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Everyone has to travel at least one section of Historic Route 66 in their lives. Established in 1926, the legendary road stretched 2,448 miles from Chicago, Ill., to Santa Monica, Calif.
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 completely 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.
As you stop in Arizona towns like Williams, Seligman and Kingman, you’ll realize they have accomplished the impossible. They have frozen time, offering the past as a present-day experience. You’ll hear it at the 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.
Beatnik writer Jack Kerouac distilled the experience best in his book On the Road when he wrote, “ … all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see.”
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.
TIP: Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings time. This creates a one-hour time difference between states which confuses many visitors. Remember this time change as you travel across state borders.
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.
Homolovi State Park
Just three miles from Winslow lies Homolovi State Park where you can stretch your legs, tour ancient ruins and spend the night in the campground under dark night skies
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.
Under the Stars in Flagstaff, Arizona
7 Stops in Phenomenal Flagstaff
Located two hours from six national monuments and Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff is a thriving university town with a charming historic downtown. Here are seven things to do.
Starry Nights at Lowell Observatory
Visit a legendary landmark where Pluto was discovered and scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
Relive the 50s in Williams, Ariz.
Historic downtown Williams with its vintage Route 66 businesses is one of the Grand Canyon area’s best-kept secrets. A wildlife park, scenic train ride, a thrilling zipline adventure above Route 66, and a peaceful mountain retreat are waiting for you.
Bearizona Drive-thru Wildlife Park
See bears, wolves, buffalo and more in this drive through park among the pine forests of north Arizona, 60 miles from Grand Canyon’s south rim in Williams.
Grand Canyon Brewing Stop
Savor a Sunset Amber Ale at the new Grand Canyon Brewing Co. location. There’s a tasting room and restaurant with burgers, brats and pizza. Take a tour of the brewery.
Grand Canyon National Park
Ride the Grand Canyon Railway into the Heart of Grand Canyon National Park
Take a scenic train ride to the south rim of the Grand Canyon from the depot in Williams, or drive to the south entrance near Tusayan. Open 365 days a year, the South Rim offers plenty of activities, restaurants and, of course, gorgeous views. It is the most-visited part of the canyon.
48 Hours at 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.
GyPSy Guide South Rim Driving Tour App
Feel like you’re touring with a local in your car. The Gypsy Guide app uses your phone or tablet’s location to play commentary about attractions as you drive. Learn more at gypsyguide.com/tour/grand-canyon-south-rim/
Upgraded Route 66 Architecture at the Yavapai Lodge
Yavapai Lodge was built in 1958 during the National Park Service’s building boom to prepare for its 50th anniversary and the lodge itself is reminiscent of Route 66 motels. Today, all rooms have been upgraded, including air-conditioning in every unit.
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 forest 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. Read more.
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. Read more.
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.