Route 66 Road Trip

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he ponders the iconic Route 66.

Route 66, USA

Route 66 is the world’s most iconic drive. And although Interstate roads criss-cross the United States, making sea-to-sea driving as easy as hitting the cruise control button, it is the Mother Road which grips the imagination of both Americans and visitors.

Route 66 was immortalised in Steinbeck’s literature (it was he who dubbed it the Mother Road) and made legendary by one of the most famous pop songs ever. Though officially declassified as a highway in 1985, the 2200-mile route simply refused to go quietly into the history books.

Route 66 highlights

Thousands of pilgrims trace the old route southwest from Chicago across eight states to Los Angeles, passing small towns, kitsch displays of Americana and natural wonders including the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert. Monuments and museums dedicated to the road dot the journey providing plenty of chances to break the drive.

For many visitors the appeal of the journey is the road itself. Some sections retain the ‘66’ classification and with some careful planning you can drive most of the route as it was originally laid out, albeit on more modern roads.

On the way you’ll find, as Jack Kerouac did, that the portions of apple pie get larger and the welcome warmer. If you go in September you’ll also meet legions of bikers, tourists and everyday Americans going about their business on and around the route.

Driving tips

The ultimate image of touring the Mother Road is in a top-down convertible, preferably a Cadillac or little red Corvette. Some hire companies will rent these vehicles but you’ll normally need to return a premium vehicle such as this to where you began your journey.

Also be aware that driving a convertible with the top down and an intense desert sun above you may be uncomfortable. Route 66 looks just as good from behind the wheel of a less expensive hire car – and you’ll still get your kicks.

Planning your trip to the USA

Start at Historic Route 66 for maps, guidance and some excellent detail on planning in the discussion forums. Otherwise individual state tourism bureaus can help – try Tourism Offices Worldwide for links to them all.

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