Does Route 66 still exist and can you still drive it in 2022?

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Historic Route 66 sounds almost mythical doesn’t it? Perhaps it’s Hollywood romantiscing the open road that makes us so attracted to it, but is it real and if so does Route 66 still exist?

As a Brit I had heard of the road but I hadn’t really much knowledge of it until I watched Disney’s Cars as a young adult with my kids. I remember feeling so strongly that I had to find this iconic stretch of tarmac and explore it. I was so pleased to hear that it still existed, well kind of, as you’ll see!

So let’s dive into a little of what is left of the Mother Road and explore whether you can still drive on it in 2022!

Old road with cracks and route 66 sign
Cracked and old Route 66 but still around!

Is Route 66 real?

Ok, so perhaps for some of you this might be a silly question, but its definitely one that I asked myself at the beginning of my descent into obsession with this road.

Yes, Route 66 is real. It was a highway that began in 1926 and took American travelers and road trippers through 8 states from Chicago in the Midwest to Los Angeles on the West coast of the USA.

In the early 20th century the road system in America wasn’t established. There were trails and dirt roads but nothing particularly great and certainly nothing joined up in a meaningful way. With cars really exploding in popularity there became a need for a connected highway system in the country.

The route from Chicago to Los Angeles was designated the number 66 and so Route 66 was born.

Does Route 66 still exist?

So we’ve established that it is a real road in the USA, but does Route 66 still exist today?

Yes, Route 66 still exists today but not in one single road that traverses the United States any more. It was decommissioned in 1985 as an official highway but the original roads are, mostly, still in existence.

So while you can drive the road, it’s not on road maps any more and it’s not signposted in any way that makes it easy to drive. There are signs, but often they can be hit and miss.

Why did Route 66 close and be decommissioned?

So what happened to Route 66? If it was so amazing, why did it stop being used?

Route 66 was always in a state of flux. As car usage increased, especially around cities, the road was updated and alignments changed. Some parts of the road completely changed even while Route 66 was in its heyday.

The real decline of the road coincided with when interstates began in the 50s. The passing of a new bill from President Eisenhower meant that lots were being built to be a much more efficient way of transporting cars and trucks across country.

Slowly but surely the towns that relied on the transient visitors were bypassed. The roads were no longer needed and eventually were no longer upgraded.

It took a while, the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed was Williams, AZ in 1984, and the road officially ceased to exist the year after when it was decertified.

What is Route 66 now?

Route 66 exists as country roads in many places and will still take you to the wonderful towns along the way.

Some parts of the historic road are completely gone, some have been incorporated into the modern freeway and some run alongside it with grass growing through the cracks.

The main Interstates that bypassed Route 66 were:

  • I-50 in Illinois
  • I-44 in Missouri and Oklahoma
  • I-40 in New Mexico, Arizona and California
Historic US 66 Sign in California against a blue sky
Signs are dotted along the road in places, but not enough to navigate solely by them.

What parts of route 66 are still open?

There are loads of parts of Route 66 that are still open and if you take your time when driving, have a handy guide book with you, you’ll see many signs showing the road is still alive and ready to get your kicks on!

Many historic associations have sprung up along the road dedicated to preserving the history, helping out businesses and tourists who are exploring.

You’ll find that many of the areas will have ‘Historic US 66’ signs along the road which can help a little with navigating (although don’t rely on them) and give you encouragement that you’re in the right place!

How easy is Route 66 to drive?

After you’ve read all of this, you might be wondering if it’s easy to drive on Route 66 and whether it’s worth it to drive along (that might have to be another blog post!).

Before the internet came along it just wasn’t easy to find out all there was to make a Route 66 road trip. Yes you could buy books about the road and some intrepid road trippers did make the trip back then using that but it really just declined.

Enter the internet, enter nostalgia and you have the perfect recipe to create a revival of the road. Websites started to pop up with tips on what to see, forums brought together enthusiasts and it just made it seem a lot more accessible. It snowballed and now it’s a completely different landscape for visitors.

We now have restored buildings all along the road, diners that have been re-opened and quirky roadside attractions for kids, adults and obsessed individuals.

It takes time to plan the trip, some care when driving, but it’s so worth it!

Links For Your Route 66 trip

Get your Route 66 guidebook on Amazon

Get your car rental quote at RentalCars.com

Book Motels at Booking.com or Hotels.com

Check Flights at Skyscanner

Photo of author

Kirsty

Kirsty became obsessed with Route 66 after taking her kids to see Cars at the cinema way back in 2006. She first visited in 2014 and it didn't help the obsession at all. She now writes about the road, the history and hopes to encourage others to visit and keep it alive.

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