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Last Updated on June 18, 2022
There is no more iconic road in America than Route 66. To experience the best that the “Mother Road” has to offer, take a road trip on Route 66 in Arizona. Here, the 300-mile drive offers most of what makes this travel back in time so memorable. You’ll see National Parks like the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Wayside villages that seem lost in time have Route 66 running right through them. Ruins of abandoned sights from yesteryear and sterling desert scenery that pop out at every turn. Best of all, it’s under that cerulean blue high desert sky. You can even take a side trip to a giant hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon. 😉
Best way to travel Route 66 in Arizona
The rise of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s obliterated many classic old U.S. highways and Route 66 is no exception. These days Interstate 40 is now the main east/west transit way across northern Arizona. Despite this, traces of the old road still exist. Therefore, it’s still possible to cobble together a ride that would reenact cruising along Route 66 in Arizona in the pre-superhighway era.
There are many miles where I-40 actually overlays the original Route 66 in Arizona. Typically, this is in wide-open stretches where there isn’t much to see beyond Arizona’s wide open skies. Old Route 66 detours are generally near towns or other points of interest. Because of the combination of 21st century highway and old US route, you have the benefit of motoring through the desert and slowing down for the interesting bits. In short, a perfect Arizona road trip! 😃
Although you can make this journey in either direction, we recommend traveling from east to west. By doing this, you’re traveling in the footsteps (or tire treads) of the Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl in Depression-era America. Imagine encountering the harsh landscape when they set their weary eyes on the Arizona desert for the first time. It must have looked like the parched land they were fleeing. Fortunately, we modern day travelers can glide along in air-conditioned comfort to experience one of America’s most iconic road trips.
And if you really want to get into the road trip spirit, be sure to check out our recommendations for hotels on route 66 in Arizona. They’re all super-atmospheric, either mid-century motels, historic properties, or contemporary hotels that have taken the “route 66 in Arizona” theme seriously. Check them out, and get your kicks!
Visiting the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
About 50 miles west of the New Mexico border you’ll come to Petrified Forest National Park (I-40 exit 311). The park is smack-dab in the middle of the Painted Desert. Polychromatic layers of red, yellow, purple, green, and grey sand in the Painted Desert. Formed more than 200 million years ago, these colorful striations reveal the history of the formation of the earth. A section of the Painted Desert is conveniently located right in the Petrified Forest National Park. Here, nature lovers are awed by psychedelically colored mineralized logs that looks like tie dye t-shirts turned to stone. They are the remnants of an ancient forest of tall conifers dating from when dinosaurs rumbled through the area.
Sleep in a Tepee on Route 66 in Arizona
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After a day of exploring the outdoors, lay your head down at a rare vestige of mid-century Route 66 travel: The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook that’s located on the old Route 66 (now known as West Hopi Drive/Route 40). Built in 1950, travelers sleep in 28-foot-tall fully furnished concrete teepees with classic cars parked outside each one. It’s a unique experience that hearkens back to early American road trips. (Yes, despite the name of the motel, they are teepees, not wigwams.)
At dusk, cruise slowly along the main drag of Holbrook to view surviving vintage neon signs as they flicker to life for the night, providing a spectral glow to the streetscape. One of those signs is a pulsing beacon for the Roxy Theater, opened in 1954 it’s the only operating movie theater along Route 66 in Arizona so you can even take in a film. Stop in for a some Mexican & American Food at Joe & Aggie’s Cafe. Pink and neon outside, wood-paneled inside, this mid-century spot is perfect for a burger . . . or huevos rancheros . . .or both! 😋
Winslow: Standin’ on a Corner
For the town of Winslow, Arizona, Route 66 connections are serious. The town has painted giant route markers on the main street. Here you’ll find an intersection made famous in the Eagles’ hit song Take it Easy. Jackson Browne penned the famous line: “Well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.” The town commemorated this lyric with a statue of a folk singer representing Browne. (And recently added a statue of the late Eagles singer Glenn Frey.) They are staring at “a girl, my lord” in an actual flame-red 1960 Ford flatbed pickup truck.
One block east of the intersection is a relic of old Route 66 in Arizona, the La Posada Hotel. For a true trip back in time stop in for either a meal or for the night. Designed by Mary Colter, the Fred Harvey Company built the hotel in 1930. Many credit The Harvey Company with civilizing the rough-and-tumble American southwest. Art galleries throughout the building are open to the public and range from traditional southwestern motifs to the truly bizarre.
