To some travelers, Route 66 is known as “America’s Main Street.” To others, it is known as “The Mother Road.” No matter how you define it, there is no doubt that this 2,448-mile highway serves as a remnant of America’s history. Best of all, there is so much to explore along the route.
In this Route 66 road trip guide, we will take you through some of the most fascinating landmarks across the highway and provide you with essential tips to turn your adventure into a fascinating tale!
Why Is Route 66 So Special?
The history of Route 66 can be traced back to 1926 after the Bureau of Public Roads initiated the first federal highway system. Initially, this highway served as the shortest path, connecting major cities such as Chicago, Springfield, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. After World War II, Route 66 became a staple of America’s growing economic productivity. Popularity increased, and traffic boomed on the highway.
The original highway would eventually be replaced by five major interstates over the next few decades. By 1985, it was officially removed from the U.S. Highway System. That said, while the original road no longer exists on modern maps, you can still drive through preserved sections of the route. In some states, Route 66 parallels the interstate highway.
Route 66 remains a symbolic representation of America’s fascinating tale of travel and heritage. It linked the West with the Midwest, provided millions with the opportunity to relocate, and showcased some of our country’s most spectacular scenery. Today, the remains of the original route pass through eight states, starting from Illinois and ending in California.
Best Stopping Points on Route 66
While the original highway no longer exists, you can still navigate your way through portions of Route 66. Unless you’re planning a one-way journey across all eight states, you’ll need to select your stopping points. For example, you can stop by Winslow, Arizona, and see the all-famous meteor crater before heading off to Santa Rosa in New Mexico and exploring Blue Hole Lake.
To help you narrow down your selections for your road trip on Route 66, here are some iconic stopping points across each state:
Illinois stopping points
- Midwest Hot Roads: If you have a fascination with classic cars and artistic creations, then you will love Midwest Hot Roads — an award-winning company that designs hot rods and other custom-built cars.
- Joliet Area Historical Museum: Take a peek into the historical side of Joliet, Illinois, by stopping at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. They house state-of-the-art exhibits, life-sized models, and an interactive lunar lander simulator. They even offer educational programs.
Missouri stopping points
- Meramec Caverns: Known as “Missouri’s buried treasure,” Meramec Caverns is a 4.6-mile cavern system that has existed for approximately 400 million years. Its eye-catching mineral formations are enough to keep visitors intrigued for several hours. Plus, you can sign up for their guided-walking tours.
- Red Oak II: Have you ever wanted to take a stroll through a ghost town? If so, stop by Red Oak II. Designed by Lowell Davis as an original copy of the original town, Red Oak II is home to an old schoolhouse, a feed store, a city hall, and art exhibits. Since these buildings require regular maintenance, it is customary for visitors to leave tips in the donation box located next to the general store.
Kansas stopping points
- Galena Mining and Historical Museum: Occupying an old railroad depot, the Galena Mining and Historical Museum features large displays of mineral equipment, a collection of oil paintings, and even military equipment. Despite their irregular hours, the staff is willing to accommodate visitors.
- Brush Creek Bridge: Also known as Rainbow Bridge, the Brush Creek Bridge stands as the only rainbow arch bridge on the entirety of Route 66. The bridge is less than a mile long and is open to vehicular traffic.
Oklahoma stopping points
- Blue Whale Catoosa: How would you like to see the preserved structure of the biggest animal on the planet? If so, head to the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Once there, you will come across a 24-meter-long Catoosa Whale. It remains one of the most iconic attractions on Route 66.
- National Route 66 Museum: Dive deep into the historical tale of Route 66 by stopping by the National Route 66 Museum. This establishment focuses on the fascinating stories of those whose lives were changed by the Mother Road. Relive their personal experiences through murals, vignettes, and audio kiosks.
Texas stopping points
- Devil’s Rope Museum: What can you find at Devil’s Rope Museum? The list includes Route 66 maps, vintage gas pumps, a 50’s dinner display, and the largest collection of barbed wire in the world.
- Cadillac Ranch: It is not every day you get to see multiple Cadillac vehicles with their noses down. However, that is exactly what you will find at Cadillac Ranch, located west of Amarillo, Texas. Tourists are always welcome.
New Mexico stopping points
- Blue Hole Lake: Explore New Mexico’s aquatic gem known as the Blue Hole Lake. This natural phenomenon has a surface diameter of 80 feet and is a popular attraction for divers. Best of all, the water remains at a constant 62 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Santa Maria Mission: For something quick, stop by the Santa Maria Mission in Pueblo, New Mexico. Be sure to take several pictures of the church.
Arizona stopping points
- Barringer Crater: Considered the best-preserved crater on Earth, the Barringer Crater has a depth of approximately 500 feet with a diameter of 0.8 miles. It is also the largest impact crater in the United States! You can either guide yourself on the rim’s trails or join a guided tour.
- Grand Canyon Caverns: If you’re up for a caving adventure, then explore 65 million years of cavern formation at the Grand Canyon Caverns. A regular cavern tour lasts approximately 45 minutes and is suitable for all ages.
California stopping points
- Western America Railroad Museum: If you are into trains and railroads, stop by the Western America Railroad Museum. Visitors can see historical displays and educational forums that depict the history of railroading in the Pacific Southwest.
- Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch: Explore one man’s fascination with bottles and forest like-settings at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Started by Elmer Long, a scrap material artist, the Tree Ranch consists of several metal pipes with bottles hanging from them. It is quite an artistic display!
Best Time To Visit Route 66
Route 66 spans thousands of miles, stretches across several states and is home to several climate zones. Because of this, there is no simple way of determining the best season for a road trip. Depending on your destinations, you’ll find that certain seasons present more favorable conditions than others. That said, most people find that the best time to take a road trip on Route 66 is between late spring and early fall.
Most businesses and attractions remain open during this period. If you’re traveling in the winter, be advised that some roads in the Midwest region may close due to snow storms. That said, summertime can also be problematic, especially if you’re exploring states with intense heat, like Arizona and Texas. No matter the season, think ahead, use your intuition, and prepare for the worst conditions.
Final Tips for a Route 66 Trip
Spend some time going over the logistics of your adventure. The last thing you want to do is to wing your vacation with no clear direction. Here are some tips to help get you started:
- Select your destinations: Are you traveling eastward, hoping to explore the Windy City? Maybe you’re traveling westward to reach the desert of Arizona? Whatever the case, be specific in your selections and decide how much time you want to spend on your destinations.
- Finalize a budget: Here is a no-brainer: road trips can be expensive. To simplify the budgeting process, ask yourself the following questions: What vehicle will I drive? How many days will I travel? How many nights will I spend in a motel/hotel? Where and what will I eat? Keep in mind that these are just the basics.
- Rely on specific maps: Since the route was decomposed back in the 1980s, you won’t find any Route 66 signs to guide you. Instead, you’ll need to rely on either guidebooks or specific maps that follow a similar path. Some travelers skip sections of the original route to save time.
- Select quality transportation: Unless you own a vehicle capable of traveling long distances, you need proper transportation. If you plan to rent a vehicle, decide where you are going to spend your nights. You can sleep in the car, rent an Airbnb, or reserve a spot at a campground.
Explore the Mother Road With Cruise America
A Route 66 road trip is an excellent way to indulge in America’s history, explore new destinations, and travel as far as the eye can see.
Settle in for the long road ahead with a Cruise America RV rental. Our vehicles are equipped with state-of-the-art home conveniences, allowing you to travel peacefully and make the most of your journey. Contact us to get started!