Below you'll find some of the most frequently asked questions about Route 66. This is not an exhaustive list and we will continue to update this FAQ as new questions arise in our Forum or Facebook page.
Established in 1926, Route 66 was a highway founded on a network of pre-existing roads connecting Chicago, Illinois with Los Angeles, California, crossing eight states and three time zones.
During the 1930’s Route 66 was a major path for migrants seeking a better life, heading west to escape the hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
Route 66 underwent many changes to the original 1926 alignment before being officially removed from the US highway system in 1985. Although it no longer exists as a US Highway the efforts of numerous associations to preserve the old road have kept it alive.
These days, for many people, driving Route 66 is an opportunity to pull off the interstate, take the foot off the gas and embrace an endangered American experience.
For further detail check out What is Route 66?
Assuming you're travelling westbound, Route 66 starts in Chicago, Illinois. The official eastern terminus of Route 66 has changed over time due to the introduction of a one-way system on Jackson Blvd and Adams St in the 1950's.
The original 1926 starting point was where Jackson Blvd met Michigan Ave but following the introduction of the one-way system you'll now find the 'Route 66 Begin' sign where Adams St meets Michigan Ave.
To complicate things further, in 1937 the official eastern terminus moved to where where Jackson Blvd meets Lake Shore Drive.
To summarise, for those travelling westbound, you can start your Route 66 road trip where Jackson Blvd meets Michigan Ave (the original 1926 start point) or where Jackson Blvd meets Lake Shore Drive (the start point since 1937). For the completists among you, the EZ66 Guide describes a loop you can take that encompasses both!
Assuming you're travelling westbound, Route 66 ends in Los Angeles, California. Much like the eastern terminus, the western terminus has also changed over time.
The original 1926 alignment ended where 7th St meets Broadway in downtown LA. However, in 1936 the road was extended to reach it's final official endpoint at the intersection of Olympic and Lincoln boulevards.
However, you may also be familiar with the 'End of the Trail' sign at Santa Monica Pier and wondering where this fits in. In 2009, in recognition of the Route's popularity as a tourist attraction, and the anticlimactic nature of the Olympic/Lincoln intersection, the sign was erected at Santa Monica Pier henceforth becoming known as the 'spiritual' end of the road.
Route 66 passes through eight states. From east to west these are Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
The original 1926 Route 66 alignment was 2,448 miles (3,940 km) but this was shortened over its 60 year history as individual sections of road were improved or made safer. The current length is generally accepted to be 2,278 miles (3,666 km).
While you can no longer drive Route 66 from end to end uninterrupted, approximately 85% of the original route 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.
For further detail and guidance check out How Much of Route 66 is Still Drivable?
It is widely accepted that Route 66 can be completed in 2 weeks - only visiting the most popular sights and attraction and major cities - but a 3 to 4 week trip would be preferable.
Of course, you could spend months traveling the road but for most this is unachievable. Ultimately, the length of your trip comes down to personal circumstances but in an ideal world 2 weeks would be the minimum.
For further detail and guidance check out How Long Does it Take to Drive Route 66?
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 Route 66 maps and guidebooks available that will guide you through from one end to the other.
You can find a selection of Route 66 guidebooks and maps here.
When Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 the official signage was removed but over time each state has taken time to preserve the Route's historical and cultural legacy by erecting new signs and painting new road-shields.
Although not the usual US Highway shield, you will encounter many signs bearing the 'Historic 66' emblem to point you in the right direction along with freshly painted road-shields. These, along with a copy of the EZ66 Guide and/or good map (see here) mean that navigating Route 66 shouldn’t be too difficult.
Generally speaking you'll likely want to take your Route 6 road trip between April and October. Outside of this you'll be travelling in the 'off season' and although there will be less traffic/tourists many of the businesses will be closed.
On the extreme ends of this spectrum (April and October) you'll have a much quieter experience from the point of view of traffic and other tourists but with less predictable weather.
The busiest period for Route 66 travel is June through to August where temperatures and prices both reach a seasonal peak. Either side of this, May and September are good months for those trying to avoid extreme heat, busier roads and higher rates.
