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The top things to do on an I-40 road trip

Iconic Route 66 sites, cool towns, and picturesque parks from California to North Carolina

  • 33
  • 48:03
  • 2,843 mi
  • $405

Created by Roadtrippers - January 7th 2021

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.

1
12mi 00h 16m
Calico Ghost Town
3.5

36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, CA, US

Calico Ghost Town

1

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.

2
97mi 01h 56m

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.

3
113mi 02h 34m
Cool Springs Gas Station
4.2

Old Route 66, Golden Valley, AZ, US

Cool Springs Gas Station

3

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.

4
167mi 02h 28m

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.

5
41mi 00h 45m
Meteor Crater
4.0

I 40 Exit 233, Winslow, AZ, US

Meteor Crater

5

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.

6
84mi 01h 22m
Petrified Forest National Park
4.5

1 Park Road, AZ, US

Petrified Forest National Park

6

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.

7
75mi 01h 14m
El Rancho Hotel and Motel
3.5

1000 E. Highway 66, Gallup, NM, US

El Rancho Hotel and Motel

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7

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.

8
143mi 02h 13m

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.

9
119mi 01h 51m
Blue Hole of Santa Rosa
4.0

Route 66, Santa Rosa, NM, US

Blue Hole of Santa Rosa

9

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.

10
59mi 00h 58m
Tee Pee Curios
4.5

924 E Tucumcari Blvd, Tucumcari, NM, US

Tee Pee Curios

10

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.

11
102mi 01h 35m
Cadillac Ranch
4.0

Interstate 40, Amarillo, TX, US

Cadillac Ranch

11

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.

12
9mi 00h 13m

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.

13
28mi 00h 31m
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
4.5

11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX, US

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

13

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.

14
115mi 01h 51m

101 E. 12th Street, Shamrock, TX, US

Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café

14

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.

15
100mi 01h 33m
Stafford Air & Space Museum
5.0

3000 Logan Road, Weatherford, OK, US

Stafford Air & Space Museum

15

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.

16
68mi 01h 08m

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.

17
72mi 01h 08m
Woody Guthrie Statue
3.2

South side of Broadway between 3rd and 4th St, Okemah, OK, US

Woody Guthrie Statue

17

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.

18
113mi 01h 49m
Fort Smith National Historic Site
3.7

301 Parker Avenue, Fort Smith, AR, US

Fort Smith National Historic Site

18

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.

19
166mi 02h 41m
Pinnacle Mountain State Park
4.5

11901 Pinnacle Valley Rd., Roland, AR, US

Pinnacle Mountain State Park

19

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.

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