Can you believe there are still hidden gems to uncover along Route 66? Veer off the tourist track and hunt down the ghost towns, roadside oddities, and cavernous wonders that reveal the real stories of America's Mother Road.
Discover places like the Meramec Caverns in Missouri, a natural wonder and a historical hideout for outlaws like Jesse James.
With ruins, relics, and more than a few laughs waiting for us down these detours, this will be a road trip to reveal the enduring magic of Route 66. Rediscover America together, one legendary attraction at a time.
1. Route 66 State Park, Eureka, Missouri
Route 66 State Park is situated where the town of Times Beach once stood. Times Beach was evacuated and demolished in the 1980s due to dioxin contamination.
Visitors say the visitor's center and museum provide helpful historical context and background on Times Beach and Route 66. The staff are very knowledgeable and can provide local perspectives.
The gift shop has a wide selection of Route 66 memorabilia. There are clean restrooms available. The park is divided by a river, so each side has to be accessed from different highway exits.
Only the museum side has facilities currently. Overall, it's a nice open space to hike, bike, or run without crowds. The bridge restoration effort aims to connect both sides of the park better.
2. Devil's Rope Museum, McLean, Texas
The Devil's Rope Museum, established in 1991, documents this history, displaying over 2,000 different types of barbed wire and explaining their significance in agricultural development and the transformation of the American landscape.
Visitors say the Devil's Rope Museum is a fun, free, and interesting place to learn about the history of barbed wire and its role in taming the Wild West.
They also appreciate the Texas Route 66 memorabilia and Hall of Fame exhibits. Some notes: arrive shortly after opening as it can get hot, and the place is closed until March 1, 2024.
3. Two Guns Ghost Town, Two Guns, Arizona
Once a thriving tourist spot on Route 66, Two Guns' history is marked by tragedy and conflict, including a deadly shootout in 1926.
The ruins of the old trading post, zoo, and Apache Death Cave, along with ancient Native American petroglyphs, provide a haunting glimpse into Arizona's turbulent past.
Travelers say the ruins and ghost town at Apache Death Cave make for an interesting, free stop with great views into Diablo Canyon. The self-guided experience allows you to explore the area and old zoo ruins at your own pace.
Some note uncertainty around locating the "Death Cave" itself but find value in walking the grounds and learning about this piece of Route 66 history.
Overall, it is a worthwhile quick stop traveling along Mother Road, especially with other area attractions like Meteor Crater.
4. Tinkertown Museum, Sandia Park, New Mexico
Tinkertown Museum, created by the late folk artist Ross Ward, took over 40 years to carve and construct.
Its collection includes over 50,000 glass bottles, antique toys, and a 22-room miniature wood-carved circus. Ward's philosophy, "I did all this while you were watching TV," encapsulates the spirit of American folk art and ingenuity.
Visitors say Tinkertown Museum is a fantasy world that draws you in and is fun for kids and adults. They recommend bringing lots of quarters for the animatronics and sideshows.
It's an affordable, eclectic spot worth stopping by to appreciate one man's lifelong dedication to his craft.
5. El Rancho Hotel, Gallup, New Mexico
Built in 1937 by the brother of Hollywood director D.W. Griffith, the El Rancho Hotel symbolizes the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It was the temporary home for many stars filming Westerns in the area, including John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn, preserving an era when Gallup was known as the "Movie Capital of the West."
Guests say the hotel rooms are clean, spacious, classic, cozy, comfortable, and quiet. The staff is excellent, friendly, helpful, and provides first-class service, always above and beyond.
The hotel has a great lobby, mezzanine, restaurant, lounge, and balcony for relaxing and socializing. It is steeped in old Hollywood history with lots of classic touches.
The location allows easy viewing of trains going by. Overall, it provides a fun, quaint, one-of-a-kind stay compared to cookie-cutter hotels.
