Route 66, the mother of all roads, is now a legend that attracts many bikers and admirers of America every year. The original interstate highway, opened in 1926, has been a frequent destination for tourists from all over the world since the 1990s when it was promoted as a Historic Route 66 attraction.
Planner: Road Trip Along Route 66 by Motorcycle and Car
In our itinerary, we detail the top must-see attractions when traversing Route 66 independently. We’ll visit the gambling city of Las Vegas and take in the view of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim.
Accommodations have been planned at well-rated bed and breakfast hotels along the way, many of which exhibit a Route 66 ambience.
Our journey will commence in the largest city of the state of Illinois – Chicago. This is where America’s most famous road officially starts, leading all the way to sunny California. Of course, the route can also be traversed in the reverse direction, from Los Angeles to Chicago.
On the way, we’ll encounter numerous towns where time seems to have stood still. We’ll pass old gas stations and motels, the descriptions of which are best left for personal discovery. It’s your choice where you decide to take a break and step back in time.
How Much Will a Route 66 Road Trip Cost?
I estimate the least possible cost of a Route 66 road trip at $2,000 per person. This estimate assumes an inexpensive ticket costing up to $500, splitting accommodation and car costs among four people, eating at budget-friendly fast-food establishments, and spending frugally.
If you are not strictly counting every dollar, a road trip on Route 66 may cost you slightly more than $3,000.
A Ticket to America
You can purchase a flight ticket from Europe to Chicago and from Los Angeles back to Europe starting from €400$429. Lower prices typically involve multiple stopovers or departures from neighboring countries. Note that from June to September is the high season, during which prices are higher.
Alternatively, you can buy a return ticket from Europe to Chicago. To do this, buy a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago through Southwest. Prices start at $160 and include two checked bags. I recommend keeping an eye out for special offers and purchasing your ticket about 3 months in advance.
Car Rental in the USA
For a 15-day car rental, you’ll pay at least $1,500 (for a medium class vehicle such as a Buick Encore). The price already includes a fee for returning the car at a different location. However, it is influenced by a number of factors, from the rental company and season to current demand. The same car can cost you $2,000 a few weeks later.
I recommend you calculate a guide price for rentals for each class of car. The calculation is free and does not require an email address. Before you go, be sure to read the advice on renting a car in the USA and driving a car in America.
Petrol or Diesel
The closer you get to California, the higher gasoline prices become. While a gallon in Tulsa costs around $0.76 ($2.87 per gallon), near Los Angeles you’ll pay up to $1.24 ($4.68 per gallon). With an average consumption of 10 liters per 62 mi, you should anticipate a cost of $0.10 per 1 km.
In the USA, prices are quoted in gallons, where 1 gallon is equivalent to 3.78 liters.
For a night in a budget-friendly American motel, you’ll pay between $55 and $85, with up to four people sharing two queen beds or a king bed. By booking one room, you can save money. Basic amenities are typically provided, usually including free parking and internet, and sometimes even breakfast.
Check motels via Booking; a decent standard starts at a 7.0 rating with at least 100 reviews. Book either in advance or on the spot.
The least expensive meal at fast food establishments like Subway and McDonald’s will cost you at least $10.00 per day, including a drink. If you prefer more variety, expect to pay around $20.00 per day, including coffee.
For travel insurance to the USA for 16 days, you’ll pay as little as a few tens of euros. I recommend choosing an insurance policy with a treatment limit of at least $250,000.
For travel within 90 days, tourists can use the Visa Waiver Program (colloquially known as ESTA). Simply fill out the form and pay $4.00. In 99% of cases, travel to the USA is approved immediately, at which point an additional $10.00 is charged to your card. Those who have previously been in the USA illegally may encounter problems with approval.
Admissions and Pocket Money
In addition, expect to pay a minimum of $250 for admission fees and spending money. If you are not intending to economize at every opportunity during your trip, expect to spend around $500.
Nine Tips for Planning a Road Trip on Route 66
1. Plan Your Road Trip on Route 66 up to One Year in Advance
Start preparing for your road trip up to a year in advance. Research points of interest along the route, monitor ticket prices, and book your tickets. Some tickets may sell out weeks in advance, and planning your itinerary on the spot usually ends up in wasted time.
2. Choose the Right Time for a Route 66 Road Trip
The best periods to embark on a Route 66 road trip are late April to early July and late August to mid-October. The peak season falls within the summer months, when the rides and roads are bustling with families. The prices for accommodation and car rentals tend to be higher, and the temperatures can be intolerable in some regions. During winter, certain sections might be less navigable.
