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A motorcycle rider’s guide to Route 66

Route 66

Route 66 looms large in the collective consciousness of American motorcyclists. Often referred to as America’s Main Street, it was an economic engine both before and after World War II.

Though much of the original route was bypassed by the Eisenhower Interstate System in the 1950s, it lives on to this day, with long sections of pavement preserved and accessible to motorists and motorcycle riders like you.

It’s difficult to imagine an American road that exceeds Route 66’s cultural significance. So let’s follow the route together and highlight some important stops along the way.

Route 66 attractions

Motorcycling along Route 66 takes you on a journey through the halcyon days of America’s early roads. When Route 66 was new, businesses and communities grew and flourished to serve the millions who migrated and vacationed on the Mother Road. Many of those historic attractions still exist today, just waiting for you to stop and visit.

Historic Route 66 Begin Sign

Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926. To honor the historic nature of Route 66, a commemorative sign is posted to indicate the starting point of this epic road.

Location: Corner of S Michigan Avenue and Adams Street, Chicago, IL 60603

Gemini Giant Statue

In 1965—during peak public interest in the Space Race—the owners of the Dari Delite rebranded their restaurant as the Launching Pad and installed the Gemini Giant Statue, a Gemini Project astronaut standing 28 feet high and holding a rocket.

After changing hands several times over the decades—and briefly sitting abandoned for a few years in the mid-2010s—the reborn and restored Launching Pad Drive-in is emblematic of the resilience and historical relevance of Route 66.

Location: 810 E Baltimore Street, Wilmington, IL 60481

1932 Standard Oil Gas Station

Local contractor Patrick O’Donnell built this gas station on a small piece of land along Route 66, following design plans provided by the Standard Oil Company. At the time, stations like this were known as domestic-style, since they resembled a house with a canopy. The idea was to offer a sense of comfort to travelers in the early days of the American road.

Location: 400 S West Street, Odell, IL 60460

Paul Bunyon Hot Dog Statue

This hot dog-holding statue of Paul Bunyan—intentionally misspelled “Bunyon” for copyright purposes—started its career in Cicero, Illinois, outside of Bunyon’s Hotdog Stand in 1966. The stand closed in 2002, and several communities vied for the opportunity to be the statue’s new home. In 2003, he was moved to Atlanta, where you can visit him today.

You can also find some classic Route 66 road food across the street at the Palms Grill Café.

Location: 112 SW Arch Street, Atlanta, IL 61723

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Visit the house Abraham Lincoln lived in with his family for 17 years and gain insight into his life before the White House and the Civil War. Tours are free, so they fill up fast.

Location: 426 S 7th Street, Springfield, IL 62701

Chain of Rocks Bridge

This unique bridge—named for a nearby stretch of rapids—carried Route 66 across the mighty Mississippi River for more than 30 years, from 1936 until it was replaced by a new bridge 2,000 feet upriver. The original bridge reopened as part of the Route 66 Bikeway in 1999, and connects more than 300 miles of trails on both sides of the river. Please note, the bridge is open to pedestrians and non-motorized cycles only.

Location: 10820 Riverview Drive, St. Louis, MO 63137

Gateway Arch National Park

St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West, and Route 66 passes through that gateway on its journey to California. The Gateway Arch monument—which, at 630 feet high, is the tallest arch in the world—honors the great American westward expansion.

Location: 11 N 4th Street, St. Louis, MO 63102

Jesse James Wax Museum

Now that you’ve crossed the mighty Mississippi, it’s time to park your motorcycle and get your first taste of the Wild West. This museum features the only recorded footage of notorious outlaw Jesse James, and a $100,000 collection of vintage firearms and James Gang personal belongings. The museum is right on Route 66, just past the interstate interchange.

Location: I-44, Exit 230, Stanton, MO 63079

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

The second major battle of the Civil War was fought on August 10, 1861, in southwestern Missouri. Visiting the battlefield requires a quick detour from Route 66, but if you’re a Civil War history buff, it’s worth the ride.

Location: 6424 W Farm Road 182, Republic, MO 65738

Old Riverton Store

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this store was built in 1925. It’s been in continuous operation for almost 100 years and has changed very little since the old days. It’s also home to the Route 66 Association of Kansas.

Location: 7109 KS-66, Riverton, KS 66770

Rainbow Curve Bridge

Also known as the Brush Creek Bridge, this historic Marsh arch-style bridge is the last of its kind along Route 66. Though it no longer officially follows Route 66, you can ride across it to this day and envision yourself passing over Baxter Creek nearly a century ago.

