Planning a road trip on Route 66? Choose your route wisely

Quick notes:

– Much of Route 66 is no longer paved, and your car may not be able to handle the modern, decommissioned experience that is the iconic highway

– That said, Route 66 remains a popular way to see America, offering a heavy dose of nostalgia and beautiful scenery to boot

– The highway has evolved over the years, and there is far more than one way to travel Route 66, and each iteration will require more or less of your time

Route 66 is perhaps the most iconic road in the world, and certainly in America. Route 66 remains in the cultural lexicon and is a must-drive for those embarking on the quintessential American road trip. 

Route 66 has been decommissioned for quite some time now, and it is no longer shown on most modern maps. But you can still drive Route 66, so long as you’re willing to endure stretches of unpaved road. These are some of the most popular ways to embark on the Route 66 experience.

Historic Route 66: A remnant of the past

The original Route 66 spanned roughly 2,400 miles, starting in Chicago, IL and spanning nearly half of the country to its final mile in Los Angeles, CA. Originally established in 1926, the uber-lengthy highway came to be known as the Main Street of America, as it offered views of America’s diversity.

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But as America’s interstate highway system evolved around the 1970s, Route 66 became less of a practical way to travel the country and more of a remnant of days past. You can still travel what is essentially the original Route 66, though in most states it is now referred to as “Historic Route 66” and runs parallel to better-maintained, modern highways.

There are several options for taking a Route 66-themed road trip, with different iterations providing unique experiences.

Route 66 for the time-strapped traveler

Look and you will find many versions of the two-week Route 66 experience. Here are two-week-or-less options for those who don’t have a month or more to dedicate to a cross-country excursion.

The straight shot

According to the National Scenic Byways Program, the longest stretch of Route 66 runs 1,410 miles long and goes through Illinois, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. This stretch can be done in only five or six days, and you’re bound to see some stunning sites. The drive through the iconic rock formations that populate the Arizona desert should be on everyone’s bucket list, as should the Grand Canyon, which you can access by following Historic Route 66.

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Those who want to cobble together a trip that imitates the old, 2,400-mile Route 66 experience should allow a bit more time — three weeks to a month is probably ideal. This time frame will allow travelers to soak up the many potential sites and experiences that still pepper Historic Route 66.

Route 66 for travelers with time to spare

There is no shortage of sites to see and things to do along Route 66. There is no way we could list every worthwhile attraction along Route 66 as it currently exists, but we’ve done our best to pick out some worthwhile spots along this iconic road (or, more accurately today, series of roads).

Illinois

Favorites of travelers who have taken Historic Route 66 through Illinois include:

Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station in Dwight, IL

The Lauterbatch Muffler Man in Springfield, IL

The Historical Chain of Rocks Bridge in Madison, IL

Missouri

Parts of Route 66 run through Missouri, with highlights including:

The World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair in Fanning, MO

The Big Chief Hotel in Wildwood, MO

The 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage, MO

Kansas

Don’t let The Wizard of Oz fool you, there is plenty worth seeing along Route 66’s Kansas stretch, including:

The Kan-O-Tex Gas Station in Galena, KS

The Historic Rainbow Bridge in Riverton, KS

Cafe on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, KS

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Oklahoma

Those traveling through Oklahoma should stop to check out:

Round Barn Historic Site in Arcadia, OK

Conoco Hole in the Wall in Commerce, OK

The Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK

Texas

Texas is home to the second-shortest stretch of Route 66 (trailing only Kansas), but still has many cool experiences. Some attractions of note in Texas include:

The Conoco Power Station in Shamrock, TX

The Cafe at the Midpoint of Route 66 in Adrian, TX

The Vega Motel in Vega, TX

New Mexico

New Mexico is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the States, and Route 66’s path through the state convenes with some cool sites including:

The Saint Joseph Church in Laguna Pueblo, NM

San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the U.S., in Santa Fe, NM

Whiting Brothers Service Station in Moriarty, NM

Arizona

We’ve already talked about the stunning rock formations that line Route 66’s Arizona circuit, as well as the Grand Canyon. Some other worthwhile stops include:

Barringer Crater in Barringer Crater, AZ

The Historic Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ

The Four Corners in Winslow, AZ (shout out to The Eagles)

California

The final state on the epic treck that is Route 66 has plenty to offer travelers, including:

El Garces in Needles, CA

The Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, CA (duh)

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The Bagdad Cafe in Newberry Springs, CA

Time for a memorable road trip

Your Route 66 road trip will ultimately be as long or as short as you choose. The sites you want to stop for will depend on your interests and time limitations, but if you’re going to take the trip down memory lane via Route 66, we recommend you do it right — see it all because you never know if you’ll have another chance.

 

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101: 

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