse, a gravel road that jogs to the right. Turn on 310th Street, then turn North on Gull Avenue. Now start looking for the glasses that will be on the left side of the road. They’re easy to miss, as they aren’t that big!

buddy holly glasses to scale
The glasses marking the path to the crash site – with me in them for scale.

I knew to look for these glasses which you’d think would have been pretty obvious. Yet, I still missed the spot and had to turn around. When I saw the pictures of the glasses on the internet I thought they were much bigger and taller than they actually are.

Park your car on the side of the road (there’s no parking lot) and get out by the glasses. Now you start walking through the fields!

Nothing near the glasses indicated I needed to walk or even where I was. I texted my husband a picture of my car on the side of the gravel road and joked with him that I was at the Buddy Holly Crash Site in case I didn’t return.

It was a short hike down a worn path to get to the actual crash site and memorial. I’m not going to lie, a couple times before I got to the shrine, I thought about turning around! It was a little disconcerting to be alone in the middle of someone’s private field the first time I visited.

No worries though – you are 100% allowed to take the trek to the memorial. And the hike itself isn’t strenuous.

buddy holly memorial at crash site

Once you’re there, you’ll find guitar picks, coins, cigarettes, and more at a small shrine honoring the three musicians who lost their lives that cold, fateful day in February. 

Travel is amazing and not just because of the fun things to do. You also get to relive history and learn to appreciate the people around you. I will always encourage people to travel. Learning about others, what shapes a community or a mindset is so very valuable.

Other Buddy Holly Attractions to See in Clear Lake

Make sure you visit all of these other attractions related to Buddy Holly while you’re in Clear Lake.

the surf ballroom clear lake

The Surf Ballroom & Museum

The place were the music lives, the Surf Ballroom is a must visit. Here, you can take in the museum and do all of these moving things as well:

  • Watch the informative video
  • Sit in an old booth
  • Spend time reading the famous signatures in the Green Room
  • Take a twirl on the stage
  • Read through posters and exhibits about the history of the ballroom and the Winter Dance Party
  • Attend a concert during the Summer Concert Series or modern day Winter Dance Party
  • Read a sympathy telegram Elvis sent to JP Richardson’s family.

These are all things you can do when you visit the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

The Surf Ballroom | 460 North Shore Drive Clear Lake, Iowa 50428

the fox house clear lake

Self guided tours are free but donations are encouraged. For $12 a ticket, you can take a Deluxe Guided Tour with a knowledgeable guide. The Deluxe Tour gets you access to the historic Fox House directly across the street too!

The Fox House | 460 North Shore Drive Clear Lake, Iowa 50428

three stars park

Three Stars Park

This interactive sculpture looks like a giant record player with three records – one for each of the musicians who died in the plane crash. Push each of the buttons and listen as music history is brought to life! I recommend stopping by at dusk to see it lit in neon blue colors!

Three Sisters Park | 474 North Shore Drive Clear Lake, Iowa 50428

Buddy Holly Crash Site in Clear Lake, Iowa

For more things to do in Clear Lake check out this post! Also, reach out to the Clear Lake CVB to request your free visitor’s guide here!

For more of our favorite places to visit in Iowa, check out these posts:

Eastern Iowa Summer Bucket List Inspiration

Head to Oskaloosa for the Lights but Stay for More

Festive Things to do in Pella, Iowa at Christmastime

Art, History, Culture & More in Dubuque, Iowa

Outdoor Adventure in Fort Dodge Iowa

7 Beautiful Eastern Iowa State Parks

Visiting the Madison County Covered Bridges

Ready to travel? Use these helpful links to book your stay!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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    1. It was fun – honestly there’s not a whole ton to see, but it was still interesting to stop and look and think. <3

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! We walk a fine line between making the memorial accessible and not exploitative. Your post will be helpful to those who wish to visit the memorial! The photo with your vehicle helps show the scale of the glasses trail-marker.