Driving Route 66 From Flagstaff, AZ to Kingman, AZ

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Imagine throwing your feet up on the dash, the sun beaming down on your red Corvette and listening to a little Bruce Springsteen on the radio. Perhaps I am reflecting here a little on an old movie that I have seen or maybe it’s just because we experienced a little reminiscing of our own, as we encountered what it feels like to be driving Route 66, probably the most famous highway around the United States.

During our epic road trip around Utah and Arizona, we headed through the Four Corners area of Colorado and New Mexico before heading back along I-40 from Gallup to Flagstaff. As soon as we reached Flagstaff, the attraction of exploring historic Route 66 was too much to resist so we embarked on a memorable journey along this stretch of road that has a plethora of history associated with it.

driving route 66 arizona

Join us as we hit Route 66 in Flagstaff and made our way along 147 miles of Arizona roadways before we arrived in Kingman.

Route 66 History

Historic Route 66 was established in 1926 and covered a total of 2,448 miles spanning across 8 different states. The fundamental components of Route 66 are still present to this day, but since the US Highway officially removed this from their listings in 1985 (after the construction of I-40 that runs parallel and even on the grounds of Route 66), it is no longer feasible to drive all the way from LA to Chicago on this historic route.

If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

Listening to the lyrics of Nat King Cole’s ‘Route 66’ that dates back to 1946 really depicts the relationship that travelers had with this route. Even though today we are seeing the prevalence of I-40 through the states we covered (New Mexico and Arizona), it’s certainly nice to see the appreciation that visitors still have for Route 66.

historic route 66

Of course we are now seeing a huge tourist attraction being made of this route, but even this is helping local economies in towns such as Seligman, Williams and even the historic downtown part of Flagstaff.

Our Journey Through Arizona

The stereotypical journey of taking Route 66 all the way from LA to Chicago may seem a little daunting, but there is nothing at all wrong with dreaming. Of course, a more realistic target is to experience part of Route 66 wherever is convenient for you, and what better part to start than the stretch from Flagstaff to Kingman, Arizona.

As you drive along Route 66, you will notice on several occasions that the road ceases to exist. Why? Simple answer is I-40! The reality is that since the US Highway system no longer funded the maintenance of Route 66 since 1985, all the focus was switched to the interstate. However, it is still fun to try and figure out the best roads to take and how to stay on Route 66 as long as possible without touching I-40!

driving route 66

Flagstaff to Kingman is a really awesome part of Route 66, especially with many of the western towns (I am referring to the real country and western style saloons you all associate with John Wayne et al.) that are all decked out brandishing their true heritage and history in relation to Route 66 passing directly through the heart of their towns.

route 66 souvenirs

Before reading on, I urge you to close your eyes for a few seconds and contemplate the old western towns that I am sure you have all seen in the movies.

Here are the towns we visited along this historic highway and I will say that each one of these had a very unique feel and character that typifies the reputation of historic Route 66. Everything you imagine Route 66 to be like is portrayed through these iconic towns in Arizona.

1. Flagstaff

Much of the history surrounding Route 66 relates back to the city of Flagstaff dating back to 1857 when Lt. Edward Beale led a following through this region en route to California. Did you know that the initial route of what is now renowned as Route 66 was south towards Phoenix from Flagstaff? However, in 1921 an improved system led to the construction of the highway running from Chicago to Santa Monica along the infamous route.

route 66 flagstaff arizona

The stereotypical Route 66 journey started for us in Flagstaff and what an awesome place to start! The old Santa Fe Plaza is a perfect spot to start your exploring of the old downtown district. As you look one way you can see many of the historic stores still maintaining their original look and feel, while modern day designs have merged perfectly into the landscape.

driving route 66 flagstaff

Turn around and you will be faced with the historic train station and 1897 depot, home of an old engine that typifies the railway system that was once prolific around the nation.

driving route 66

Downtown Flagstaff offers an awesome self-guided historic walking tour. You can collect a guide inside the visitor center located within the train station. The walking tour begins at the train station and leads visitors to a number of iconic locations, such as the Downtown Motel, DuBeau Motel among many other intriguing spots.

route 66 flagstaff

It’s so cool to just park your car (we found a free parking spot directly by the train station) and get out and walk.

historic downtown flagstaff route 66

A really cool wall mural depicting historic Flagstaff and Route 66 is a great focal point of the city, although this is located parallel to Route 66 on Phoenix Street.

historic downtown flagstaff

Whether you spend a couple of hours walking around the self-guided tour, or choose to go ‘off the beaten path’ and check out some of the local bars and eateries, Flagstaff is a great location to begin your Route 66 journey.

2. Williams

As we moved away from Flagstaff along Route 66, our next stop really brought a sense of nostalgia to our trip as we visited Williams, Arizona. We immediately noticed a quiet town (or at least that’s what we thought!) with a few saloons and historic social clubs remaining along the street.

driving route 66 williams

The Long Horn Saloon and Woo Tom Social Club are iconic representations here and really bring back the stereotype we all associate with this stretch of Route 66 from decades gone by.

williams arizona route 66

Parking by the train station, we walked through one of the back alleys and found ourselves in the heart of a western style community. The old jail, Branding Iron restaurant, saloon and bar make this a pretty active part of the Williams community today, immediately changing our initial impression of the town.

williams arizona

I love how Williams have maintained such a historic, old-fashioned infrastructure throughout this part of the town.

williams arizona

As we moved away from the heart of the town along the main street, we noticed how Route 66 is really idolized with the neon lights and Coca-Cola soda fountains scattered along the storefronts.

