Considering a Route 66 holiday but aren’t sure you can budget the time? A drive through the varied landscapes, wild roadside attractions, major cities and other wondrous sites of Route 66 can be done in fewer days than you think — or be stretched out to become the road trip adventure of a lifetime.
The key to planning a Route 66 road trip that fits your timeline and needs is knowing what parts of the road are on your “must see” and prioritising them.
So many miles, so little time
Route 66 is a long, long road. But how many kilometers is it exactly? The U.S. National Park Service puts the number at 2,400 miles, or 3862 kilometers. Created from a hodgepodge of “auto trails” and with the intention of connecting the rural communities of the West to big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, historic Route 66 spans across the plains, prairies, mountains and deserts of the U.S. — the furthest thing from a direct path. The fact that the original route is officially decertified and now made up of multiple state and municipal roads only adds to its ramshackle nature.
The exact number of kilometers on the road has changed over the years. Stretches of historic Route 66 were constantly altered from its founding in 1926 to its decertification in 1985. One change in 1938 took the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico off the route, a move designed to provide a more direct way to get between the cities of Santa Rosa and Gallup.
What to consider when planning your holiday
There’s a lot of logistics involved in planning a road trip holiday. What kinds of cities, small towns, roadside attractions, cultural landmarks and natural spaces will you stop at? Will you be staying in a classic motel at night or somewhere more luxurious? How much will the whole experience cost? To answer each of these questions, you’ll first need to determine how long you want to be out and what your driving route will be.
Traversing the American West can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. How much time you want to spend exploring is totally up to you. We break down two different options below:
The fast way to travel
While it’s possible to travel from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California in as little as four days, spending your entire journey on Route 66 will take you longer — but not that long. A quick, but fulfilling road trip can be done in two weeks or less. Two weeks spent on the Mother Road will introduce you to its unique character while also allowing you to cross some of its most famous sites off your list.
To make the most of your quick trip, make two lists. On one, write down the essentials that you must see, on the other, options you’d love to include. Calculate how long it will take you to see your bucket list options. Then, if you still have time to spare, look at your second list. Choose options from this one that best fits into the road trip you’ve already planned. By doing this, you’ll hopefully achieve more than by taking up time to go out of your way to see one thing. When strapped for time the flexible and practical approach is typically the best one.
Another option if you’re truly strapped for time is to do a hybrid trip — where you spend some of your time driving on the interstate, rather than the rambling roads of the old route. In parts of the West where you want to stop in for a few key sites but ultimately speed on through, traveling some segments on Interstate 40 might be preferred. This interstate highway traverses a relatively similar direction as historic Route 66 from Oklahoma to California. In fact, I-40 was actually constructed to serve as a replacement for Route 66, which was fully decertified after the interstate’s completion in Arizona in 1985. Today, along some stretches of Arizona, road trippers must actually move to I-40 because the Route 66 roads have stopped being maintained.
Route 66 has a lot to offer, even if you’re short on time. Ultimately, the most important part of a trip is ensuring you see all of the attractions that you want to see.
Taking the scenic approach
Of course, the Route 66 experience is about so much more than just getting from point A to B as efficiently as possible. To enjoy your holiday to its fullest potential, you need time to enjoy each day and take in the atmosphere of the open road. Route 66 is a cornucopia of people, culture, nature and food. From a quirky roadside attraction like the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma to the unique geological formations of Meramec Caverns, picking just a few highlights is a challenge.
To get the most out of the journey, we recommend a trip of about three weeks. This will leave you with ample time to not only view the star attractions of the road but also pull over at whatever neon-lit diner or old gas station strikes your fancy.
Getting to see the sites of the Historic Route isn’t the only good reason to slow your roll. Another advantage of taking your time is the ability to have a day or two off the Mother Road and experience some awe-inspiring detours. Many of the best sites and cities of the American West aren’t actually on Route 66 but are mere hours away. Probably the most famous example of this is the Grand Canyon — located less than two hours from where Route 66 crosses the mountain city of Flagstaff, Arizona. Other prime examples of the classic road trip detour include Las Vegas (a key stop on most Route 66 Tours).
When you travel with a Route 66 Tour, we give you the time required to slow down and enjoy The Mother Road. Our seasonal tours average only 166 miles per day, yet they are full and action-packed days. Highlights include, but are not limited to, a customised Chicago City Tour, the world famous Meteor Crater and a Stretch Limo City Tour of Las Vegas.
If you’d like to take a faster approach, however, we also offer our famous Route 66 Express Tours. This road trip is specifically designed for those that are time poor and can’t get away for one of our 20-night tours. The journey begins in the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada, a short two hour drive from Route 66. We join up with the iconic route in the Mojave Desert, California, and travel east through eight Route 66 States, all the way to Chicago, Illinois. While the Express Tour package cuts the timeline, it keeps the features you’d come to expect from Route 66 Tours — including an all Australian, award-winning guide team, accommodations and classic Route 66 sites like the Acoma Sky City Indian Village.
For more information on our offerings, check out https://route66tours.com.au/The-Tours.