This September we’ll get our kicks on Route 66 as we head to the Southwest! The “Mother Road” starts in Chicago, so we’ll drive out to Illinois and follow it all the way to Los Angeles, camping for a couple of nights at the Grand Canyon along the way. After driving all the way to the Santa Monica Pier, we’ll visit Death Valley and the “Big Five” national parks in Utah. After our stops in Colorado, we’ll have visited TEN national parks in total!
This is our longest trip by far, clocking in at 24 days! We started planning back in January and have our itinerary ready to share below. Watch for our posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter with the hashtag #RealImaginaryWest.
- 24 days
- 6,800 miles
- 13 states
OH, IN, IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, CO
- Old Historic U.S. Route 66: “The Main Street of America”, “The Mother Road”
- Part of the Santa Fe Trail in Eastern Colorado and across Kansas
- 10 national parks:
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- St. Louis
- Oklahoma City
- Las Vegas, New Mexico
- Santa Fe
- Los Angeles
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Dodge City, Kansas
- Kansas City
- Palo Duro Canyon State Park (TX)
- Meteor Crater (AZ)
- Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park (CA)
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (NV)
- Valley of Fire State Park (NV)
- Kodachrome Basin State Park (UT)
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (UT)
- Dead Horse Point State Park (UT)
- Natural Bridges National Monument (UT)
- Bears Ears National Monument (UT)
- Monument Valley (UT-AZ)
- Fort Larned National Historic Site (KS)
- Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (MO)
|Day 1||Fri||Leave after picking Becky up from work in Middleburg Heights, Ohio (suburban Cleveland) and drive to Joliet, Illinois where we’ll stay in a motel.|
|Day 2||Sat||Drive along Route 66 across Illinois and Missouri, stopping at the Rock Cafe and a motel for the night in Stroud, Oklahoma.|
|Day 3||Sun||Head from Stroud, Oklahoma to the Texas Pandhandle, stopping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo. Then we proceed along an older alignment of Route 66 to Las Vegas, New Mexico (also known as Downtown Durant, Wyoming in the Longmire television series) before stopping for the night in Santa Fe.|
|Day 4||Mon||Meander our way along Route 66 through New Mexico at a much more leisurely pace, with time in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We’ll probably visit Petrified Forest National Park, before stopping for the night at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona.|
|Day 5||Tue||After visiting the Meteor Crater and standing in corner in Winslow, Arizona, we’ll get off of Route 66 and take it easy for the next two nights at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.|
|Day 6||Wed||Explore the Grand Canyon and spend another night at the South Rim in Mather Campground.|
|Day 7||Thu||Get back on Route 66 and continue west through Seligman, Peach Springs, and Kingman, before winding our way around the famous curves leading into Oatman, Arizona. After Oatman, we cross the Colorado River into California and head through Needles, Goffs, Amboy, and Barstow into Victorville or San Bernardino for the night.|
|Day 8||Fri||Drive along the final stretch of Route 66 across the Inland Empire and through Pasadena into Los Angeles for a stop at the La Brea Tar Pits. Then we’ll stop at the Santa Monica Pier before driving back into the Mojave Desert to Death Valley National Park.|
|Day 9||Sat||Explore Death Valley National Park and probably spend the night just over the state line in Pahrump, Nevada.|
|Day 10||Sun||Head toward Las Vegas, with a quick drive through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Next we’ll cross Las Vegas, possibly stopping at Hoover Dam on our way to a short hike at Valley of Fire State Park. Finally we make our way to Watchman Campground at Zion National Park in Utah.|
|Day 11||Mon||Spend the day exploring Zion National Park.|
|Day 12||Tue||Spend another day exploring Zion National Park.|
|Day 13||Wed||Make the short two-hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, where we’ll spend the next couple of nights at Sunset Campground.|
|Day 14||Thu||Spend the day exploring Bryce Canyon National Park.|
|Day 15||Fri||Drive up to Capitol Reef National Park with a possible stop at Kodachrome Basin State Park along the way. Hopefully we’ll get there in time to get a campsite inside the park!|
|Day 16||Sat||Head further east toward the Moab area, where we’ll explore Arches National Park. We’ll stay at Dead Horse Point State Park for the next two nights.|
