The most classic of American road trips, Route 66 may not exist in an official capacity anymore, but its legacy lives on. Many travelers continue to trace the path the Mother Road followed from Chicago to LA. Tackling the nearly 2,500 mile length of the trip isn’t something you squeeze into a weekend. So how long does it take to drive Route 66? There’s much more to this quintessential road trip than getting from point A to point B. You can move at a quicker pace or stretch the journey out to a leisurely tour of the US.
How to Plan and Time Your Route
As you plan your itinerary along Route 66, you have four main things to consider: overnight stops, drive time, roadside attractions, and side trips.
If you have a limited amount of time, it’s best to start by choosing overnight stops. The fewer days you have to travel, the more time you’ll need to spend actually driving, and the less time you’ll have for smaller stops during the drive.
The time it takes you to drive from one overnight stop to the next is naturally important. Estimates are included below, but GPS apps with real-time traffic information like Waze will be invaluable to you on the road.
Don’t forget to schedule time to stop during your drive. At the very least, you’ll need time to fill up the gas tank or eat lunch. There are also many roadside attractions along the way that give Route 66 its character.
Finally, there are many attractions that aren’t technically part of Route 66, but are within reach of the main highway. Be aware that these detours will add at least an extra day or two to your trip.
Major Stops on Route 66
The journey begins in Chicago. You could hit the road right away, but many travelers like to spend at least one night in the Windy City before they start driving. Grab a deep dish pizza for dinner and admire the city skyline from a harbor cruise.
A four-and-a-half hour drive from Chicago will land you in the Gateway to the West: St. Louis. If you’d like to break up the drive, Springfield boasts sites like Abraham Lincoln’s house and tomb. Once you’re in St. Louis, snap a selfie at the Gateway Arch and fill up on Missouri barbecue.
The shortest section of Route 66 runs through Kansas. Baxter Springs lies four-and-a-half hours from St. Louis. As you cross Missouri on the way, you’ll have the chance to stop at caverns, a mural city, a drive-in theater, one of many Route 66 museums, and other classic roadside attractions.
Just three hours lies between Baxter Springs and Oklahoma City. The route passes through Oklahoma’s other major city, Tulsa. You may prefer to stop at smaller towns with sites like a vintage motorcycle museum and several classic diners. In Oklahoma City itself, the main attraction is the national cowboy museum.
It may be the only main Route 66 stop in Texas, but Amarillo, four hours from Oklahoma City, is perhaps the Mother Road’s most famous town. Pack a can of spray paint to make your own mark on the colorful vintage vehicles at the iconic Cadillac Ranch. If painting works up your appetite, no trip down Route 66 is complete without a steak at the Big Texan, home to a legendary 72-oz steak challenge.
A little over four hours of driving from Amarillo will land you squarely in the American Southwest. After passing the official midpoint of the trip at Adrian, Texas, you’ll reach Tucumcari, with its dinosaur museum and tepee-shaped curio shop. If you’re traveling in early October, you could catch a glimpse of Albuquerque’s famous hot air balloon festival.
Continuing your journey through the Southwest, you’ll pass through Native American pueblos, the striking Painted Desert, and the Petrified Forest. Clocking in at just under five hours, this stretch of the Mother Road ends in Flagstaff, Arizona. For many, this is the gateway to the Grand Canyon. (See side trips below.)
In about three hours, you’ll reach the California border – the final state of your journey along Route 66! If you need a break from driving along the way, the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona is a popular stop. With wild donkeys roaming between old-timey storefronts, you’ll feel like you stepped back in time to the Wild West.
Just four-and-a-half hours across the Mojave Desert and San Bernardino County and your Route 66 road trip will be complete. If you want to stretch out the journey, consider stopping at the Amboy Crater, Calico ghost town, or spending the night at an original Wigwam Motel. When you arrive in LA, watch the sunset from Santa Monica Pier or zip downtown to toast your triumph at a trendy cocktail bar.
Popular Side Trips
Santa Fe Loop
Santa Fe lies about an hour from Albuquerque in New Mexico. It has a strong artisan culture and rich history, playing host to the San Miguel Mission – the oldest church in the US – the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and several other art museums and galleries.
The drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon takes less than an hour-and-a-half. You can fit the park into a day trip, enjoying a brief hike and heading back for a second night in Flagstaff. Or you can camp in the park for the night, and take three-and-a-half hours to drive to Needles the next day.
The farthest detour from the official Route 66 itinerary, Las Vegas is still a popular side trip for drivers. The gambling capital of the US is about a four-hour drive from the Grand Canyon, an hour-and-a-half drive from Needles, and a four-hour drive from LA.
The Grand Total
The exact drive time of the complete Route 66 itinerary is about 32 hours. If you drive eight hours a day, you can complete the journey in four days. If you want to take your time and enjoy all the roadside attractions and a side trip or two, set aside one to two weeks.