Road Trip Through Illinois: Drive the Iconic Route 66
See historic landmarks and interesting roadside sights on a drive along this famous route.
Route 66 was established in 1926 and originally ran from Chicago to California. Dubbed the “Mother Road” by author John Steinbeck, it is one of the original routes in the U.S. Highway System, and a major path for everyone traveling west before it was bypassed for a newer highway in 1985. Route 66 is primarily responsible for the rise in mom and pop retail shops, the birth of the fast-food industry and the increase in popularity for roadside attractions. Many towns attributed their economic success to the travelers touring the road. Experience the nostalgia of the scenic and historic Route 66 and visit these iconic destinations along the way.
Route 66 Raceway
For pure excitement and fun for the whole family, stop by the Route 66 Raceway, where you will find National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) National Drag Racing events and Demolition Derbies on the drag strip and dirt oval track. The raceway is a historic motorsports facility that hosts weekly events from June until September that include ET Bracket Series racing, NHRA Jr. Drag Racing, NHRA Lucas Oil Series, NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and various professional drag racing events. Get your adrenaline going when you watch these 10,000 horsepower machines speed by at 483-kph as you feel the rumble beneath your feet in the stands.
Motorcycle drag bikes race down the Route 66 Raceway
Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum
About 160 kilometers outside Chicago, the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac showcases historical photos, videos and memorabilia of the “Mother Road.” Learn about the fascinating history of Route 66 from its beginnings during the migration west in the 1930s until it was replaced by the Interstate Highway System. Look at the famous Bob Waldmire’s caravan, the very vehicle he stayed in while he created masterful artwork of Route 66, and snap a photograph at the giant mural painted on the back of the building. This is a must-stop for all Route 66 travelers.
Route 66 Photo Opportunities
As you travel along the USA’s famous highway, don’t miss amazing photo opportunities along the way. The brown “Begin” sign that marks the start of the route in Chicago is at East Adams Street/Jackson Boulevard and South Michigan Avenue. The Collins Street Prison with 8-meter-high, 2-meter-thick walls made out of limestone has been featured in several movies and TV. The Gemini Giant is a fiberglass “Muffler Man” who wears a space helmet, and the Murals on Main Street in Pontiac, a collection of more than 20 outdoor murals, are breathtaking to see. In Atlanta, see the Bunyan Giant Statue. Other iconic sites: vintage billboards of Memory Lane; Polk-a-Dot Drive-in with fiberglass figures of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and James Dean; the Railsplitter Covered Wagon, designated the largest covered wagon by the Guinness Book of World Records; the Ambler/Becker Gas Station, the longest operating gas station along Route 66; and Lincoln’s Tomb, a 36-meter-tall obelisk where the body of Abraham Lincoln rests. Stop at the Pig Hip sign, an iconic red sign that once was the site of a restaurant and museum along the route, and the Sugar Creek Covered Bridge, a beautiful bridge that is the perfect place for a picnic. The historic Brick Road, a hand-lain brick road, was completed in 1931, and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, a 1,632-meter bridge, is one of the world’s longest bicycle and pedestrian bridges. Be sure to stop in the Route 66 Welcome Center by the Joliet Area Historical Museum to pick up some maps and get help planning the rest of your trip along the “Mother Road.”
The iconic Gemini Giant, a nine-meter tall statue made of fiberglass
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Illinois was once the home of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the USA who led Americans through the Civil War and paved the way for the abolition of slavery. A symbol of equality and opportunity, Lincoln and his wife resided in this Springfield house for 17 years until he was elected president. Go on a ranger-led tour to explore this beautifully restored home and learn about the history and impact Lincoln had on the country. Experience living history demonstrations in the summer to get a look at the everyday life of the Lincoln era, watch an interpretive film inside the visitor center, and walk where Lincoln walked as you explore his historic neighborhood.