For further detail and guidance check out What is theBest Time of Year to Travel Route 66?
Although most people tend to drive Route 66 westbound (Chicago to LA) the choice really is yours - you won't miss anything either way. Also, if you choose to use the EZ66 Guide it provides directions and points of interest for both eastbound and westbound travelers.
The reason that Route 66 is often seen as a westbound journey is for historical reasons. During the 1930’s Route 66 was a major path for migrants seeking a better life, heading west to escape the hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Migrating familes would get in their cars and drive into the sunset in the hope of finding a better life. It came to be seen as the pathway to opportunity and prosperity, with small-town businesses thriving on the passing trade.
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.
How long does it take to drive Route 66? The flippant answer would be "how long have you got?" but I'm guessing that you're reading this article because you were hoping for a more helpful and pragmatic response!
So here goes...
Assuming that you don't have months to set aside to meander through every historical alignment, soaking up the atmosphere in every cafe/bar in every town, you should try to set aside at least two weeks for a great Route 66 road trip - but preferably three or four if you're hoping for a richer, more leisurely trip.
At this point I should mention that this advice is aimed at those travelling one-way and not for return journeys.
While it's true that the journey from Chicago to LA can be completed in 4 days if you’re prepared to spend all day on the Interstates, this is NOT the same as driving Route 66. If someone tells you they drove the I40 and thoroughly enjoyed their "Route 66" trip then they've missing the point - Route 66 isn't a case of getting from Chicago to Los Angeles by any means possible. Route 66 is an historical route that follows a complex road network through the many small towns and minor roads that were bypassed by the introduction of the Interstate system.
However, while on the subject of Interstates, it's worth keeping in mind that they're not your enemy. If you're pushed for time and have to follow a strict itinerary then occasionally hopping onto the I40 is a practical consideration if you're pushed for time - sometimes you've just got to be pragmatic.
If you're on a time-limited schedule and you already know which areas you'd like to spend more time in then don't be afraid to use the Interstate to help you get the best out of your trip. In an ideal world you won't feel pushed for time as you certainly don't want to rush your Route 66 experience.
Ultimately the amount of time you need to set aside for a Route 66 road trip is dependent on several factors:
Let's take a look at how some of these factors might influence your trip.
As you get deeper into planning your Route 66 trip you’ll find it increasingly tempting to make the most of the opportunities for great side-trips; the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Monument Valley… If this is the case then you should definitely set aside an extra day or two for each.
One night at the Grand Canyon would allow you to admire the views both as the sun goes down and during its spectacular sunrises. I'd also recommend more than one night for Las Vegas particularly if you wish to spend time catching a show. If you wish to follow the Santa Fe loop this needn't be treated as a side trip and will comfortably fit within your regular itinerary.
Route 66 is every bit as much about the stops as it is the journey. If you intend on getting the most out of the experience then you’ll be stopping frequently along the Route to explore towns, museums and roadside attractions. Of course, all of this takes time and will limit your day’s mileage.
Sometimes you might just stop off to stretch your legs or grab a coffee in a local cafe, whereas there will also be occasions when you will want to see an attraction that will require several hours of your day (for example Acoma Pueblo or the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum).
There are many roadside attractions that are simple curiosities that won't impact greatly on your progress (Cadillac Ranch, the Illinois Giants etc...) and these won't impact significantly on your daily mileage.
If you wish to follow each variant of each alignment then you are certainly not going to be doing this trip in two weeks as this is a very particular way of approaching the Route. One for the purists maybe but certainly not a common approach. Most people don't plan their road trip in this way and instead follow a more generally accepted route and it's occasional variants as outlined in the EZ6 Guide. This alignment is achievable in a minimum of two weeks whilst still having a great trip.
Occasionally, if you are able to look ahead a little, you may find that there are times when all you are doing is criss-crossing the I40 on the frontage road. It's times like these that you might benefit from hopping on the I40 to save time. This may feel like you’re cheating but there are times when you’re on the interstate that you’ll be less than 50 feet from Route 66! By following the EZ66 Guide these occasions are made obvious and the choice is yours. Remember – driving Route 66 shouldn’t be stressful and it’s okay to tailor the journey to your own requirements. There's no shame in making time occasionally!
