Cruising Route 66

Experience fast-lane fun during a leisurely trip cruising Route 66 along the nostalgic stretch of the mother road in St. Louis.

1. Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

Begin your Route 66 adventure where the rubber first met the Mother Road in Missouri – the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, the Mother Road’s original Mississippi River crossing. Cars no longer run across the bridge, but you can. Take in views of the mighty river, whimsical castle-like water intake towers, and the glistening Gateway Arch from the deck of the mile-long pedestrian/cycling bridge. It is one of the longest hiking bridges in the world and part of a vibrant, region-wide system of hiking and biking trails operated by Traillink and Trailnet.

Each January, the confluence of America’s two great rivers at St. Louis is home to one of the largest populations of wintering Bald Eagles in the country. The historic Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is a unique venue for watching them. Eagle Days at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge provides five days of free public programming to promote awareness and understanding of Missouri’s natural resources.

2. Gateway Arch

No trip to St. Louis is complete without a visit to the Gateway Arch, America’s monument to the nation’s collective wanderlust, a gleaming symbol of the opening of the American West. Take the tram ride up to the top for a panoramic view 630-feet high above the Mississippi to watch thousands of automobiles travel the roads below – following the route of the pioneers.

The Gateway Arch n downtown St. Louis.

3. St. Louis Union Station

This living monument to transportation stands just a few blocks west of original Route 66 pavement. Built in 1891, and designed to resemble a French fortress, St. Louis Union Station was the largest and busiest in America. Troops passed through its halls on their way to war and families hopped aboard trains bound for untold adventures. Today adventure still awaits at Union Station – both in the grand structure’s amazing architecture and in special event train trips that hit the tracks throughout the year, including the holiday season Polar Express™ Train Ride.

History meets cutting-edge technology during daily, free Grand Hall Panoramic Light Shows projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot-tall, barrel-vaulted ceiling.

An exterior view of St. Louis Union Station at dusk.

4. Maplewood

Maplewood honors its past as part of Old Route 66 (1926-1932) with a Route 66 Tribute Walk along the 7200 through7400 blocks of Manchester Road. Sidewalk plaques honor original Route 66 businesses along this suburban St. Louis town’s downtown as well as classic Mother Road hot spots in the Gateway City. Dining options range from sustainable Midwestern fare and craft beer at Schlafly Bottleworks to Acero’s Italian bistro favorites and flavor-packed South American dishes from Maya Café.

Check out Saratoga Lanes, the oldest bowling alley west of the Mississippi River. This National Historic Landmark features eight bowling lanes, five pool tables and a full bar. Call for group reservations.

Cars drive down Manchester Road in Maplewood.

5. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Get you licks on Route 66 at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. This landmark custard stand is an icon along the original Route 66 and a St. Louis institution. Be sure to try the “concrete,” a milkshake so thick you can turn it upside down without spilling a delicious drop. Ted Drewes has been serving up ice cream treats to Route 66 travelers since the 1920s.

Ted Drewes is known for its frozen custard.

6. Meramec Caverns

Veteran travelers along Missouri’s Route 66 may vividly recall the plethora of billboards, many of which were painted on the roofs of barns, luring them to “Visit Meramec Caverns – Jesse James’s Hideout.” The famous five-story high caverns – and the billboards – are still around and have been thrilling visitors since the 1930s. Lester Dill, who opened the massive cave as a tourist attraction, said, “I’ve put more people underground and brought them out alive than anyone else.”

Now the oldest tourist attraction on the Mother Road has added a nifty way to get your kicks on Route 66 – the Caveman Zip Line at Meramec Caverns. Before flying through the air with the greatest of ease, visitors can head underground for a tour of the magnificent Meramec Caverns. NOTE: Bring a jacket! It’s always a cool 65 degrees inside the caverns.

Meramec Caverns has astounding formations, including glistening stalactites, towering stalagmites, an ancient wine table and a seven-story mansion.

7. Purina Farms

In years past, a glimpse out the car window along Route 66 offered views of rolling farmland dotted with cows and horses. Today, the farms have been replaced by suburban St. Louis. Purina Farms provides city slickers with a chance to interact with farm animals in a charming barnyard setting that also includes a Victorian-style “cattery” filled with purring felines of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions just waiting to be petted. Demonstrations include everything from caring for your household pets to sheep-shearing, cow milking and canine agility shows.

Kids, adults and pets will love the shows featuring the Purina Incredible Dog Team catching flying discs at Purina Farms.

8. Route 66 State Park

Sample a slice of Missouri’s portion of the Mother Road at Route 66 State Park, aptly located off Exit 266 of westbound I-44. The park’s visitor center, a former 1935 Route 66 roadhouse, is teeming with Route 66 memorabilia, vintage photos and road signs. A well-stocked gift shop specializes in “66” collectibles, clothing and souvenirs.

Route 66 State Park offers seven miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

9. Endangered Wolf Center

For a truly unique experience, visit the Endangered Wolf Center where you can see wolves from all over the world. The Center offers education programs about wolves and hosts a renowned captive breeding facility for endangered wolf species.

At the Endangered Wolf Center, Mexican gray wolves howl.

10. World Bird Sanctuary

Birds and reptile species from around the world are on display at the World Bird Sanctuary, one of the largest facilities in the world for the conservation of our feathered friends. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the WBS breeding facilities and observe numerous species of local songbirds at special feeding stations and bird-watching blinds located along the sanctuary’s woodland trails. The WBS offers educational programs for children and adults on animal and nature conservation.

An owl practically blends in with a tree at the World Bird Sanctuary.

11. Lone Elk Park

In a setting at the edge of the Ozark foothills, Lone Elk Park offers dramatic hills, a quiet lake and stunning forests. The big draw, however, is its drive-through animal range where bison, deer, elk and other animals roam. Travel in that portion of the 526-acre park is by motor vehicle only to allow visitors a truly “up close” encounter with the animals in their natural habitat. Here’s a tip for your visit: plan to visit the park in the early morning or at dusk when your chances of animal sightings are best.

Lone Elk Park offers frequent wildlife sightings whether you drive or walk through the park.

12. Museum of Transportation

Head west along I-44, the modern-day replacement for Route 66, to reach the Museum of Transportation, dedicated to America’s love for life in the fast lane. More than 300 moving vehicles are on display at the museum including locomotives, streetcars and, of course, automobiles. A special display commemorating St. Louis’ connection with Route 66 includes a portion of the old Coral Court Motel, a deco-style motor hotel from the St. Louis stretch of Route 66.

The National Museum of Transportation has one of the largest and best collections of transportation vehicles in the world.

13. Six Flags St. Louis

Small family-style amusement parks were a staple along old Route 66. Modern I-44 West leads you to the state-of-the-art in family fun. Six Flags St. Louis theme park features shows, games and amusement rides for every age group. Thrill rides, a water park, entertaining family shows and arcade games add up to big fun at Six Flags St. Louis.

Six Flags St. Louis boasts nine exhilarating rollercoasters (six steel and three wooden) with more than 22,000 feet of combined track.