3. Be Clear About Your Expectations
Do you want to see as many places as possible, even if it means waking up early and making challenging journeys? Or would you prefer a more relaxed trip without the stress of early mornings? Decide this early on and tailor your itinerary to your preferences.
4. Save Points of Interest to Google Maps
Mark the places you want to visit on your road trip with a star on Google Maps. You can then conveniently view them on your phone and start navigation.
5. Be Prepared for Changes in the Program
The longer the road trip, the higher the likelihood of deviations that may necessitate changes in your schedule. Decide early on which places are optional and which ones you must visit. I recommend leaving the last day as a buffer. The minimum length of a road trip on Route 66 is about seven days, with the optimum being 14 days.
6. Where to Rent a Car for a Road Trip
I suggest comparing quotes from dozens of companies via RentalCars.com, which guarantees the lowest price and includes comprehensive insurance. That way, you can decline additional offers from the dealer. You’ll gain a clear idea after requesting a no-obligation quote.
7. Return Fees Elsewhere
Some rental companies charge an off-site return fee of up to $1,000. This compensates them for the cost of transporting the vehicle back to the rental location. Most people travel from Chicago to Los Angeles, so by choosing the opposite direction, you may avoid this fee with some luck.
8. Take Turns Driving
Include at least two drivers in your rental car contract and take turns driving during your trip. Fatigue can strike any driver, potentially jeopardizing the entire trip. I advise against driving a car if your name isn’t listed on the contract. In case of an accident, the insurance would be invalidated.
9. Free Route 66 Navigation and Maps
Upon arrival, purchase a USA SIM card with a data package. Use the Google Maps app for navigation and up-to-date road conditions. If you won’t have data, download the necessary sections offline at the motel. This way, you won’t need an internet connection during your trip.
Route 66: 16-Day Road Trip Itinerary
Flight to Chicago
The first day involves flying from Europe to Chicago. After arrival and check-in, we’ll rent a pre-reserved car or motorcycle at the rental agency. If we’re on a morning flight from Europe, we’ll use the free afternoon to explore Millennium Park.
Afterwards, we’ll check in at the highly-rated 3* City Suites Hotel.
Chicago to Pontiac
The next day can’t start anywhere but with breakfast at the renowned Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant. After breakfast, we proceed to the starting point of our journey, the beginning of Route 66. The marker is a popular spot for tourists and hence, easy to find.
After capturing a few photos at the Route 66 Begin marker, we head to the nearby Navy Pier, a cruise port brimming with shops and restaurants. We then begin our Route 66 adventure, progressing towards Pontiac, which is 99 mi away.
En route, we stop at the Gemini Giant in Wilmington and visit a historic gas station in Dwight. If time permits, we’ll explore the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. Otherwise, we’ll postpone the museum visit to another day.
We’ll be staying at the Quality Inn Pontiac for the night.
Pontiac to St. Louis
After breakfast, our first halt in Atlanta will be at the statue of Paul Bunyon – the hot dog guy. Before reaching St. Louis, we’ll stop over at the historic Belvidere Motel in Litchfield for a coffee break.Post our tour of the historic motel, we’ll drive to Collinsville, home to the largest ketchup bottle in the world.
We’ll be checking into La Quinta Inn & Suites St. Louis Westport for the night.
St. Louis – Springfield
After breakfast, we’ll head to the historic bridge in St. Louis, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
On the journey from St. Louis, just outside the small town of Stanton, are the Meramec Caverns. If you decide to skip this attraction, you can opt for the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield. Admission per person is $30.
For tonight, we will be staying at the Sleep Inn Medical District.
Springfield – Oklahoma City
Today we have a longer journey to Oklahoma.
Our first stop along Route 66 will be Galena Cars on the Route, a historic vintage gas station.
While driving through the quaint town of Tulsa, we will take a break and explore the Gilcrease Museum. The museum showcases Native American culture and features a beautiful garden.
Upon arriving in Oklahoma City, we will traverse the Bricktown neighborhood, which offers a plethora of shops, restaurants, and bars, making it the perfect spot for lunch.
Following lunch, we will pay a visit to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. We will also have the opportunity to explore other renowned museums in Oklahoma, such as the Museum of Human and Animal Osteology and the Science Museum.
Accommodation is at the Super 8 Motel.
Oklahoma to Amarillo
Few people are aware that Oklahoma rests on vast oil reserves. Over 1,000 oil pumps are still operating here today, and we’re certain to pass some of them along our journey. Today’s first stop will be in the town of Clinton, where we’ll visit the Route 66 Museum.
We will then commence the roughly 186 mi drive to the town of Amarillo.
In this town, we will check into the Quality Inn West Medical Center for the day and set out to explore one or more of the following attractions: the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, the Cadillac Ranch, the botanical garden, and the Bill’s Backyard Classics car museum.
Amarillo to Santa Fe
Today might pose a little more of a challenge.
You have the option to drive to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 18.64 mi away, which resembles a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. The entrance fee is a nominal $8.00.
On our return to Route 66, we’ll pause at the historic and well-known MidPoint Café in Adrian. Roughly two and a half hours from Amarillo, we will visit the Santa Rosa Blue Hole, one of the most popular diving sites in the USA.
Accommodation will be at La Quinta Inn Santa Fe. We’ll save the city visit for another day.
Santa Fe to Albuquerque
This afternoon, we will visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi).
We’ll spend some time shopping and touring the historic site of The Plaza. This place is surrounded by souvenir shops where you can buy exquisite Indian jewelry. For those uninterested in visiting a museum or looking to save money, we recommend Canyon Road, a 1.24 mi avenue filled with dozens of private galleries and studios.
Afterward, we’ll drive 62 mi to Albuquerque, where we’ll ride the 2.80 mi Sandia Peak Tramway up to the Sandia Mountains. The tramway was once the longest in the world. The ride to the top takes 15 minutes and ascends 3,819 ft (vertical).
We shouldn’t miss the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where we’ll find information about the origins of the Pueblo civilization and the cultural impact of Spanish colonization.
We’ll stay the night at the Days Inn & Suites Albuquerque North.
Albuquerque to Holbrook
About 62 mi west of Albuquerque, we’ll stop at the ancient Indian settlement of Acoma Pueblo, also known as the city in the clouds. Admission is $27 including tax. Beware of photography fees, which are $16.20.
We’ll make sure to stop at the Painted Desert and walk the easy trail with views of the petrified dunes. There are numerous hiking opportunities here.
Today, we’ll stay at the Howard Johnson Holbrook Hotel.
Holbrook to Flagstaff
In Winslow, we’ll stop at the popular attraction Standin’ on the Corner Park. It’s a must to take a photo here with the Route 66 sign.
Once we arrive in Flagstaff, we’ll enjoy lunch before visiting Wupatki National Monument, which houses Indian ruins. In the evening, we’ll head to Lowell Observatory for a chance to view the night sky.
We’ll stay the night at the Travelodge Kings House.
Flagstaff to Grand Canyon to Kingman
It’s a brisk morning crossing to one of the trip’s highlights, Grand Canyon National Park.
After nearly a full day exploring the Grand Canyon, we’ll head to Williams to tour the main neighborhood. At the Circle K gas station, we must take a picture with the large Route 66 sign on the garage.
If we have time, we can visit the historic Pete’s Rt 66 Gas Station Museum. After crossing Main Street, we’ll connect to Route 66 and reach the town of Seligman, where time seems to have stood still. There are numerous shops with unique souvenirs you won’t find anywhere else.
We’ll then head to Kingman to spend the night at the Quality Inn Kingman.
Kingman – Las Vegas
After breakfast, there’s no reason to delay in Kingman; we’re headed to Sin City next.
In the evening, take a leisurely walk along the Strip, visiting top attractions such as the Bellagio fountains, Caesars Palace, or the gondolas at the Venetian Hotel. We’ll also test our luck at one of the local casinos.
We’ll be spending the night at the Ellis Island Casino Hotel.
Las Vegas – Yucca Valley
From Las Vegas, we’ll drive for about two hours to Needles, where we’ll rejoin Route 66. Passing through the town of Amboy, we’re headed to Joshua Tree National Park for an unforgettable display of short-leaved yuccas.
We’ll stop by the visitor center and refill our water bottles. It’s important not to underestimate the need for hydration in these areas.
After our park tour, we’ll check into our accommodation in Yucca Valley.
Yucca Valley – Los Angeles
After breakfast, we’ll drive to Victorville, where we will reconnect with Route 66.
We’ll pass through San Bernardino, then continue to Pasadena. Our journey will proceed through Hollywood and Beverly Hills, culminating at the Santa Monica Pier. Upon reaching the pier, we’ll have completed our 3,040 mi adventure.
Don’t forget to snap a photo at the end of Route 66 sign, and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk.
Departing Los Angeles
A trip down Route 66 should be savored, so the unwritten rule is to take your time. We’ll cover nearly 3,107 mi, crossing eight states and three time zones along the way.
At the gas stations, locals will often strike up a conversation and ask about your destination. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed everywhere. If you’re pressed for time, you can always use the highway that runs parallel to Route 66 to speed up your journey.
However, some things can’t be predicted or controlled, like road closures due to construction or adverse weather conditions.