Traveling at least one section of Historic Route 66 is an American bucket list item. In bad times, migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s traveled on Route 66 to California, their cars weighed down by possessions and unrealized dreams. In good times, World War II veterans saw the road as a path to freedom, loading their families into cars to explore the Americana of small-town Route 66, California’s sunny beaches and Disneyland.
While it was decommissioned in 1985 and replaced by five interstates, you can still drive on the remnants of one of the nation’s most iconic highways. In Chicago, you’ll find a sign marking the start of Historic Route 66 at Adams Street and Michigan Avenue. From there, you’ll pass through the quirky small towns that lined the original route in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
While Route 66 may conjure images from the 2006 movie, Cars, where a desperate (and fictional) Route 66 town has been left behind thanks to the new Interstate System, you’ll be delighted to find that reality is a much different story. As you stop in Arizona towns like Winslow, Williams and Kingman, you’ll realize they’ve accomplished the impossible. They’ve frozen time, offering the past as a vibrant, present-day experience. You’ll hear it at vintage gas stations playing 1960s music. You’ll taste it in your homemade root beer and in your hamburger served in 1950s-style diners like Mr. D’z in Kingman, Ariz. You’ll feel it as you drive the open two-lane road that cuts through some of the country’s vast stretches of prairie and desert.
Today, the lyrics Nat King Cole sang still embody the spirit of this lively stretch of highway: “Go west, it’s best, travel my way / Take the highway that’s the best / Get
your kicks on Route 66.” Listen to this song and others on our favorite Route 66 playlist on Spotify.
What follows are the road’s highlights when your wheels traverse New Mexico and Arizona, home to the longest uninterrupted stretch of Historic Route 66.
4 Kicks on Route 66 in Grants, N.M.
You’ll discover vintage Route 66-themed stops and an uncrowded national monument at this classic New Mexico town.
Trading Places in Gallup, N.M.
To immerse yourself in some classic Route 66 culture as well as a strong Native American arts scene, stop in Gallup, N.M., home to 1,000 artists and a long history of being a vibrant trading post for Native American arts. Start your Gallup adventure off at the rambling El Rancho Hotel, a true route classic built in 1936.
Petrified Forest National Park
Home to fossils older than 200 million years, and some of the largest and most beautiful concentrations of petrified wood, “painted desert” badlands, archeological sites and historic structures, Petrified Forest National Park is a very unique national park.
Have You Slept in a Wigwam Lately? If not, pull over in Holbrook, Ariz., and stay at iconic Route 66 mainstay, Wigwam Motel. In your teepee, you’ll find cable TV and air-conditioning, surprising modern upgrades in a motel village built in 1950 and still managed by the Lewis family.
Take it Easy in Winslow, Ariz.
See the best eras of the Southwest brought back to life from Native American lore to Route 66. Don’t miss Standin’ on the Corner [of Winslow, Ariz.] Park. Winslow is truly a renaissance town.
Historic La Posada
Stop by or stay where entrepreneur Allan Affeldt has breathed new life into the La Posada Hotel and Gardens.
Explore a Meteor Crater
It’s as deep as a 60-story building and as wide as 20 football fields. Don’t miss this popular meteorite impact site, located on I-40, 35 miles east of Flagstaff.
Two Landmarks That Helped Americans Land on the Moon
How the locals helped Americans map the moon, discover a planet and unravel the mysteries of the universe.
Surrounded by the world’s largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest, Flagstaff’s uncrowded trails offer solitude, easy social distancing, a lot of trees and outstanding views. Here are seven things to do including visiting one of the only original Route 66 roadhouses still standing and walking Flagstaff’s Route 66 audio tour.
Starry Nights at Lowell Observatory
Visit a legendary landmark where Pluto was discovered and scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
Best Eco-Friendly Flagstaff + Grand Canyon Vacation Itinerary
Experience the best of the Grand Canyon while eating locally grown food, staying at eco-friendly lodging and hiking on gorgeous trails.
Relive the 50s in Williams, Ariz.
A wildlife park and a scenic train ride are waiting for you in this Grand Canyon gateway town full of Route 66 flavor.
Bearizona Drive-thru Wildlife Park
See bears, wolves, buffalo and more in this drive through park among the pine forests of north Arizona.
Take the Grand Canyon Railway to the National Park
Park your car in Williams and take a scenic ride on the Grand Canyon Railway into the heart of the park. Riders are immersed in history and culture as they travel to the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park
Stop at Grand Canyon Visitor Center
Hidden secrets await in Tusayan.
Bring the Gypsy Guide App
Enjoy the freedom of driving your own car while traveling with an entertaining guide that doesn’t take up space. Learn more at gypsyguide.com/tour/grand-canyon-south-rim/
48 Hours in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Get ready for adventure. Here are some of our favorite things to do while at the South Rim from biking in solitude to exploring some of the rim’s most historic treasures.
A Grander Stay at Yavapai Lodge
Sleep well and sustainably in the Grand Canyon’s forest. When you stay at the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon National Park, you’ll be experiencing a piece of the park’s history, but you’ll also be actively participating in its future.
The Angel of Route 66 in Seligman, Ariz.
Route 66 Angel Connected to Mother Road for 89 Years
Born near Arizona’s Historic Route 66 five months after the road was established, barber Angel Delgadillo brought back its neon lights after they had faded.
Route 66 Adventures in Kingman, Ariz.
At the “king” of Route 66, see heartbreaking photos and life-sized depictions of the Dust Bowl refugees at the museum, then eat and sleep in iconic Mother-Road spots. Here are the top 5 things to do in Kingman, Ariz., from wagon road hikes to a deep dive into Route 66 memorabilia.
Grand Canyon West Skywalk and Rafting
Quick Facts: South Rim vs. Grand Canyon West
What’s the difference between the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon West? A lot. To start, they are in opposite corners of Arizona.
Everything to Know about the Grand Canyon Skywalk Glass Bridge
Towering 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon is the $30-million Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway.
Grand Canyon West Rafting Trip Ends with Helicopter Ride
Join Hualapai River Runners for an unforgettable day rafting through the western end of the Grand Canyon and taking a helicopter to its rim.
The Hualapai Bird Singer
One Hualapai discovers the magic of his tribe’s traditions in an unlikely place.