Get Your Kicks on Route 66: See America’s Most Scenic Byway in Two Weeks
Route 66 is the ultimate American road trip. Ofﬁcially opened in 1926, Route 66 is 2448 miles long running from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA. Considered The Mother Road of America, it served as the primary route for people migrating west from the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. The highway helped small towns and businesses ﬂourish. Likewise, these same towns and businesses fought to keep their economies alive when the new Interstate Highway system threatened to bypass their towns. Remember the movie Cars?
Speaking of the interstate, our itinerary lets you choose whether you want to travel on the National Scenic Byway called Historic Route 66 or the interstate, but keep in mind if you want to stick with the two-week timeline you are going to have to get some miles under your wheels. In some parts you’ll have no choice but to travel by interstate. We started out determined to stay on the ofﬁcial Historic Route 66 whenever possible but quickly discovered that with limited time (and toddlers) we needed to travel between major destinations by interstate weaving off and, on the byway, to see points and towns of interest.
Day 1: Chicago
Route 66 ofﬁcially begins—or ends if you are starting in the West—in Chicago. Pick a campground in one of the surrounding suburbs (We use the All stays app to ﬁnd most of our campgrounds) to avoid having to navigate the RV through heavy city traffic. Pick a few attractions that sound fun to you and go have a blast exploring The Windy City. Some of our favorites are Millennium Park, Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Art Institute of Chicago, and Museum of Science and Industry. Be sure to get a picture at one of the Begin (or End) Route 66 signs located at 65 E Adams St.
Day 2: Drive from Chicago, IL to St Louis, MO – (Approx. 5 hrs driving time without stops)
Pack up and leave the campground ﬁrst thing in the morning leaving enough time for a quick stop in Pontiac for the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. Don’t pass through Lincoln, IL without stopping to see the Railsplitter Covered Wagon, the world’s largest covered wagon according to the Guinness Book of World Records. What’s a road trip down The Mother Road without kitschy stops and pictures to prove it!
Day 3: St. Louis
Take a break from driving and spend the day visiting St. Louis. There is plenty to see in this great mid-western city but be sure to visit the iconic St. Louis Arch. If you have already been there or want to ﬁt in another attraction, consider The City Museum. (It’s one of my favorite stops in the U.S.) It’s an eclectic combination of a children’s playground and art made out of found objects. It’s fun for adults and kids alike. Or visit the beautiful city park, Forest Park. It’s home to the St Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, and The Muny.
Day 4: Drive from St Louis to Baxter Springs (Approx. 5 hrs of driving time without stops)
Today is another driving day. You’ll pass through Cuba, MO. Cuba is also known as Mural City. Keep your eye out to catch the murals that run along the Route 66 corridor. Don’t put that camera away too fast. You’ll also want to get a picture of the former World’s Largest Rocking Chair—it’s now the second largest—in Fanning, MO. If you didn’t have time to stop in at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, you can stop at the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon. Next set your GPS for Galena, KS to see the inspiration for the Cars movie, Cars on the Route. It’s a particularly fun stop for kids and being off the interstate transports you back to simpler times. If there are spots left, stay at Old Highway 66 Rest Area Campground and consider grabbing some delicious Kansas BBQ at Baxter Springs Smokehouse. If the campground is full there are a number of campgrounds on the south western outskirts of Joplin, MO or near Miami, OK.
Day 5: Baxter Springs to Oklahoma City – (Approx. 3.5 hours without stops)
As you leave Kansas and continue to Oklahoma, keep your eyes peeled for more retro signs and buildings on the route. Today’s highlight will be The Blue Whale of Catoosa. The Blue Whale is one of the most recognizable and photographed icons on Route 66. The whale constructed out of cement by Hugh Davis in the 1970s was built as a surprise anniversary gift for his wife Zelta. It was originally intended for private use but Davis eventually opened it to the public and it became a popular roadside attraction.
Day 6: Oklahoma City
Stretch your legs today in Oklahoma City. There are many attractions from which to choose. A few of the most popular are: Oklahoma National Memorial and Museum, Bricktown Water Taxi, Myriad Botanical Gardens, outdoor activities at Boathouse District, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the city’s longest continually operated restaurant Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Whatever you do make time to visit a modern Route 66 roadside attraction, Pops 66. It’s a really fun stop for people of all ages with hundreds of sodas and drinks lining the shelves.
Day 7: Drive from Oklahoma City to Amarillo – (Approx. 5 hrs of driving time without stops)
It’s back on the road today! Head out of Oklahoma City and head to Amarillo, the almost midway point of Route 66. (The actual mid-point is about 50 miles west of Amarillo where campgrounds are sparse.) On your drive keep your eyes open for the Leaning Tower of Texas and the Giant Cross in Groom, TX. Stop for the night in Amarillo, Texas. Drive out to Cadillac Ranch to see the iconic Cadillacs buried in ground and consider having dinner at the legendary Route 66 restaurant, The Big Texan. If you are feeling extra hungry (and brave!), you can take the 72 oz. steak challenge. If you ﬁnish the entire meal in an hour or less it’s free!