driving route 66 williams arizona

3. Ash Fork

Even though the likes of Flagstaff and Williams are still booming communities, the movement away from Route 66 to the modern day I-40 interstate has had the reverse effect on towns like Ash Fork. As we left I-40 and headed for Ash Fork, we really noticed how derelict and rundown this town was. The community really looks to be struggling, but perhaps this is just the facade we see from the outside.

ash fork arizona route 66

Ash Fork is the ‘flagstone’ capital of the world so will likely continue to be a prevalent force, but it’s certainly disappointing to see a town that appears to be so neglected. The images of the old antique and gift shop are a reflection on what we experienced as we passed through Ash Fork.

desoto salon ash fork route 66

I hope that one day this town will be reignited and perhaps the more exposure that is given, the more people will take the time to explore the landscape surrounding this community.

historic route 66 ash fork

4. Seligman

After the disappointment of Ash Fork, we headed onwards along Route 66 though yet again we were redirected along I-40 which honestly becomes a little annoying after a while as you efforts to stay along this historic route are in vein.

driving route 66 seligman arizona

However, our exit for Seligman arrived sooner than expected and I have to say that everything about this town reinvigorated our desires to continue exploring Route 66.

route 66 seligman arizona

If there is one town along this Arizona stretch of Route 66 that oozes nostalgia, class and maintains the gorgeous history that we associate with this iconic road, Seligman is certainly that town. Seligman has wholeheartedly embraced Route 66 and continued to portray the heritage through the infrastructure and overall look and feel of the town.

seligman arizona route 66

As we drove through Seligman, we couldn’t help but stop every couple of hundred yards to capture another shot of the vibrant colors that are stereotypical of Route 66. Whether it’s the rickety Aztec Motel or the colorful Romney Motel, there are a variety of accommodation options if you are looking for a spot to spend the night in real Route 66 fashion.

aztec motel seligman arizona

Our time in Seligman was just a passing visit but with memories stood outside the Route 66 Gift Shop and The Rusty Bolt, I could quite easily see us returning here to spend a little more time to embrace the history that is being preserved here.

the rusty bolt seligman route 66

I really enjoyed taking in the quirkiness and beauty presented in the architecture of the motels, restaurants and gift shops. If you are looking for a souvenir to remind you of your journey along Route 66, Seligman is a great place to find something that meets your needs.

5. Kingman

Our time along Route 66 ended as we arrived in Kingman as we headed towards Las Vegas rather than continuing along this historic stretch of road to California. Stereotypically known as the ‘Heart of Route 66’, Kingman is home to a museum devoted solely to the history of this route.

kingman arizona

Although Kingman may now be a more popular destination for visitors traveling to nearby attractions such as the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon, Route 66 will always have a proud home here and locals will continue to cherish the rich heritage that has developed over the years.

historic downtown kingman

Historic downtown Kingman still maintains a rich representation of Route 66 in its heyday. Head over to Route 66 Ice Cream & Sweets for a delicious sweet treat, or maybe you prefer to just wander around the downtown area taking in the deep history that has prevailed here.

Summary

Route 66 is undoubtedly the most famous stretch of road not only across USA but also perhaps around the world. Anyone fortunate to drive this from Chicago to Los Angeles is in for a real treat, but I am delighted that we were able to experience this from Flagstaff, AZ to Kingman, AZ.

historic route 66

Throughout Arizona, many of the historic towns along Route 66 have continued to preserve their deep, cultural roots that date back to way before Route 66 was even constructed. Combine this with the iconography we all associate with Route 66 such as the old sports-cars, saloons spotted along the landscape and bright, neon lights and you have a magical stretch of road that you will all enjoy!

driving route 66

Driving Route 66 is a great memory that I will cherish forever and provided a perfect ending to our amazing trip around Utah and Arizona. A nice contrast from the geological wonders we explored throughout these states, this is a road trip not to be missed if you are  visiting the Grand Canyon state!

Still not seen enough pictures of Route 66? Don’t worry – we have many more, so head on over to our photo gallery of the amazing Route 66 journey here – Route 66!

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have a picture in front of that Williams sign too 🙂 We ate at the little diner near it when we stayed at the KOA in Williams a few nights. I am glad that other people appreciate the history and excitement of driving Route 66 like we did! You guys took fantastic pictures and it brought back some good memories 🙂

  2. Love, Love, Love Route 66 and it was super fun to see your photos as I have so many of the same shots. We drove from Chicago to CA. We only had 9 days but we crammed in as much as we could and loved every minute! So glad you got to enjoy the experience.

  3. wow! these cities look really vintage! It’s like the cities are still in the 60s! Would like to drive Route 66 one day and I’m amazed that at least the didn’t keep route 66 as a side road to the new Interstate!

  4. This is so cool! Last year, I was able to do only a tiny portion of Route 66 from the California State Line to Kingman (we visited Oatman and drove the thru the Black Mountains). This year, I am planning the Kingman to Flagstaff trip for fall.

  5. Nice blog. I came across some old black and white photos from a trip I will never forget. They are dated June ’59 and are from the best road trip my parents ever took me on. I’m not sure where we picked up Route 66 but we traveled from East TN through Memphis and I think maybe we hit 66 in Oklahoma. We stopped at lots of places along the way making more memories than I could have imagined at the age of 7 1/2. In this handful of photos was one of the Branding Iron Motel in Flagstaff, AZ where we spent the night. I was researching that motel when I came across your blog. I assume that motel is gone. Several years ago I drove from TN to CO with my daughter and just after leaving I-40 in Amarillo we saw a sign for the old Route 66. We took a detour and drove a short distance on it and found what was left of the True Rest Motel (behind a chain length fence) where I stayed with my parents in 1959. What a suurprise! So glad to hear about your wonderful trip and hope your memories of 66 are as good as mine.

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