Location: Old Route 66, Baxter Springs, KS 66713

The Ribbon Road

This nine-foot-wide section of paved road was completed in 1922, four years before Route 66 was established. The Ribbon Road is a good example of the Good Roads era. You can still ride this early road, but be careful—rain can cause gravel to wash across the original pavement, making it slow going for motorcycles.

Location: From Miami to Afton, Oklahoma

Pops 66

Pops is proof that Route 66 offers plenty of modern convenience along with its old-timey charm. Opened in 2007, Pops is a gas station, café, and convenience store that sits behind a 66-foot tall soda bottle statue—which, naturally, is illuminated after dark.

Location: 660 W Highway 66, Arcadia, OK 73007

Lucille’s Historic Highway Gas Station

This is an example of a two-story fuel station—a variation on the domestic-style station—where the owners reside on the second floor. Lucille and Carl Hamons were the station’s third owners, acquiring it and the adjacent motel in 1941. Lucille was known for her kindness and generosity to travelers along Route 66, earning the nickname “Mother of the Mother Road.”

Location: Old Route 66, Hydro, OK 73048

National Route 66 Museum

This museum differs from state-specific Route 66 museums in that it covers the history of the Mother Road from start to finish. The National Route 66 Museum is part of a six-museum complex that also includes the National Transportation Museum.

Location: 2717 West 3rd Street, Elk City, OK 73644

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Located a few miles west of Cheyenne, Oklahoma, this National Park Service Battlefield protects the site and interprets the events of the 1868 Battle of Washita River. While visiting this historic site is a side trip from Route 66, it offers insight into the history of the region, and the events and people of the Plains Wars era.

Location: 18555 Hwy 47A, Ste. A, Cheyenne, OK 73628

Big Texan Restaurant

This world-famous restaurant was built on Route 66 in 1960, and featured a 60-foot-tall neon cowboy sign. While the restaurant has since moved to I-40, it’s still an experience as big as Texas—after all, it’s the home of the 72 oz. steak challenge!

Location: 7701 I-40 East Access Road, Amarillo, TX 79118

Cadillac Ranch

This ranch features 10 Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramids of Giza. This public art installation was originally constructed along Route 66 in 1974 before being moved to its current location in 1997.

The Cadillacs have been repainted over the years to celebrate various events and causes. The public has long been welcome to spray paint the cars with graffiti. For many Route 66 adventurers, it’s a rite of passage.

Location: 13651 I-40 Frontage Road, Amarillo, TX 79121

Blue Swallow Motel

Opened in 1941, the Blue Swallow is one of the longest continuously running motels on Route 66 in New Mexico. It was honored in 1993 by being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Location: 815 E. Route 66, Tucumcari, NM 88401

Pecos National Historical Park

Pecos National Historical Park features two national historic landmarks: the Pecos Pueblo and the Glorieta Pass Civil War Battlefield. The Pecos Pueblo offers you an opportunity to experience the history and culture of the native people who occupied this area from 11,500 B.C. till the 1830s.

Location: 1 NM-63, Pecos, NM 87552

Petroglyph National Monument

This national monument protects signs and symbols carved into the volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers hundreds of years ago. More than 24,000 carvings make it the largest petroglyph site in North America.

Location: 6510 Western Trail NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120

El Malpais National Monument

The dramatic and barren landscape of a volcanic lava field comprises most of El Malpais National Monument. You can explore sandstone bluffs, lava tube tunnels, cinder cones, and lava flows.

Location: 1900 E. Santa Fe Ave, Grants, NM 87020

Petrified Forest National Park

This national park is named for its large deposits of petrified wood from trees that lived 225 million years ago. Ride your motorcycle through the Painted Desert on the park road, visit the Puerco Pueblo, check out the Crystal Forest, and be sure to stop and enjoy the views from the overlooks.

Location: 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028

Rainbow Rock Shop

You can’t miss the Rainbow Rock Shop as you ride Navajo Boulevard in Holbrook, Arizona. The shop is home to a large collection of painted cement dinosaurs, along with geodes, rare rocks, and fossils. Pick up a keepsake to remember your visit to El Malpais and the Petrified Forest.