Day 8: Amarillo to Albuquerque – (Approx. 5 hrs of driving time without stops)
It’s another driving day today but with some great detours. About an hour outside of Amarillo you’ll pass Adrian, TX. If you haven’t had breakfast you can plan to stop at the MidPoint Cafe for breakfast or simply give your passengers or yourself a high ﬁve because you’ve made it half way! You won’t want to spend too much time there though because you’ll for sure want to take a detour to see Tucumcari, NM. Drive down the main street and keep an eye out for the iconic Blue Swallow Motel (815 E. Route 66) and if you don’t already have enough souvenirs you can stop at the Tee Pee Curious across the street but don’t stay too long. The next detour, Santa Rosa Blue Hole, will be worth getting into the campground a little later than usual. Blue Hole is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Its water is crystal clear and cold. A perfect spot to cool off and enjoy some natural beauty. The parking lot easily ﬁt our 34’ RV making getting changed for swimming a breeze. If you time it right you can cool off and enjoy a picnic lunch. After taking a dive into the sapphire colored water continue heading west to Albuquerque and set up in one of the many campgrounds in the area.
Day 9: Albuquerque
After two full back-to-back days of driving you’ll be ready to stay put for the day. Use this
“downtime” to do a little exploring in Albuquerque. From outdoor activities to arts and culture there’s no shortage of things to do in this great southwestern city. Albuquerque may be most famous for its International Balloon Fiesta held every October. However, you can visit the unique Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum any time of the year or book a hot air balloon ride with one of the many operators in the area. A few other options for the day include: Sandia Peak Tramway, Petroglyph National Monument, Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque Botanical Gardens, and The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.
Day 10: Albuquerque to Williams – (Approx. 6 hrs of driving time without stops)
It’s back on the road again today. Get up and head out as early as possible if you want to drive through Petriﬁed Forest National Park. It’s the only park in the National Park System that contains a section of Route 66! It takes about one hour to drive the 28 miles from one end of the park to the other. Next head to Holbrook, AZ to see the iconic Wigwam Motel and have lunch at Joe and Aggies Cafe for a step back into time. As you continue west keep an eye out for the arrows that marks the ghost town of Twin Arrows. Set up camp for the night in Williams, AZ where there are plenty of campgrounds.
Day 11: Grand Canyon
Today you are going to take a detour from The Mother Road to see one of America’s most famous landmarks, the Grand Canyon. The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is an hour north of Williams and is open year-round. Plan to see historic Grand Canyon Village and drive the scenic Hermit Rd or Desert View Drive. Stay for sunset if possible to capture beautiful pictures. That evening head into Williams and walk the main street to enjoy some Route 66 neon.
Day 12: Williams to Barstow – (Approx. 6 hrs of driving time without stops)
Depending on the time of year this can be a long HOT drive through the desert. One year we drove this in June and it reached 127 degrees in Needles. Another year we did it in November and needed light jackets. Either way you’ll want to plan a short stop in the small town of Seligman, AZ. Walk down the street a bit imagining what this town was like 60 years ago and then grab a shake from Delgadillo’s Snowcap Drive-In. Continue west. If you have a little more time than two weeks consider a detour stop in Oatmen, AZ to hang out with the wild burros.
Day 13: Barstow to Santa Monica (2 hours without trafﬁc)
You’ll want to get an early start again today to avoid the Los Angeles rush hour and to leave time for a short detour. On your way out of Barstow get off the interstate to see Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. It’s one of my favorite stops! Next head to a suburb of Los Angeles to a campground of your choice. (Unless you have a small easy to maneuver rig you really won’t want to take the RV into Los Angeles if you can avoid it.) Try to get to the campground by noon to set up, have some lunch, and then head over to Santa Monica Pier before the evening rush hour. Congratulations! You made it to the ofﬁcial end of the Route 66! Enjoy the pier and then head down to Venice Beach Boardwalk (my choice!) or Third Street Promenade to wait for trafﬁc to lighten up before heading back to your campground that evening.
Day 14 – Day in Los Angeles
You can’t drive over 2000 miles to the City of Angels without enjoying some of its most famous sites. My suggestion is to head to Paramount Studios to take a 2-hour morning tour and then head over to Hollywood Blvd. (If you are feeling ambitious and not intimated by LA trafﬁc you could even add in a drive down the famous Rodeo Drive and Sunset Blvd on your way to Hollywood Blvd.) End the evening at Grifﬁth Observatory for amazing city views before heading back to the campground.
We’d love to hear from you! Have you gone RVing on Route 66? How long did it take you? What must see sites would you add to my list?