Five National Parks You Need to Visit When Traveling Route 66

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This month I’ve been focusing on the most important landmarks along Route 66, and in honor of National Park Week, I’m highlighting all the National Parks along Route 66.

There are five National Parks that are very easily accessed along Route 66 and are all well worth visiting if you’re driving the Mother Road.

This Guide to Route 66 begins in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles, if you’re traveling in the opposite direction, read this post in reverse!

Route 66 Stop Sign in Williams Arizona

Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

While Indiana Dunes National Park is technically not on the route of Route 66, it is very close to your starting point (in the grand scheme of Route 66) and is worth making the detour if it means crossing another destination off your list.

If you haven’t heard of Indiana Dunes National Park before, that’s because it is a brand new National Park! Indiana Dunes became our 61st National Park on February 15th, 2019.

Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

You will drive directly past this National Park on your route, which means you know you can make this a quick stop along the way. If you have some time to spare, I would highly recommend checking out the Old Court House, which is also on the Gateway Arch grounds, and learning a little more about the history of this area.

The Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis Missouri
The Old Court House and the Arch in Downtown St. Louis at the Gateway Arch National Park

There is a museum under the arch which is new and fully renovated as of last July (2018), but the pods to get to the top of the arch are the same as always, small and a little squeaky, but well worth the claustrophobic feelings.

St. Louis is the place I call home, and I’d love if you spent a few days here, but I understand time doesn’t always allow for that.

Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Again, you’ll have a hard time missing this stop along Route 66. The highway bisects the park grounds, passing right in between the “forest” part and the painted desert part. There is even a small patch of the original Route 66, marked by an old car and a plaque.

The Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
The Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park

You will have to pay admission to pass through the Petrified Forest, but this is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. There are lots of short, easy to walk paths, but very little shade (the forest is not actually a forest) so please come prepared with lots of water and proper protective gear.

If you’re looking for a great place to stay while you’re visiting the Petrified Forest National Park, check out another iconic piece of Route 66 history and visit the Wigwam Village Motel.

Everything You Need to Know about Visiting Wigwam Village #6 in Holbrook Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Visiting the Grand Canyon is a little ways off the route, but when you are this close to the South Rim of one of the most iconic destinations in the United States, you have to make the stop, even if it is only for a moment.

The Grand Canyon South Rim
The Grand Canyon at Sunrise

We visited the Grand Canyon’s South Rim during sunrise on our Route 66 journey. There were minimal crowds early in the morning and there was a beautiful fog that lifted over the Canyon as the sun rose. While we didn’t have time on our trip to hike into the Canyon, you could easily spend a day or two on hikes at the Grand Canyon.

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Much like the beginning of our trip, Channel Islands National Park isn’t exactly along the Route, but it is nearby and very much worth taking a day trip to.

Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island at Channel Islands National Park
Inspiration Point at the Anacapa Island at Channel Island National Park

Channel Islands is off the coast of Los Angeles, a 50 minute boat ride into the Pacific. These chartered boats travel to the island on a regular schedule, but you will need to check to see which days it is running before you visit. The boats travel to certain islands on certain days. Be sure to research this one in advance.

On our boat ride out to the island, we saw multiple pods of dolphins swim alongside our boat, we saw sea lions on the island, and we snorkeled and saw some large orange fish.

Few things pair better than road trips and National Parks. The next time you hit the road, be sure to check which parks are nearby and pay them a visit! Not having enough time to see the entire park is always better than never seeing it at all, so even if you’re short on time, stop in! It will be even more incentive to come back next time!

Want More Route 66 Destinations? Check out these posts for all my favorite stops along the Mother Road!

Visiting a Route 66 Landmark: The Last Wigwam Village Motels in the United States

Visiting a Route 66 Landmark: The Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona

Visiting a Route 66 Landmark: Celebrate Being Halfway There at the Midway Point Cafe in Texas


12 thoughts on “Five National Parks You Need to Visit When Traveling Route 66

  1. What are some of the main features of the Indiana Dunes National Park? When I think of dunes I think of the beach or a desert, is that with this is?

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    1. Hi Dave! — Indiana Dunes is a Lakeshore at the very bottom of Lake Michigan. The Dunes that give this National Park it’s name are very large sand dunes. The park is known for its three large dunes, and host a “3-Dune Challenge,” giving a completion sticker for anyone who successfully climbs all three.

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    1. A Route 66 Road Trip is so much fun!! You should absolutely make that drive happen! I have lots of other posts about my favorite stops along Route 66, be sure to check those out, too! There are so many great things to see!

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  2. The St. Louis Arch was an amazing site when we visited 2 weeks ago. We didn’t know much about the area and just decided to see this treasure before we left to come home and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get to and that there was the museum underneath!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed your stay in my favorite city in the world! St. Louis is the place we call home and we have a lot of pride for it. The changes they’ve made to the arch grounds are truly remarkable. There used to be a highway that ran right in front of it! Now, that’s all covered up by parks grounds. They’ve made it a beautiful place to visit. Glad you were able to see it!

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  3. Driving Route 66 is on our bucket list once we retire. Thanks for pointing out all the National parks along the way. I see you also have other posts on Route 66 that I need to also check out.

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    1. Thanks for checking out my posts, Kathy! I do have lots of other Route 66 posts that I hope you check out before taking your trip. I absolutely love all things Route 66. I hope you enjoy your drive!

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