|Day 17||Sun||Visit the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands National Park.|
|Day 18||Mon||Pack up our tent at Dead Horse Point State Park and move to Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles unit of Canyonlands National Park.|
|Day 19||Tue||Depart Canyonlands National Park and head down to the new Bears Ears National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument. Next we’ll make a short segue into Arizona again so we can drive through iconic Monument Valley. Finally, we work our way up through the Four Corners to Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.|
|Day 20||Wed||Explore the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.|
|Day 21||Thu||Head east to Piñon Flat Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park.|
|Day 22||Fri||Make our way out of the mountains and onto the Great Plains, where we’ll pick up the Santa Fe Trail route in Eastern Colorado and follow it to Dodge City and Fort Larned, Kansas.|
|Day 23||Sat||Head out to Kansas City and cross Missouri to St. Louis for the night.|
|Day 24||Sun||Visit the Gateway Arch and Old St. Louis Courthouse at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and head back home to Cleveland via I-70 and I-71.|
Now to be clear, we will follow Old Historic U.S. Route 66 in the same fashion that we followed the Oregon Trail route last year. While the Oregon Trail predates Route 66 by about 80 years, both had similar lifespans and both have been replaced by newer and better roads. Route 66 began as a dirt road in most places, and received so many progressive upgrades and realignments over the decades that some parts are simply gone. Along with that, much of the highway’s character changed drastically as new Interstate highways bypassed it. Some parts close to expanding urban centers were completely redeveloped before interest in the road’s history spurred preservation efforts.
While many historic and novel structures and businesses remain, we won’t have time to drive on much of the original highway. We’ve chosen a few highlights that aren’t far off the new freeways, especially in Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma. We’ll take more time to explore the most exotic locations (to us) in New Mexico and Arizona.
Ten National Parks!
Just as many pioneers ventured off the overland trails to check out interesting natural features on their journeys West, most Route 66 travelers drove roughly 80 miles out of route to see the Grand Canyon. We’ll do the same ourselves, spending two nights at Mather Campground inside Grand Canyon National Park. This won’t be our first park on the trip though—Route 66 and I-40 both traverse Petrified Forest, which became a national park in 1962.
After we drive along the Mother Road all the way from Chicagoland to Los Angeles, we begin an extensive tour of the Southwest. We’ll visit Death Valley in California and a few places near Las Vegas, Nevada before we spend nine full days camping across Southern Utah as we explore the Mighty 5 national parks there. Add Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes in Southern Colorado, and it comes to ten national parks for this trip!
We drove 6,400 miles to the coast and back in 17 days last summer. Even with all that driving, we still only visited four national parks. We only spent two nights at Mount Rainier National Park, and we had to drop North Cascades from the itinerary completely. While we definitely intend to return to the Northwest, we expended a lot of resources getting out there once—and simply because of time, we missed some easy opportunities.
So this year Becky put in for three full weeks and got them! With the weekends, that gives us 24 days on the road, by far our longest trip. The cool thing is that the density of national parks throughout the Southwest is high enough that we’ll do just about the same amount of driving as last year…but we’ll see 10 parks instead of just 4. Having all three weeks will also give us enough time to spend along Route 66 and in the parks to really soak them in.
See You on the Road!
We leave in just four days! I know I planned to live-blog our trip to the Black Hills and Rocky Mountains back in July and things didnt work out. I’m going to do my best tgis time to get something out on the interwebs each day that we’re out even if its just one photo and a note. I promise that when I get back I’ll flesh out the story and share more photos and notes about our experiences over the weeks following!
Take care, and thanks for reading!