Route 66 is one of the first highways built across the United States. Its historic and geographic significance has led it to become probably the most famous public roads in the country. The construction on this route was completed on November 11, 1926. The original route and pavement from that time no longer mark the highway today. However, Route 66 still holds its importance in the US Highway System.
Route 66 passes through 8 states and has a total length of 2,448 miles. By the time it was first commissioned, it had undergone multiple overhauls. Yet, this highway has been equally crucial for business people, manufacturers, travelers, locals, passengers, and many more.
Top-rated attractions not to miss on Route 66
Since it served as a primary route to many movements over the last century, numerous attractions are found on both sides of the route all along its way. Let us take a look at the top 10 attractions on Route 66 that you must not miss.
1. Cadillac Ranch, Texas
Cadillac Ranch can be classified as a roadside public art piece. It is a unique establishment of 10 Cadillacs buried nose-down into the ground. It was put up in 1974 and has been catching the eye of passengers on Route 66 ever since. The Cadillacs that are used in this installation are not all similar. Their models vary all the way from 1949 to 1963, representing each famous Cadillac model there is. Cadillac Ranch was designed by 2 architects and an art student. Their concept behind this artwork was to conceive a new sense of architecture in the people who are driving by on the famous Route 66.
As people started noticing the installation, they began to stop by and have a closer look. Much sooner than expected, they added their own touch to the Cadillacs. Today, all 10 cars are completely covered in colorful Graffiti and spray paintings. This makes the sight even more interesting than ever before. It really is a sight to behold and offers such a picturesque scene in the middle of nowhere. This art project was originally submitted as a mild proposal to one of Amarillo’s millionaires, Stanley Marsh. He considered it to be so irrelevant but so imaginative at the same time. Later, he went on to graciously accept the proposal of completely funding the project, and the rest is history. Even though Cadillac Ranch is situated on private property, you can visit it on any day at any time.
The cars have been painted and repainted so many times, that you can actually notice the unusual thickness of layers upon layers of paint. After some time, the cars are painted pitch black in order to provide a new and fresh canvas for others. Moreover, the cars do take on different colors on noticeable events all over the world. Just so you know, it was also referenced in the famous animated movie “Cars”. Whenever you plan to visit the Cadillac Ranch, make sure to have spray paint on you so that you can add your own touch to this extraordinary sculpture. Even though whatever you may paint will only last a few hours, and then will be painted over by someone else.
2. London Bridge, Arizona
You might be wondering why is this bridge in Arizona named as the London Bridge, right? Well, that’s because it actually is from London. This bridge was originally built on River Thames in 1831. However, almost 130 years after its construction, the bridge was bought by an American entrepreneur, Robert Paxton McCulloch. All external blocks from the original bridge were then removed and shipped to the United States. These were then used to build a bridge in the newly established Lake Havasu City. The design and exterior of this new bridge was kept identical to what it was in London. This gave it its unique name with which it is still known these days.
This new bridge was completed in 1971 and serves the purpose of connecting a remote island with the Lake Havasu City. The bridge was actually sold by the London City because it could not carry the load of increased traffic in the area. The bridge was to be replaced with a much stronger and sturdier one, and that is why the authorities decided to trade it away. Lake Havasu City was actually constructed by the Robert McCulloch, and he used the London Bridge as a landmark attraction to bring eyeballs towards his latest project. Just so you know, Lake Havasu City also boasts the longest remaining segment of the original Route 66.
3. Gateway Arch, Missouri
The Gateway Arch is an iconic structure situated in the great state of Missouri. As you drive on the Route 66, you are sure to notice this giant arched structure. It stands at 190 meters tall and holds the record of being the world’s highest arch. To date, it is also the highest building in all of Missouri. The Gateway Arch was actually built to celebrate and memorialize the Western United States. The Gateway Arch is also commonly known as “The Gateway To The West”.
The construction of the arch was completed 56 years ago in October 1965. It is situated in the Gateway Arch National Park, which is probably the smallest national parks in the entire country. Still, it has become one of the most popular tourist destination in Missouri. This gigantic structure cost around $13 million to build and is situated at the West Bank of the Mississippi River. It is constructed in such a way that both its width and height are exactly equal. It holds the record of being the tallest stainless-steel monument all over the world.