Location: 101 Navajo Blvd, Holbrook, AZ 86025

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Declared a national monument on November 30, 1915, by President Woodrow Wilson, Walnut Canyon preserves ancient cliff dwellings constructed in the canyon walls by the Sinagua people. You can walk a .9-mile loop trail that passes 25 cliff dwellings while descending 185 feet into the canyon.

Location: 3 Walnut Canyon Road, Flagstaff, AZ 86004

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

In 1930, President Hoover established this volcanic formation as a national monument following public outcry at the news that a Hollywood movie company planned to detonate explosives nearby to create an avalanche scene. The trail to the crater rim was closed in 1973 due to erosion, but you can still hike a loop trail at the base.

Location: 6082 Sunset Crater Road, Flagstaff, AZ 86004

Wupatki National Monument

This national monument covers 35,422 acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many former dwellings of the Sinagua, Pueblo, and Anasazi peoples are located throughout the area. The largest dwelling is called Wupatki and was inhabited by the Sinagua around 500 AD. This structure has over 100 rooms in a multistory pueblo.

Location: 25137 N. Sunset Crater-Wupatki Loop Road, Flagstaff, AZ 86004

Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In

Working on a limited budget, Juan Delgadillo built the iconic Snow Cap Drive-In in 1953. He brought a great sense of showmanship in building the restaurant and imbued it with his jokester sensibility (such as menu items like “dead chicken” and  “cheeseburger with cheese”).

Location: 301 W Chino Ave, Seligman, AZ 86337

Roadkill Cafe & O.K. Saloon

When you walk into a café featuring the motto “You kill it, we grill it”, you’re in for an adventurous dining experience. The Roadkill Café’s menu has a fun selection of dishes based on the road kill theme, while the O.K. Saloon offers you a chance to explore the Old West via a collection of antiques from the surrounding area.

Location: 22830 W AZ-66, Seligman, AZ 86337

Cool Springs Station and Camp

Built in 1926, the station featured a café and Mobile Oil gas station. Located on Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman, it was the last stop before treacherous Sitgreaves Pass. In 1966, it burned to the ground, and was rebuilt in 1991 specifically to be blown up in a scene for the movie Universal Soldier. After careful restoration, it reopened in 2004 to serve new generations of Route 66 enthusiasts.

Location: 8275 Oatman Rd, Oatman, AZ 86413

Sitgreaves Pass

Generally considered the most challenging section of the original Route 66, Sitgreaves Pass reaches an elevation of 3,586 feet and features hairpin curves, few guardrails, and exciting switchbacks. It’s still challenging for motorcycle riders today, as desert sand—and the occasional wild burro—often ends up on the road.

Location: Historic Route 66, Oatman, AZ 86413

Mojave National Preserve

The California Desert Protection Act established Mojave National Preserve on October 31, 1994. The Mojave Desert is the smallest and driest of America’s deserts, and is a great place to learn about this arid region and how folks manage life here.

Location: 90942 Kelso Cima Road, Essex, CA 92309 

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area

This recreational area protects one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, and—at 153,075 acres—is the world’s largest urban national park. The visitor center offers information on camping and the various outdoor activities available in the area.

Location: 26876 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, CA 91302

Route 66 End of the Trail

Every journey has its end. Route 66’s western terminus is at the Santa Monica Pier, where you’ll find the Route 66 end sign. Stop for a photo and take some time to reminisce on everything you’ve seen and experienced on your Route 66 ride.

Location: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Suite A, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Is all of Route 66 motorcycle-accessible?

Yes, you can travel from Chicago to Los Angeles along the old Route 66 corridor—along the interstates, that is. If you’re asking whether the entire original Route 66 roadway still exists, the answer is no.

Some sections of the interstates sit on top of the old alignments of Historic Route 66, and more often they bypass it altogether. But by sticking with the established modern route, you can travel from Chicago to Los Angeles on your motorcycle, and see every Route 66 attraction listed above!

Route 66 by state

Route 66 in Illinois

Start in Chicago if you want to ride as much of the remaining Illinois sections of Route 66 as possible. You’ll find the spirit of Route 66 really starts to come alive south of Interstate 80. Riding Route 66 in Illinois takes you across the central plains, an area of broad level lands, natural beauty, and abundant agriculture.

Route 66 in Missouri

Upon crossing the Mississippi River, you’ll enter Missouri at St. Louis—the Gateway to the West. Originally, Route 66 traveled from St. Louis through Springfield and on to Joplin before passing into Kansas.