Ultimately, the length of your trip comes down to your own personal circumstances. I'd recommend no less than a fortnight to cover the full length - three or four would be preferable - whilst at the same time pointing out that if you only have two weeks you're still going to have a great road trip!
This question "what is the best time of year to drive route 66" gets asked a lot, but there's no simple answer. A member of our Facebook group recently came out with this little gem: "anytime between January and December"!
However, as great as that answer is, it probably doesn't help you make a decision with regards to your trip planning. The reason the question can be a tough one to answer is because different people have different expectations and personal preferences. The first step in working out the best time of year for YOU is to pause and consider what you hope to get out of the trip. Here are some factors to consider...
When you're driving over 2400 miles through varied terrain you can't exactly predict the weather with accuracy but it's fair to say that the best (if you consider driest or warmest to be best) weather will be between April and October.
During the winter months - December to February - the average low temperature along Route 66 can be in the 10s and 20s (-12 to -1°C) and the winds can chill you to the bone. The deserts of Arizona can be particularly cold overnight and snow can fall in the unlikeliest of places. Icy roads, sleet and snow will impact on driving conditions and isn't for the faint hearted. It's also worth keeping in mind that road closures due to extreme weather can delay your travel, and the shorter days will certainly limit your time for sightseeing.
November and March are the months transitioning in and out of winter and so weather, although milder than during winter, can still be unpredictable. It's not unheard of for there to still be snow in March. The tourist season is also off-peak so although the roads will be quieter you run the risk of businesses being closed as a result (more on this later).
The weather improves between the months of April and October, peaking during July and August. The weather is fair during April, May, September and October, and the crowds are less abundant. May and September are considered good months to travel Route 66 if you're not a fan of the intense heat that comes with the summer months - you get the benefits of fair weather and reduced tourism.
June, July and August are the peak months in terms of both tourism and temperature. The temperature regularly exceeds 105°F and can be intense if you're not used to it. Although the western states have a dry heat, the eastern states of Missouri and Illinois can be quite muggy. Days are also longer with bright mornings and mild evenings.
I've traveled during these summer months and have thoroughly enjoyed it - being from the UK I found the heat a welcome treat! If you're someone that finds intense heat overbearing or oppressive then you might want to avoid July and August in particular. However, if you're a sun worshiper you'll be in your element! A summertime route 66 trip is fantastic, but consider how you'd feel in such sweltering heat - aircon is essential.
Fortunately, when renting a vehicle you'll be guaranteed to have air-conditioning to keep you comfortable. It's also worth keeping in mind that July and August is the monsoon season in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, while the risk of seeing a tornado is increased in the midwest.
Between October and April many of the businesses and attractions along Route 66 close down due to the drop in tourism. Others will remain open but will operate on reduced hours or weekends only. Although this is an obvious drawback, one positive is that there can be lower prices and better discounts. As it's considered off-peak season hotel/motel rates will be reduced.
From May onwards Route 66 tourism will steadily increase before peaking during the summer and tailing off in September. Many people choose the months of May and September for their road trip for just this reason - the crowds will be smaller and the roads will be quieter. From early September the crowds drop off quickly and there are less people on the road as schools start back and people return to work following their summer vacations.
As with many countries around the world July and August are the major school breaks and vacation periods in the United States. The summer months (June to August) are the peak season for Route 66 tourism so expect the roads to be busier, rates to be higher and queues to be longer. Don't picture interstate-level of traffic though, you will still have sections of quiet road, it's just that during the summer you are more likely to encounter other travelers - in other words plenty of people to swap stories and tips with! A road trip in the summer is an amazing experience, just expect to see more like-minded roadies.
Once you've considered all of the above the final point to consider is when can you actually travel. We all have commitments and few of us have the complete freedom to take a long road trip anytime we want.
The truth of the matter is that whenever you go you're going to have a fantastic experience!