The Gateway Arch has been ranked as the 4th most visited man-made attraction. This goes on to show how many tourists visit the place each year. That is why, you must not miss the views on offer from this arch if you ever happen to go through St. Louis on Route 66. You can enter the establishment from its base, where you can have a ticket to one of the trams that will take you up to the top of the arch. The tram ride takes 4 minutes to go to the top and about 3 minutes to come back down. You can have a gorgeous view of the entire landscape around the arch from the top. The arched observation deck can accommodate 150 people at once and provides views as far as 30 miles. There is also an underground visitor center just beneath the arch itself. This center hosts multiple exhibits and a lot of information and history on the Gateway Arch. It is also home to mechanical rooms and waiting areas for the tram ride.
4. Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you are ready for a short detour off Route 66, then Grand Canyon is definitely one of the must-see places. If you do not already know, millions of years ago, the Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River. It is more than 250 miles long, 18 miles wide, and approximately 1 mile deep. The Grand Canyon is believed to have preserved more than 2 billion years of our planet’s geological and ecological history. It is also home to more than 80 animal species of this region. These include mountain lion, gray fox, reptiles, rodents, desert sheep, deer, and many more.
If you are travelling on Route 66, then the South Rim of the canyon will be the nearest. The good news is that the South Rim is open all year round. The canyon not only provides the most spectacular views, but you can also enjoy plenty of other activities. If you are in the mood for a helicopter tour over the entire canyon or want to raft in the colored Colorado River, it is all there for you. Many tourists also hike their way down to the floor of the canyon. You can also take this trip on the back of a mule. You are in luck because the most popular viewpoint in the entire canyon, Lipan Point, is also present on the South Rim. You can just park your car right beside the viewpoint and take in the most beautiful and scenic views that Grand Canyon is famous for.
5. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
This is one of the most scenic and picturesque national parks all over America. You must be thinking about where it got its unique name from. It was named because of the large deposits of petrified wood. As you drive into the park, you get an instant notion of the exceptional surroundings. It is situated along the Interstate 40; however, the historic Route 66 passed right through the park. The Painted Desert with its distinctive colors is also adjacent to the park. It attracts more than half a million tourists each year, with the total number getting higher every time.
The Petrified Forest National Park is mostly dry all year round and has a relatively cold climate. Apart from charming views, the park is also home to more than 400 species of plants and over 200 species of animals. The most famous highlight at the Petrified Forest National Park is the 225 million years old fossils of fallen trees. These fossils give their characteristic colors to different layers of Chinle Formation. The fossils also include those of prehistoric animals including reptiles, amphibians, and dinosaurs.
This national park is open all year round. There is also a Painted Desert Inn which has a historic museum for you to see stunning and remarkable exhibits. Here, the visitor center is another tourist hub where you can find all sorts of information and help that you need. It displays a 20-minute orientation film after every 30 minutes. This makes it a great place to start your adventure in the park. It is just amazing to see multiple restaurant, bookstores, shops, and activity centers in the middle of wilderness.
6. Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico
Acoma Pueblo is a Native American settlement right next to the most populous city of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Back in the time, Acoma Pueblo served as a center of 4 different communities including Acomita, McCartys, Acoma, and Anzac. This is one of the officially recognized tribal entities owning 5 million acres of historic land in this region. Nowadays, there are only about 4,000 people left in the entire country who identify themselves as Acoma. Occupied for over 2,000 years, Acoma Pueblo is by far the oldest inhabited community of Native Americans that is still in place today.
Over the years, tourism along with arts and crafts has become a major source of revenue for this settlement. It has a Sky City Cultural Center which displays the traditional, artistic, and social attributes of their tribe. The cultural center also includes the Haak’u Museum, which was established to preserve the Acoma culture for future generations. At the center, you can watch films made on the local ethos and can also treat yourself to the local cuisine. This architect of the center took inspiration from traditional pueblo design, which also helped the center to fit in its surroundings. The Pueblo itself can also be visited on guided tours but only from March till October. Before you go on one, make sure that you get a tour and camera permit from the Sky City Cultural Center. Administering all local businesses, the Acoma Business Enterprise also governs the Sky City Casino Hotel, which is a must-see on your visit to this great place.
7. Santa Monica Pier, California
As you drive your way along the Route 66 your trip will terminate at Santa Monica in California. Make sure to stop at the beautiful city of Santa Monica and pay a visit to the double-jointed Santa Monica Pier. The pier has an amusement park, viewing stands, fishing activities, and more. At the amusement park, you can enjoy a ride on the world’s only solar-powered Ferris Wheel and wooden roller coaster. You can also visit the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, restaurants, arcade centers, local shops, and community entertainment centers. Moreover, the Santa Monica Pier Corporation also hosts concerts and movie premiers all around the year.
