Located about an hour north of Atlanta in Habersham County, the Schoolbus Graveyard is arguably among the most unusual and intriguing roadside attractions in North Georgia.
Surrounding Alonzo Wade Used Cars & Auto Parts– a 5-acre junkyard that has been in Walter Wade’s family for 60+ years– the colorful landmark embodies two classic clichés.
One is “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade;” the other is “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
The assemblage of 120+ painted school buses is truly an eye-catching oddity.
It’s the most artful security perimeter this side of the Berlin Wall.
It’s got a hip, urban style in a region much better known for Appalachian culture.
And in an era where everyone is desperate to make an honest buck, it is absolutely free.
Read on to learn more about the history of this painted school bus graveyard, how to get there, and see closeup photos of some of its most stunning works of art.
SCHOOLBUS GRAVEYARD INFO
• Alonzo Wade Used Cars and Auto Parts has been a staple of North Georgia’s Habersham County since 1959.
• Now co-owned by Alonzo’s son, Walter, and his wife, Deb, the 5-acre junkyard is protected by a perimeter of more than 120 decommissioned schoolbuses.
• Over the past decade, this unusual roadside attraction has been visited by artists from all over the world, from Los Angeles and San Diego to Quebec and Ireland.
• Wade’s family donates cars for elementary and middle school kids to paint, and allows photography students and instructors free access to take pictures of their vehicles.
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How to Get to the Schoolbus Graveyard
Directions from Atlanta, GA
Take I-75 N/I-85 N, using the left lanes to take exit 251B for I-85 N toward GA-400/Greenville.
Stay on I-85 N for approximately 27.8 miles. Keep left at the fork to continue on I-985 N for 23.7 miles, following the signs for Gainesville.
Continue onto US-23 N for 13.9 miles, then turn left onto Crane Mill Rd. Alonzo Wade Rd will be on the right. Park on shoulder of Crane Mill Rd for quick Schoolbus Graveyard access.
Directions from Blue Ridge, GA
Follow US-76 E for 21 miles to Blairsville. Turn right onto Murphy Hwy, then make a quick left onto Blue Ridge St.
In .3 miles, turn right onto Hunt Martin St, then go .4 miles and turn right onto Cleveland St. Continue onto US-129 S/US-19 S.
Keep following US-129 S for 30.5 miles, until you reach Cleveland, GA. Turn left onto GA-115 N/E Kytle St, continue to follow GA-115 N for 6.2 miles.
Turn right onto GA-384 S/Duncan Bridge Rd SW, and go 7.6 miles until you reach US-23 S/Tommy Irvin Pkwy. Turn right and take US-23 for 4.1 miles.
Turn right on Crane Mill Rd. Alonzo Wade Rd will be on the right. Park on shoulder of Crane Mill Rd for quick Schoolbus Graveyard access.
READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge, GA
SCHOOLBUS GRAVEYARD HISTORY
Overlooking GA Hwy 23 in Alto, GA (about 20 miles north of Gainesville), the vivid colors of the Schoolbus Graveyard are a stunning sight to see as you make your way north through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The decommissioned school buses that surround Alonzo Wade Used Cars & Auto Parts were originally intended as a security measure.
Selling used school buses had long been part of Walter Wade’s business.
But when scrap metal prices began to skyrocket just prior to the Great Recession of 2008, thieves began breaking into the junkyard and stealing bus radiators and other auto parts.
Wade’s massive ring of school buses, junked cars and trucks, and RVs proved effective at keeping scavengers out.
But it soon attracted an anonymous artist who left a graffiti tag of a ghost with the message, “Sorry about the bus.”
Wade, who’s also a part-time schoolbus driver, liked the graffiti so much, he decided to track down the artist.
It ultimately proved to be one of the students who rode his bus. So he asked the teen to come back and create more schoolbus art.
By 2010 those first few pieces caught the attention of a local muralist, who asked Wade’s permission to create larger painted bus pieces.
The owner agreed, with the caveats that the artist couldn’t climb anything, and all of the art had to be family-friendly.
Over the last 10 years, dozens of artists have contributed their work to this unusual outdoor exhibit. Some have come from as far away as California, Quebec, and Ireland.
