Planning a Route 66 Road Trip

November 11, 2015Travel Ideas
What is it about the Mother Road (also known as Route 66) that pulls at our imaginations?

For Americans who grew up in simpler times, Route 66 is a twenty-four-hundred mile tribute to automobile travel, one pump filling stations, and family-run diners.

Teaching new generations about this magical network of roadways between Chicago and Los Angeles gives them a taste of what makes America fascinating. That’s one of the reasons the National Park Service created the Route 66 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary. In addition to this well-researched resource, they’ve gone a step further with a shared-cost grant program that funds restoration of historic sites along Route 66.

Route 66 road going down the middle into the horizon

Just in case your own travel plans haven’t yet taken you along the Mother Road, here’s a small sampling of iconic stops in each of the eight states along the original Route 66. Notice we say “original Route 66.” The truth is that, due to the expansion of superhighways and the rerouting of secondary roads, it takes a little work to retrace the route once touted as “the quickest way to get from Chicago to Los Angeles.” Never fear—at the end of this post you’ll find a complete roadmap to get you from start to finish, and what you’ll find along the way is definitely worth the extra effort.

Grant Park, Chicago

Depending on your travel itinerary, this famed park on the shores of Lake Michigan can be the beginning or the end of your Route 66 journey. The site of historic events since the 1820s, Grant Park is also where you and your Mother Road vacation companions can photograph the “End Historic Route 66” marker.

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis & 66 Drive In Theater, Carthage

Your route will wind southwest through Illinois, offering stops at vintage cafes, classic filling stations, and photo-worthy Chain of Rocks Bridge (now for bicycles and pedestrians) reaching across the Mississippi River to link Madison, IL to St. Louis, MO.

Once you’re in the Show Me State, Route 66 will lead to quaint cabin-style motels, a county courthouse and the 66 Drive-In Theater in Carthage. Built in the 40’s and an excellent example of the drive-ins that were once found in every small town, the 66 Drive-In Theater has survived and now provides Route 66 travelers a glimpse of Americana.

Drive-in theater sign along Route 66

East Galena Route 66 Historic District

The Sunflower State hosts a slice of the Mother Road in its southeast corner with four special spots that are recognized as classic Route 66 roadside stops. The town of Galena, Kansas located on Kansas 66 has weathered epic ups and downs since 1876. Shaped by two separate mining booms, it now boasts an entire historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, Foyil

The Mother Road blends with I-44 from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City, but before you make that switch, you’ll find the town of Foyil, OK just three miles off Route 66 northeast of Tulsa. Foyil is home to a roadside attraction celebrating folk art and one man’s tenacity. Ed Galloway spent decades creating his own special brand of outdoor art, including a nine-story totem pole and other Native American themed pieces. Take the time to make the detour to Foyil and Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park—it’s the kind of thing that Route 66 fans live for.

Amarillo Sixth Street Historic District

Here’s your chance to experience thirteen blocks of vintage architecture, old style filling stations and roadside cafes that have charmed travelers since Route 66 was commissioned. Just west of Amarillo’s downtown district, Sixth Street rates a full day to explore, dine, shop and photograph as you follow US-66 across the Texas Panhandle.

Sites throughout Albuquerque

There are simply too many gems along Route 66 in Albuquerque to pick the brightest! From Native American themed motor lodges to trading posts, a classic “drive up” shopping center and vibrant Hispanic neighborhoods, Historic Route 66 is a history lesson waiting to be learned. Use the link to Route 66 sites below to plot your course through Albuquerque; you’ll be glad you saved a day or more to explore.

Wigwam Village Motel #6, Holbrook

Here’s another state with more than a dozen Route 66 historic stops, and one of our favorites is Wigwam Village Motel #6 in Holbrook. Make a reservation for one of fifteen concrete “wigwams” that serve as cabins for travelers, and get ready to step back into time. As far from the airport/high-rise hotel vacation experience as you can get, a stay at Wigwam Village will warm the hearts of travelers in search of a memorable Route 66 vacation.

Wigwam Motel located on Route 66

Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena

As the Mother Road makes its way across Southern California, travelers will find points of interest in towns like Barstow, Needles and Monrovia. Once you reach Pasadena, you’ll have the chance to visit five Route 66 sites on the National Historic Register. An especially interesting place is the Colorado Street Bridge over the once-treacherous Arroyo Seco. Wonderful to photograph and explore, this bridge has been beautifully preserved, thanks to the joint effort of several agencies.

Colorado Street Bridge overlooking trees

Your last stop on this magical byway is Los Angeles. Be sure to take a drive along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and visit the Broadway Theater and Commercial District before ending your trip.

Ready to turn around and travel the Mother Road all the way back to Chicago? Use this NPS map of Historic Route 66 to make the right connections, and plan your stops easily using this handy National Park Service list of Route 66 sites.

It’s calling to you, isn’t it? Go ahead, pack your modern day equivalent of the station wagon and head out on the open road, Route 66, the highway that’s captured America’s heart for generations.

Route 66 sign painted on street, motorhome and gas station in background
El Monte RV

Travel Idea by Joe Laing, Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. Joe has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, and greatly enjoys exploring the outdoors. Joe has been camping across the United States, from coast-to-coast, and makes a point to stop at national landmarks along the way. He is also actively involved in numerous campground associations, including RVIA’s Go RV’ing committee, as well as travel industry associations.

Add new comment

Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.