A Route 66 Travel Plan
Route 66 was the pathway for the great westward migration during the depression when families headed toward California seeking better lives. Woody Guthrie's singing and The Grapes of Wrath popularized and romanticized Route 66 and started the mystique it now enjoys. So, Route 66 traditionally is traveled from east to west rather than west to east. The rationale is that the US expanded westward, so going west makes sense.
While we give you turn by turn directions going both ways, our narrative goes from east to west. After all, the Bobby Troup tune tells you "It Winds from Chicago to LA."
Finding Route 66
Route 66 was built over a several decade period beginning in 1926. It originally followed mostly existing roads that were connected to flow from Chicago to Los Angeles. This patchwork approach made for an inefficient and circuitous route west. Much of it was not paved.
The alignment was changed many times to create more direct routes that bypassed town centers and to otherwise make travel easier. As a result, there really is no one Route 66. Instead, there are many alignments, some of which still are in use and others of which have long been abandoned.
We have not tried to chronicle all of the permutations of Route 66. Instead, we have provided a primary suggested route from Chicago to Santa Monica designed to give you the most interesting possible Route 66 experience. Our suggested route is not always over the oldest or most historic parts of the road, but we believe our route shows travelers the best of what remains of Route 66.
When given a choice between a quick route and a comprehensive route, we have chosen the comprehensive route that will take you through the greatest number of towns. When given a choice between routing you through or bypassing a town, we generally have routed you through town. Also, when given a choice between a newer and an older alignment, we generally have chosen the older alignment.
A good example of this is the alignment from St Louis to Grey Summit, Missouri. Our suggested route is over the 1926 alignment, which will take you through several rural towns that you otherwise would miss. We also give you directions over a newer 40 mile alignment that follows I-55 and frontage roads. The newer alignment will get you to Greys Summit more quickly than our suggested route, but by taking the newer alignment you will miss some wonderful little towns.
Another example is from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our suggested route takes the 1926 alignment through Santa Fe, New Mexico. It takes a few more hours than a newer route that passes through Moriarty, but they are well spent hours.
So, we have picked a suggested route we think you will enjoy if you have the time, but we have given you quicker options that you may have to use if you don't have all the time you would like.
Timing of Your Route 66 Ride
You should plan on at least 10 days to go from Chicago to Santa Monica. It can be done in 10 days, but that is pushing hard.
About 200 miles per day is a realistic goal. The route sometimes is hard to find and often runs though the centers of rural towns with low speed limits. Some of the sites you will want to see are not directly on the route, so some time consuming exploring is required. Plus, the whole point of your ride is to see Route 66. If you rush you will miss things you will regret not having seen. Make sure you see all you can, because who knows if you will ever get back.
Travel in the eastern portion of Route 66 often takes longer than in the west. There are more towns in the east, and they generally better preserved, so there is more to see. Once you get west of about Weatherford, Oklahoma, an increasing portion of your ride will be on interstate hiways and there will be many more ghost towns.
That's not to say there are not many great rides in the west. In fact, the 160 mile ride from outside of Ash Fork to Topock, Arizona is my favorite streach of Route 66. The point here is that you can make up a lot of time traveling through the western states.
The ride from San Bernardino to Santa Monica is an exception to being able to make up time in the west. It's only 50 miles, but plan on five or six hours. You will have to pass through a bunch of towns with roadways that are not big enough to support the local traffic. The last 10 miles down Santa Monica Boulevard is brutal. Be prepared for lots of stop and go traffic.
So, budget your time and see all you can see.