Schoolbus Graveyard Photo Gallery
When you park along the shoulder of Crane Mill Rd, walk down to GA Hwy 23 and make a left, following the concrete drainage ditch.
You should see a section leaning up the hill to this brilliantly beautiful bird bus at the top.
Unlike some of the painted school buses, this one does not have a tag indicating the artist’s name. But we loved the vivid colors, symmetry, and positive symbolism.
Hummingbird Bus by ARM@a.7.r.7.m
This is one of the few buses that leaves the classic yellow-orange color intact.
It helps to offset the brilliant blue, green, and red colors of Georgia’s beloved Ruby-throated Hummingbird, one of our favorite backyard birds.
We love how the fuchsia and purple flower is complemented by the sign in the background, urging visitors to “STAY OFF THE BUSES!!!”
Blue Ridge Mountains Bus by @AnAwkwardSoulQ
Arguably my favorite piece at the Schoolbus Graveyard combines a surreal colored sky with the distinctive blue ridges of the North Georgia mountains.
From an artistic standpoint, it’s a beautiful blend of styles, including realism, surrealism, and pointillism.
#CODY$TYLE Space Monkey Bus by Cody-18
The day-glo colors and out-of-this-world visuals of this interstellar abstract are so psychedelic, you’d almost expect to see them in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points or Wylie Street.
There’s a lot to take in here, from the astronaut monkey’s facial expression to the trippy eyeball’s Illuminati imagery and the cartoonish UFO.
This is the sort of otherworldly piece we could photograph for a long time, just soaking in all the quirky little details.
Skull & Fish Truck by @Drake-Arnold-Art
This gorgeous piece by @Drake-Arnold-Art stands out for several different reasons.
Where most of the painted school buses are intensely colorful, this one is mostly shades of black, white, and grey. Which only makes the Nemo-like Clownfish even more striking.
Also, the truck is the only vehicle we saw on the outer perimeter of the Schoolbus Graveyard that was not actually part of that protective barrier.
It literally stands apart from everything else, and we loved the stark contrast between death (skull) and life (fish and coral reef).
Alligator Bus by @Bongo Peter Loose
Something about the “He Is Big As A Bus” piece from Bongo Peter Loose instantly reminded me of our time exploring the swamps of Louisiana’s Cajun country.
The 13 ft, 2-inch Alligator is obviously the star of the show, but the devil of this blue beauty is in the details.
Note the skeletons cautioning guests not to swim in his pond, the fish skeletons in the murky waters below, the ghostly smiley faces on the tires, and “YES” scattered throughout.
Faces Mural by @TuckChaylor
Though his Instagram feed is more devoted to his photography than his paintings, artist @TuckChaylor has a unique visual style that really stands out.
The distinctive lines add loads of character to the myriad faces in this simple, but effective mural, with lemon and lime background colors that really pop.
Whether intentional or unintentional, the glaring monkey face superimposed on top of it all evokes comparisons to Cody-18’s piece above.
Chameleon/Iguana Bus (Artist Unknown)
One of the more unusual painted buses we saw, this piece uses aluminum siding to create a unique 3D visual effect, while also protecting a gap between the vehicles.
When viewed from the front, it really did look like an Iguana or Chameleon, with its long pink tongue snaking out at the bottom.
Though it’s difficult to see from this angle, the detail on the skin was truly extraordinary, reminding us of lizards we’ve seen up close in Costa Rica, Panama, and East Africa.
Get Lost Bus by @NackNoMore
The Schoolbus Graveyard is a welcoming place, but it has a few simple rules:
- DO NOT climb on the buses.
- DO NOT go under the buses.
- DO NOT break the glass/windows on the buses.
- DO NOT climb over the fence or go under it.
- DO NOT go thru their yards to get to the buses.
- DO NOT PAINT THE BUSES: THAT IS RESERVED FOR THE ARTISTS!!!
This painted bus from @NackNoMore makes their official stance crystal clear: “Don’t be long if you don’t belong!”
But if you’re willing to follow the Wade family’s rules and respect their boundaries, the Schoolbus Graveyard really is one of the most fascinating art attractions in the entire state of Georgia. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett