Route 66 in winter: what to look out for when the weather turns cold

At the beginning, planning your Route 66 journey brings one main question – when to go on your road trip? You might have already read my post about the best time to do Route 66 but in this one I’ll be looking at what it is like to drive in a specific season. This one is all about driving Route 66 in Winter

For the purposes of this article Winter means the months of December, January and February!

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You might also like to check out the other articles in this series:

Route 66 in winter

A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a Route 66 enthusiast – I first became obsessed almost 20 years ago and then first visited in 2014. I’ve recently just come back from my last trip too! Comment below if you have any questions about your road trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP – or join me in my free FB group here.

Winter is by far the quietest season to travel Route 66 due to weather and being out of season. So is it a good time to drive? And worth doing for such a bucket list item? Let’s take a look…

Is winter a good time to drive Route 66?

Winter is very much low season for Route 66 with the road being very quiet with tourists and road trippers.

The slow down in visitor numbers means that many small businesses and museums (that are often volunteer run) will close completely for the winter months. So you may find some attractions and food options limited.

The biggest downside of driving Route 66 in the winter months is the weather. In the mid west you can face extreme cold and snow and even in some other states where you might not expect it, chilling winds, snow and rain can plague your days.

It’s certainly not guaranteed to be all sunshine, even in the desert, so you’ll want to bear it in mind when planning what Route 66 attractions to stop and and spend time in.

Another point, not much mentioned at other times of the year, is the available daylight in winter. The sun sets much earlier in the winter months, specifically in the more northern states. It means you will want to be snuggled up in your hotels earlier or sat enjoying a meal in a restaurant. It might impact how many hours you’ll want to drive in a day too.

You shouldn’t find any issues in booking Route 66’s historic hotels in the low season and last minute bookings might be fine – so long as the motels are open in winter. Mind you, I always say that if anywhere is a must visit stop it’s worth booking in advance.

All this might put you off – is anything good?

You’ll get a much different experience than everyone else, your pictures will look fab and exploring the Grand Canyon with snow on it has to be amazing! If it’s the only time that you can make the trip, don’t let it put you off. Either commit to doing just a portion of it or be well prepared!

If you’re a keen skier you might want to coincide a trip with some skiing in Flagstaff!

Winter weather along Route 66

The weather along Route 66 in winter can be relied upon to be cold, especially in the eastern states of the road, although not exclusively there. It’s been known to snow in the warmer states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the winter months.

Winter can bring snow, blizzards and ice storms, rain and wind, and above all treacherous conditions.

It’s a wise idea to keep an eye on local weather reports as you drive the road, as you should at any time of the year really. Don’t drive if it’s unsafe to do so and give yourself plenty of time.

It’s also worth making sure you’re well equipped in your car (whether a rental or your own) for winter driving with blankets and plenty of food and snacks on board too. Check the car is topped up with anti freeze, it’s in good driving condition and you keep your fuel filled too. A winter driving safety kit might be a good investment.

One area that isn’t prone to the extreme cold is Southern California and Los Angeles – it’s a much milder place. If you wanted to just do a portion of the road, then concentrating on the end could be a good idea in winter. Perhaps incorporating it with a visit to Las Vegas. You’ll not be guaranteed good weather but you’ll find the best of it here.

The different weather can make packing for your Route 66 trip a little more challenging, especially if driving the whole road. You’ll definitely want a variety of clothes with you and layers!

Town in New Mexico on Route 66 with snow
Even New Mexico has snow flurries!

Winter holidays and festivals

Here are some dates that you should bear in mind when planning your trip as they may make your intended destination busy and accommodation booked in advance or it may encourage you to visit specifically.

Christmas, Hannukah and the Holiday Season

Many of the cities on Route 66 will be hives of activity during the holiday season.

You’ll find parades, light switch on events, Santa and much more as you travel the route.

If you’re going to be on the road over this period it’s definitely worth making sure you have your accommodation booked in advance and ensure you can eat out where you’re planning to be.

New Years

Much like Christmas, New Years has the tendency to be busy so you should book your hotel or motel in advance.

Many places on the route will have their celebrations, including, but of course not limited to:

Mardi Gras

St Louis hosts quite a large event for Mardi Gras which may coincide with your trip. In 2023 the dates are February 4th to the 18th.

With plenty of parades and events on it’s worth exploring if you can.

Check out their official site here to find out what’s on closer to the date.

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Links For Your Route 66 trip

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew 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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