Just how much of Route 66 is still drivable? Just how close can you get to the original road?
These are common questions when people are considering their road trip, and while it's certainly true that you can no longer drive Route 66 from end to end uninterrupted, a significantly large portion (approximately 85%) remains paved and drivable.
This figure of 85% is an approximation for a standard saloon car, so with an off-road vehicle you could certainly push this higher.
Route 66 is 2448 miles long and in it's most commonly used alignment can be broken down into the following sections:
Within each state there are alternative alignments that can be followed. This article aims to offer information to enable you to follow the original Route as closely as possible. It's also worth mentioning at this point that we have the whole route mapped out on our maps page!
Route 66 is not a simple linear journey, it's existed in many different alignments over the years and therefore there is no single way of making this trip.
These different alignments are in part due to the way that Route 66 developed over time. In the early years the route underwent frequent changes to improve the surface and make it safer, so travelers may find themselves periodically presented with choices between paved sections or more rugged “dirt” alignments. For greater clarity on these options (as there are too many to describe here) I'd recommend picking up a copy of the EZ66 Guide as it clearly highlights and describes these different alignments as they arise.
When Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, some sections of the road were re-purposed, while others were abandoned completely. In many of the cities the old route became the business loop for the interstate (the business loop being a smaller road that passes through core business districts). Even now, when driving on these business loops, you'll often be running immediately parallel to the I40 interstate. At certain points, in areas with no stops, you may wish to join the I40 and bypass these business loop portions if you're pressured for time.
In the maps section of this website alternative/optional alignments are included where appropriate and can be easily enabled/disabled depending on which alignment you'd like to follow.
If you're following the route as described in the EZ66 Guide you'll occasionally be presented with alternative "dirt" options. These are always optional alternatives to a more level, paved route and aren't recommended during wet weather or for larger RV's.
One such example of dirt road Route 66 is the Jericho Gap, an 18 mile stretch of Texan pre-1937 "dirt 66" that ran between Alanreed and Boydston via the town of Jericho. The Jericho Gap was notorious with travelers in the 1930's where vehicles would frequently get bogged down in the mud after heavy rains. Motorists would often need to be pulled free by a team of horses - a service so profitable to local landowners that rumors existed that they would intentionally flood the road! When the road was eventually realigned one mile north the community of Jericho naturally suffered and it is now one of the many ghost towns on Route 66.
Another beautiful stretch of dirt road available to you is upon entering New Mexico from the east. Between Glen Rio and San Jon lies 18 miles of dirt and gravel that once existed as a paved road. This road is so peaceful and I have driven it from end to end only ever encountering one other vehicle - a 4x4 steering some cattle. It's a scenic drive taking in wooden bridges and the views of several derelict cabins.
Since Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 it has ceased to be recognised as a US Highway and as such is no longer featured on standard maps. However, there are specialist maps and guidebooks available that will guide you through from one end to the other. If you are considering driving Route 66 then a highly recommended set of maps is the brilliant “Here It Is! The Route 66 Map Series” by Jerry McClanahan with beautifully illustrations by Jim Ross. Each of the 17" by 21" folding maps depicts a specific state and is a work of art in itself. The text on each map contains clear directions as well as commentary.
Also incredibly useful is the “Route 66: EZ66 Guide For Travelers” by Jerry McClanahan. It’s a very highly regarded book and was developed in conjunction with The National Historic Route 66 Federation. I would consider both to be essential purchases. The EZ66 Guide highlights the alternative alignments as well as significant sections of dirt road Route 66 - I can't praise the work of Jerry McClanahan enough.