Arizona Route 66 Attractions
Thirty-five miles west of Winslow you’ll come across a poignant reminder of the hopes and dreams both travelers and those who served them on Route 66 in Arizona. Two giant 25-foot long yellow arrows with red arrowheads and feathers are thrust into the ground at a sixty-degree angle, marking the ruins of the old Twin Arrows Trading Post. Only the abandoned, graffiti-scarred buildings remain of this former business that attracted generations of road weary travelers.
On this section of the road Humphreys Peak a constant marker off to the north. At 12,633 feet it’s the highest point in Arizona and is snow-capped for much of the year.
Flagstaff: a Route 66 road trip midpoint
The next major town, Flagstaff, is the halfway point of a Route 66 road trip in Arizona. Stroll around the old Western town, which has a cool Victorian vibe. Be mindful that you are now at nearly 7,000 feet in elevation and may feel the effects. Be sure to visit the Flagstaff Visitor Center, which also has a terrific Route 66 gift shop. It’s located in the old train station along Route 66 just south of town. Trains still pass by just outside, you’ll definitely hear the “toot, TOOT!” 🚂
In 2001, Flagstaff became the first International Dark Sky Place, providing stargazers with incredible sights. Head over to the Lowell Observatory, where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, for nighttime constellation tours.
For nightlife of another kind, the Museum Club on the eastern approach to Flagstaff has been a honky tonk bar offering up country music fare—Willie Nelson and Wanda Jackson have performed here—since the 1930s. Two step through the giant inverted forked ponderosa marking the entryway and enter a décor festooned with wagon wheels, animal trophy heads and Native American artifacts, all underneath a wooden ceiling supported by tree trunks that are so large you can’t even hug them.
Williams: Old-School Arizona (& gateway to the Grand Canyon)
For a classic road trip stop along Route66, Willams, Arizona fits the bill. The town, also known as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, has some great Old route 66 attractions on its own. For a “good old American steak dinner,” head to the circa 1946 Rod’s Steak House. Look for the building with the large steer perched on top. The interior is so old school you’ll be forgiven for thinking you left your ’57 Chevy out in the parking lot.
Seligman Arizona: Route 66 starts here
No trip along Route 66 in Arizona would be complete without passing through Seligman. There’s nary a stoplight in this town that got bypassed by the interstate, but it’s well worth a stop anyway. Seligman is known as “the birthplace of Historic Route 66” due tohistoric preservation efforts by local barber Angel Delgadillo. Along with other local residents, he spearheaded efforts to have the road declared a historic highway by the state of Arizona. Along with some awesomely retro motels and memorabilia shops, there are some wonderful old cars scattered around. (Seligman is said to be the inspiration for the fictional town of Radiator Springs in the movie Cars.) You might even get to meet Tow Mater!
Route 66 Kingman, Arizona: Classic cars & museums
End your Route 66 in Arizona journey just 30 miles from the California border with a stay in Kingman, a town that’s part of the longest continuous remaining stretch of the original Route 66. The 1907 brick Powerhouse Building contains multiple attractions to augment a Route 66 journey with the Kingman Visitors Center, Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, Route 66 Museum, and Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum.
The Route 66 Museum highlights the historic road, from the early days of the National Old Trails Road up through mid-century, with a 1950 Studebaker Champion parked outside a reproduction Richfield service station.
After your visit, stroll across the Mother Road to Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. The retro café has a few classic cars parked out front, including a wedge-shaped electric circa 1980 Comuta-Car and a decidedly non-electric 1954 Chevy pickup truck.
For one last touch of the Arizona portion of historic Route 66, spend the night at the El Trovatore Motel. Welcoming guests since 1939, you can’t miss the “El Trovatore” neon sign that soars 100-feet in the air like a large radio tower marking the place. Take a look at the 200-foot-long Route 66 map (billed as the world’s longest) painted on the outside of the building and review all the places you’ve visited. It’s nice to know that in the modern era of the Internet and selfie sticks, intrepid travelers can still embark on a classic Route 66 road trip.
Bonus: How to Find the Original Historic Route 66 in Arizona
While much of the original Route 66 in Arizona was covered over by Interstate 40, there are still remnants of the original road that snake around back country rock formations and canyons and through old towns that were bypassed by the modern highway. In fact, in-town sections of the route often reveal the most highlights from the old days. To find the original Route 66 we recommend the Route 66: EZ Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. This spiral-bound book provides detailed drawing and descriptions of the multiple routes of historic Route 66 while pointing out all the sights of interest along the way.
This road trip on Route 66 in Arizona is only one of many great itineraries you can explore. For more ideas, check our complete list of Arizona road trips–you can mix and match them to make up your own perfect trip!
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