Route 66 is the fabled pathway known as the Mother Road. Established in 1926, it connected Chicago and California and became a classic U.S. road trip.
Much of present-day Interstate 40 runs along Historic Route 66; however, where Route 66 turned northeast, Interstate 40 continues east, running through Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
Connecting the East Coast and West Coast, I-40 takes travelers from Barstow, California, to Wilmington, North Carolina, passing through major cities such as Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.
Along the way, you'll find iconic Route 66 sites, cool towns, and picturesque parks. Check out our favorite things to do on I-40.
Barstow is a small town that oozes kitschy Historic Route 66 vibes. Check out the town's Route 66 Mother Road Museum or the Western American Rail Road Museum. Stock up on snacks and souvenirs at Barstow Station, a massive rest stop.
36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA, US
Ghost towns are dotted all across the west, and Calico is one of the cutest. Though it's been well-preserved, it is now more of a tourist attraction than an authentic historic stop. You'll find museums, shops, restaurants, train rides, and restored buildings. There's even a campground, if you're looking for a place to stay the night.
For a taste of the desert landscape you've been driving through on I-40, stop at the Mojave National Preserve. Scrubby plants, multicolored rocks, and stark, stony earth provide a unique view. The Mojave is especially breathtaking at sunset and sunrise. If you plan on hiking here, remember to be careful of the heat and lack of shade.
Old Route 66, Golden Valley, AZ, US
Don't expect to top off your tank here—the gas pumps, while beautifully restored, don't actually work. However, a pit stop at Cool Springs Gas Station is worthwhile because it's an authentic Route 66 icon. This once-abandoned gem of the Mother Road now includes a museum and souvenir shop.
Surrounded by National Forests and U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Areas, Flagstaff is an oasis of natural beauty that also provides the pleasures of a big city. Check out the Museum of Northern Arizona during the day and the Lowell Observatory come nightfall. Grab lunch or dinner at Diablo Burger, which is known for its fresh, locally-grown ingredients. If you're in search of a place to stay in Flagstaff, the city provides unique options. The Little America Hotel features a gorgeous setting in a pine forest, and the Starlight Pines Bed and Breakfast will make you feel like royalty, thanks to the clawfoot tubs, private balconies, and delicious breakfasts.
I 40 Exit 233, Winslow, AZ, US
Just outside Flagstaff is one of the weirdest attractions in the west: Meteor Crater. This unbelievably massive impact crater formed from a meteor that hit Earth thousands of years ago. The mile-wide hole in the ground is topped with a visitor center that features a museum, videos, and an observation deck.
1 Park Road, AZ, US
Like Historic Route 66, I-40 cuts right through Petrified Forest National Park, which features impressive hikes and scenic viewpoints. The park is named for its glittering petrified wood, made from fossilized redwood trees that lived over 225 million years ago. Tour the Rainbow Forest, the Crystal Forest, and the Agate House, or hike the Blue Mesa Trail for views of the Painted Desert.
1000 E. Highway 66, Gallup, NM, US
Stepping into Hotel El Rancho is like stepping back in time to the 1930s, when Route 66 first started to gain popularity. The lobby features Southwestern motifs and native stone and wood. Even if you don't stay the night in one of the vintage rooms, grab enchiladas and a drink at the bar and soak up the history.
Eventually, I-40 will take you to Albuquerque. Famous for its balloon festival and association with the TV show Breaking Bad, this town has artsy Southwestern charm. Visit the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, grab a bite to eat at Perea's New Mexican Restaurant, and tuck in for the night at the Nativo Lodge. As for hotels in Albuquerque, there are some cool options. Hotel Parq Central is an old hospital turned sleek hotel, and the Casas de Suenos rents private adobe casitas in Old Town.
Route 66, Santa Rosa, NM, US
If you're looking for a place to cool off while driving through the desert, then you won't find a better spot than the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa. The crystal-clear, deeply blue water is quite refreshing. Jump off the rocks into the pool, scuba dive to the bottom, or just dip your toes in and soak up the natural beauty of the setting.
924 E Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US
The whole town of Tucumcari is pure retro bliss, but the crown jewel of the community might be Tee Pee Curios. The sign, decor, and building—with its concrete teepee out front—ooze an authentic 1950s aesthetic. Inside, you'll find a collection of souvenirs that range from kitschy to authentic Native American art. Stay in Tucumcari until after to dark to snap pictures of the vintage neon signs around town.
Interstate 40, Amarillo, TX, US
Amarillo is home to the iconic folk art attraction known as Cadillac Ranch. Proposed by three artists and financed by an eccentric millionaire, Cadillac Ranch went relatively unnoticed for a few years before becoming a popular road trip stop. The interactive nature adds to the fun—you can add your own graffiti to the row of Cadillacs. Bring your own paint—just be sure to take your trash with you when you go.
Since I-40 only passes through a small portion of the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is a great place to experience the Lone Star State. Home to the larger-than-life Big Texan Steak Ranch and authentic Tyler's BBQ, it has some good eats. You'll also find the vintage Wonderland Amusement Park and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. If you are staying overnight, the Courtyard in Downtown Amarillo is in a historic building with a great location.
11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX, US
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home to the second-largest canyon in the U.S. There are several trails that traverse the bottom of the canyon, and others take you to the rim for more expansive views. The campground gets high reviews and offers unbeatable stargazing.
101 E. 12th Street, Shamrock, TX, US
Another major icon from the glory days of Route 66, the Tower Station Conoco and U-Drop Inn Cafe are probably recognizable to most because they inspired scenes in Disney's Cars. The classic Art Deco architecture has been thoroughly restored. Today, this is home to Shamrock's Chamber of Commerce and a visitor center.
3000 Logan Road, Weatherford, OK, US
From a recreation of the Wright Brothers glider to an F-4 Phantom to spacesuits that were worn by astronauts in flight, the Stafford Air and Space Museum covers the history of air and space flight. There are 3,500 artifacts and objects on display, including a very impressive exhibit on the U.S.'s nuclear missiles, complete with a Titan II rocket.
Oklahoma City is the next major urban center along I-40. Home to offbeat attractions like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Museum of Osteology, and the American Banjo Museum, along with an aquarium, a zoo, a science museum, an art museum, a history museum, and more, it's a rich city bursting with things to see and do. Hit up Ann's Chicken Fry House or Tucker's Onion Burgers for a classic OKC meal. If you are staying overnight, check out the Colcord luxury boutique hotel.
South side of Broadway between 3rd and 4th St, Okemah, OK, US
Woody Guthrie was a massively influential folk artist from Okemah. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and more drew inspiration from Guthrie's huge catalogue of songs, many of which were based on his experiences during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Today, a small park stands in Okemah with a statue and memorial plaque dedicated to Woody Guthrie.
301 Parker Avenue, Fort Smith, AR, US
As you continue along I-40, you'll make your way into Arkansas. Stop at the Fort Smith National Historic Site for a look into the state's past. The fort was established in 1817, which means that this fort was the backdrop for an interesting history involving outlaws, settlers, and Native Americans. Tour the old buildings and the visitor center, which houses a museum with artifacts.
11901 Pinnacle Valley Rd., Roland, AR, US
Get out of the car and breathe in the fresh air at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. You can get a taste of the landscape at the visitor center or by hiking or biking one of the trails. The views from the top of the mountain are utterly breathtaking.
There's no bad time to road trip I-40. Since the route is pretty far south, snowy weather isn't too much of a concern. However, if it happens to snow, be prepared for slick roads. Never underestimate how hot it can get in the desert between Texas and California. Always bring plenty of water, and make sure your car's AC is in good working condition.