Built in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier has been featured in a number of TV shows, movies, video games, books, and music videos. The Santa Monica Beach is a treat on its own. You can just lay down and enjoy the most beautiful sunsets on offer at the Western Coast. After the sun has set, you can enjoy multiple light shows all across the Santa Monica beach, especially the one on the iconic Ferris Wheel. There is also a Pier Shop & Visitor Center where you will be able to get branded items, map of the pier, and visitor guides. We also recommend that you get a historical walking tour, in which the conductor will tell you all there is to know about Santa Monica and its momentous pier. Lastly, you can always just sit down on one of the benches and try fishing. There are a number of fishing stores on the pier where you will be able to find all the gear you need.
8. Meramec Caverns, Missouri
Meramec Caverns are located in the Southern Franklin County of Missouri. As with most of them, these caverns were formed over 400 million years ago with the help of limestone erosion. These caverns not only hold geographical importance but also a historic one. Many artifacts from the Pre-Columbian era have been unearthed in these caverns. It is believed that Native American used them as a shelter against wind and weather. Meramec Caverns are surely one of the key and possibly the oldest attractions alongside the famous Route 66.
These caverns were first discovered in 1722 by a miner. However, the entire 4.6-mile long cave system which we see today was only revealed in 1933. After this, it became a popular tourist destination for visitors coming in from all over the world. Interestingly, the Meramec Caverns also have the only underground billboard in the world. Other than that, they host Wine Room, Mirror Room, and Ballroom. This multi-level cave system within the earth is just astonishingly great to see in person. The tours only cover the 1.25 mile-long stretch of the system, but that too takes around 70 minutes. The Meramec Caverns are also widely famous for use as a hideout location by Jesse James, a notorious bank and train robber. When you are here, you can eat at the Meramec Caverns Restaurant, stay at a motel, enjoy a picnic in the campground, go down rafting in the Meramec River, or swing your way along the Caveman zip line.
9. Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the United States. It is almost 120 miles in length and 6 miles in average width. It is also known as the Grand Canyon of Texas. This name was given in accordance with the geographical and visual resemblance of Palo Duro Canyon with the Grand Canyon. Just like the Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River, the Palo Duro Canyon was carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River. There are a number of notable formations all over the canyon which include idiosyncratic caves, the Lighthouse, and the Quartermaster Formation.
There are multiple trails that span the entire canyon system. If you have time, you can pick anyone and just track your way down to the bottom. There is also an option to hike, bike, or horseback ride. Since, the canyon is part of the Texas State Parks system, you will find a number of activities all across the canyon. Moreover, if you are in for some adventure, you can camp at one of the camping sites. In case you do not want to spend your night in a tent, there are lodging cabins available as well. These cabins are present on the outer canyon ring and also cover spectacular views over the landscape. If you are with your family, we would recommend staying in one of these cabins for sure. Other than this, you can also rent out a group site where you can host any major event that you may want.
10. Sandia Peak Tramway, New Mexico
This is an aerial tramway located right next to the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico. This tramway travels all the way from the city to the Sandia Mountains. The Sandia Peak Tramway is the longest aerial tram in all of North and South America. Sitting in these tram cars, you can enjoy the most spectacular views that New Mexico has to offer. Constructed in 1966, this tram was inspired by other aerial trams of the time in the European countries. The tram covers an aerial distance of around 4000 feet and takes almost 15 minutes to reach the final stop.
The most interesting feature of this tramway is that it only has 2 support towers. These towers were built through helicopter trips, and this made them really difficult to construct. The longest span of suspension is between the second tower and the final terminal. It is known to be the longest tramway span in the world. Once you reach the top, you will find plenty of recreational activities. There is also a restaurant at the peak where you can eat while looking over the vast landscape that is right in front of your eyes. There is a skiing facility as well on the other side of the mountain, from where you can ski your way down to the base. As you are driving down the Route 66, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway offers the most beautiful getaway for hours of fun and exciting exploration.
Route 66 is the most famous and iconic American highway. As it crosses state after state all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles, you can stop over at all sorts of attractions on both sides. This list only sums up the top 10 attractions, but the actual count just goes on and on. We hope that you will enjoy your ride as you stop by these remarkable destinations.