Categories: CampingDestinations

An Unforgettable Route 66 Camping Road Trip Itinerary

Before the interstate highway system crisscrossed across America, Route 66 was the Mother Road for traveling around the country.

This incredible history is what makes a Route 66 road trip full of incredible opportunities to discover nostalgic landmarks and natural wonders alike. 

Whether you’re RVing across the country or pitching a tent at convenient campsites along the route, taking time to plan out your Route 66 road trip will give you the best chances to see epic landmarks from serene locations that aren’t overcrowded or expensive.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Planning a stress-free Route 66 road trip 

Driving the full stretch of Route 66 takes about 12 days over 2,400 miles, but that doesn’t include the time spent at stops along the way. A comprehensive road trip along the Mother Road could take weeks, so if you don’t have the extra time, it’s important to decide where you want to stop along Route 66 based on what you want to see and how much time you have. 

When planning a Route 66 camping trip, keep these tips in mind:

  • Long stretches of the highway and in wilderness areas may lack data coverage, so save offline maps or bring printed copies to avoid getting lost. If you search for campgrounds using Hipcamp’s map, you’ll be able to see if an area has data coverage, including which provider (yes, Starlink, too!)
  • Look up seasonal and regional weather and pack appropriate clothing for different climates. Route 66 stretches from the Midwest to the California coast so you’ll encounter varied weather conditions.
  • Plan your trip around local events you may want to attend—2026 is the route’s Centennial and there are already lots of fun things to do to celebrate.
  • Research key destinations and book your Route 66 camping sites in advance to make sure you have a place to stay in the destinations you want to stop. 

If you’re unsure where to stop along the scenic route, here are a few notable destinations on Route 66, listed from east to west. Get ready to hit the road, starting outside Chicago and cruising the Main Street of America all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Tip: You can use the National Scenic Byways map layer when searching for Hipcamps to easily find convenient locations along Route 66.

Stop 1: Sangchris Lake State Park, Illinois

The most common place to start a Route 66 camping trip across America is at the historic highway’s eastern terminus in Chicago at Lake Shore Drive. After that, drive southwest out of town toward Springfield, stopping at Sangchris Lake State Park. Here, campers and RVers can explore native oak and maple forests while being serenaded by American goldfinches and eastern bluebirds. Anglers will also enjoy the terrific bass and bluegill fishing from the namesake lake. 

Heading out of Illinois along Route 66, you can also visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site featuring 80 man-made mounds from pre-Columbian days. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Sangchris Lake

Stop 2: Meramec Caverns, Missouri

As you enter Missouri and pass through St. Louis, make a quick stop in Eureka where you’ll find the first-ever “Historic Route 66” marker in Route 66 State Park. The marker was originally placed in Springfield, some 200 miles farther along the route. 

About 40 miles past Eureka near Sullivan, you’ll find both Meramec Caverns and Meramec State Park. Missouri is known as the Cave State and touring the Meramec Caverns system of stalagmites, stalactites, and underground lakes delivers on that promise. These caves were also once billed as the hideout for Jesse James.

Top campsites along Route 66 near Meramec Caverns

Stop 3: Grand Lake State Park, Oklahoma

Shortly after passing the Oklahoma state border, you’ll have the opportunity to explore Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in the Ozark Mountain Range foothills. Created by the Pensacola Dam in 1940, the 46,000-acre lake is the main attraction for the surrounding Grand Lake State Park. 

There are six main areas in the state park, including the Twin Bridges and Bernice areas that are known for excellent hiking, swimming, and fishing. The Cherokee area has a children’s playground and restrooms with showers. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Grand Lake

Photo by Hipcamper William Reed Olds Benton

Stop 4: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

At this point, you can take Route 66 briefly into the Texas panhandle. If you’re hungry, stop at Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo and try the 72-ounce steak in a kitschy saloon setting. South of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers some great RV and tent camping in the Lone Star State. Soak in the dramatic landscapes filled with stunning red rock formations, giving the park its nickname as the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” Then, go hiking, horseback riding, or biking through its extensive trail system. 

Before leaving Texas, stop by the Midway Point marker in Adrian for a quick photo opp—it’s the exact midpoint on Route 66. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Palo Duro Canyon 

Stop 5: Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

After passing through Tucumcari and Albuquerque on the New Mexico leg of your road trip, you’ll arrive at the enchanting Santa Fe National Forest. Spanning an impressive 1.6 million acres, the forest is richly diverse in its landscapes and biodiversity. 

While here, take in views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, cast a line in Pecos River for trout fishing, and take a soak in the restorative San Antonio Hot Spring in the Jemez Mountains. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Santa Fe National Forest 

Stop 6: Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Find some of the most otherworldly desert camping on Route 66 in the Grand Canyon State. Petrified Forest National Park is one of its gems with fossilized trees and colorful badlands. Before setting up camp, check out the ancient petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock before continuing to explore the Painted Desert decorated in brilliant hues of red, orange, and pink.

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark near Flagstaff and the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook are other notable nearby highlights. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park 

Stop 7: Oatman, Arizona

For a taste of the old Wild West, look no further than the gold-mining town of Oatman near the California and Nevada state borders. Along with gunfight reenactments at the reportedly haunted Oatman Hotel, the “living” ghost town is home to wild burros who roam the streets. 

Up until 1953, the current Oatman Highway in the Black Mountains was part of U.S. Route 66. It was notorious for its steepness and hairpin turns.

Top campsites along Route 66 near Oatman 

Photo by Hipcamper Kevin Kuchinski

Stop 8: San Bernardino National Forest, California

Along with the teepees in Holbrook, Arizona, San Bernardino is home to the only other surviving Wigwam Motel location, which was originally built in the 1930s and 1940s. When it comes to amazing Route 66 camping sites, though, San Bernardino National Forest, just east of Los Angeles, offers some of the best options. 

The forest consists of five designated wilderness areas, ranging from serene Lake Arrowhead to the snowy alpine peaks of Mount San Jacinto. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near San Bernardino National Forest

Stop 9: Santa Monica, California

The unofficial western terminus of any Route 66 road trip is at Santa Monica Pier. Stroll along and enjoy sweet carnival vibes with cotton candy, night lights, and a Ferris wheel ride. 

Then, head back into the woods at Topanga State Park where hikers can challenge themselves on Topanga Lookout Trail, drive a bit west to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, or surf the waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach while spotting migratory birds in the estuary. 

Top campsites along Route 66 near Santa Monica 

An iconic all-American road trip to remember

From alpine forests to lakeside retreats, painted deserts to Old West ghost towns, a Route 66 camping trip can be almost anything you want it to be. Hitting the open road is a terrific way to explore the country, especially with planned stops at well-appointed Route 66 camping sites. Just leave some flexibility for fun and quirky detours that you encounter along the way. 

Roadtrip Routes from Subaru and Hipcamp

Hipcamp and Subaru teamed up to create 10 epic American road trips for campers to explore this summer. No matter your camping style or vehicle, Hipcamp’s search options allow road-trippers to find the best site for your needs—search with the EV charging stations map to view charging stations along your route, filter for pet-friendly campsites if you’re bringing Fido, and even find Hipcamps that fit your rig’s dimensions.

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer and content creator. Over his nearly two decades of experience, he has covered everything from consumer technology to travel and parenthood. A founding member of Five Dads Go Wild (#5DadsGoWild), Michael has written for POPSUGAR, Angi, Invest Surrey, Tourism Richmond, LoveToKnow Media, and British Columbia Mom. He has been featured by CBC News, Huffington Post, and The Good Men Project. Fueled by caffeine and wifi, Michael lives in Metro Vancouver with his wife and two children.

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