For more retro accommodations along Route 66, read: 6 Retro Motels for a Nostalgic Stay on Route 66
6. Afton Station, Afton, Oklahoma
Originally a 1930s service station, Afton Station was restored in the 1990s by David and Laurel Kane as a tribute to Route 66.
It now houses a collection of over 14 vintage cars and a wealth of Route 66 memorabilia, showcasing America's love affair with the automobile and the open road.
Unfortunately, it's reportedly permanently closed, according to reviews. But they had good things to say about the place, from the friendly owners to the gift shop filled with Route 66 souvenirs. And you can still pass by to reminisce and take photos.
7. Totem Pole Park, Foyil, Oklahoma
Created by folk artist Ed Galloway, Totem Pole Park features the world's largest concrete totem pole, standing at 90 feet tall.
Built between 1937 and 1948, the park serves as a testament to Galloway's dedication to Native American culture and art despite him not being of Native descent. His work is celebrated for its intricate details and craftsmanship.
Guests say this is a great roadside stop to stretch your legs and enjoy the quirky totem poles. The small gift shop is open, and the volunteers there can tell you about the park's history.
It's a nice detour off Route 66 if you like a little art and quirkiness. There's a dog area away from everything, too.
8. Gary's Gay Parita, Ash Grove, Missouri
Gary's Gay Parita, a replica of a 1930s Sinclair gas station, was rebuilt on the original site by Gary Turner, a beloved Route 66 enthusiast, as a tribute to the golden era of American road travel.
The site, filled with vintage cars and Route 66 memorabilia, offers a nostalgic journey back in time, celebrating the era when the highway was America's main street.
Transients say Gary's Gay Parita is a must-see for Route 66 enthusiasts, even though it's out of the way. They love the friendly owners, the extensive collection of memorabilia, and the chance to step back in time to the heyday of the Mother Road.
9. The Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman, Arizona
A must-visit on Route 66, the Snow Cap Drive-In is a delightful blend of nostalgia and humor. Built in 1953 by Juan Delgadillo with scrap lumber from the railroad, the Snow Cap is famous for its quirky service and classic American fast food.
Delgadillo's playful antics, like offering "cheeseburgers with cheese" and adorning the place with funny signs, have made it a beloved Route 66 icon.
Visitors say this place was a charming must-visit stop along Route 66. The milkshakes and food were decent, but the unique value comes from the fun, kitschy decor and the jokes and puns served with your order.
Managed by his family since his passing, the drive-in remains a vibrant reminder of the eccentricity and charm of Route 66. For more nostalgic feasts along Route 66, check out our list: 5 Vintage Diners on Route 66 for the Ultimate Retro Experience
10. Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri
Take a guided tour through the Meramec Caverns, located in the Ozarks region, a 4.6-mile cave system renowned for its stunning mineral formations and rich history.
Formed over millions of years, these caves were used by Native Americans for shelter and later by outlaws like Jesse James as a hideout.
During the 1930s, Lester Dill developed the caverns into one of the first major roadside attractions along Route 66, captivating travelers with its unique underground world.
The caverns feature rare speleothems and the "Stage Curtain," a massive mineral formation known for its grandeur. Visitors say the guides are engaging, and the Italy Room, accessible by 50 steps, is a particular highlight.
Many appreciate the comfortable walking conditions, even recommending it for a few-hour pit stop. Others mention the enjoyable light show and talented singer at the end, leaving them happy and patriotic.
The Open Road Awaits
As you venture off the busy interstate and onto the dusty backroads of Route 66, embrace the quirky detours and forgotten relics that tell the story of America's Mother Road.
Let the abandoned trading posts, petrified wood, and folk art masterpieces spark your imagination about the people and cultures that shaped this legendary highway. Strike up a conversation with a local, and let the humor and hospitality that defined 20th-century travel wash over you.
Most of all, take it slow. Route 66 invites you to meander through the past at your own pace, allowing fresh adventures to unfold around every turn. Make the journey the destination — who knows what hidden gems you might uncover.