Eventually, Interstate 44 replaced Route 66 as the main cross-state road, bypassing many small towns. Missouri offers motorcycle riders countless opportunities to explore rolling hills and valleys, small towns, and sparkling waterways.

Route 66 in Kansas

While Route 66 spans just 13.2 miles in Kansas, it’s an action-packed 13.2 miles. Kansas joined Illinois as the only two states to have an established, hard-surfaced road added to Route 66 in 1926. When Interstate 44 bypassed Route 66 in 1961, it bypassed Kansas completely, but there’s still plenty of Route 66 history to explore in the state.

Route 66 in Oklahoma

Oklahoma boasts the most drivable miles of Route 66 in the country—more than 400, in fact. The route cuts diagonally from the northwest corner through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, then west to the Texas Panhandle. Following a series of bypass constructions in the mid-20th century, the people of Oklahoma worked together to protect their beloved Route 66.

In 1989, the Oklahoma legislature commissioned the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, the only state-legislated Route 66 preservation group. The state was also the first to design and install Historic Route 66 road marking signs, with the route being designated as a National Scenic Byway in 2009.

Route 66 in Texas

The original Route 66 cut a straight shot across the Texas Panhandle, passing through Amarillo and on west to New Mexico, covering 178 miles. Sixth Avenue in Amarillo features a one-mile strip of vintage Route 66 architecture listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are still Route 66 attractions and historic sites in small towns throughout the Texas Panhandle.

Route 66 in New Mexico

When you leave Texas and enter New Mexico, the landscape changes dramatically. The high desert landscape and vast sun-drenched prairies make it clear you’ve entered the Land of Enchantment.

Many of the state’s original Route 66 roadways were gravel or dirt, and the bridges were timber. During the Great Depression, massive federal government projects transformed Route 66 in New Mexico. By 1937, the route was completely paved and significantly straightened.

Route 66 was New Mexico’s first fully paved highway. Interstate 40 has since bypassed Route 66, but you’ll find Historic Route 66 in sections of business I-40.

Route 66 in Arizona

Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State, but the canyon is just one of many natural wonders to explore here. Much of the original road lies under Interstate 40 from New Mexico to Flagstaff. When you reach Ash Fork, west of Flagstaff, you’ll begin the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 in the nation. This 158-mile section will take you all the way to California.

Route 66 in California

In the early and mid-20th century, Route 66 was a go-to route for the country’s westward migration. Following World War II, it became a natural route for vacationers throughout the country.

In 1990 the California Historic Route 66 Association was founded, with the goal of preserving and promoting what remains of Route 66 in the state. You can find some remaining sections of Route 66 via signage along the interstates. Once in Los Angeles, the remaining segments are located throughout the region.

The history of Route 66

The history of Route 66 starts long before the invention of the motorcycle and automobile. Roads in America often follow trading trails established by Native Americans hundreds of years earlier. Wagon trains and railroads would also presage parts of this historic route.

With the advent of motorcycles and automobiles, the auto trails era began, which saw private organizations and communities planning routes—and often competing for prime locations. This spurred legislation for funding public highways beginning in 1916, culminating in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. Route 66 stitched together parts of three of these routes or auto trails:

  • The Lone Star Route
  • The Ozark Trails System
  • The National Old Trails Road

The next step in the development of numbered U.S. highways depended on the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), a private organization founded in 1914. In 1925, the AASHO recommended the formation of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, which was approved on November 11, 1926.

On April 30, 1926, the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route was given the numerical designation 66, and Route 66 was born. Route 66 became the Main Street of America, connecting small towns and big cities across eight states.

The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 seemingly sounded a death knell for Route 66, as interstates would soon begin bypassing it, section by section. But it took nearly three decades for Route 66 to be decertified, and in that time it transformed from merely a busy road into an American icon.

Even today, Route 66 is being rediscovered by motorists and motorcycle enthusiasts like you. It’s up to us to help keep the story of Route 66 alive for generations of riders to come.

Related links

Route 66 isn’t your only option for historic cross-country motorcycle rides. The Lincoln Highway takes you on a coast-to-coast ride of its own, with plenty of natural and manmade attractions to explore.

You love the roar of the engine as the highway stretches out in front of you—but that roar can impact your hearing. Here are some tips to help prevent hearing loss during motorcycle rides.

As you get ready to journey across the country, don’t forget to protect yourself with motorcycle insurance. Start by requesting a free motorcycle insurance quote from Dairyland today.

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