Great Family Vacation Destinations
Iconic Route 66, known as The Mother Road, was (and for many, still is) the main route of travel from the Midwest to the west coast. Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, a total of 2,448 miles. From downtown St. Louis to the Kansas state line west of Joplin, Missouri’s Route 66 covered 317 miles.
Although it was decommissioned in 1985 to make way for the Interstate System, Route 66 has not lost its magnetism as the Mother Road. Now, I-44 through Missouri follows much of the original route. The Show-Me State invites everyone to come-on-down and experience a true legend, where you can still . . . get your kicks on Route 66.
Owners of original, vintage motels along Route 66 in Missouri are doing their best to see that motorists keep traveling the legendary highway. Any tour of the Mother Road should include stays at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba; the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon; the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield; as well as the Boots Court Motel in Carthage.
Summer Road Trip Ideas
Today, Missouri has erected “Historic Route 66” signs along bypassed sections of the original roadway. Tourists come from the world over to drive its twisting two lane blacktop and visit the mom ‘n pop motels and roadside attractions that still line the route.
Spend a night at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, where each of the original stone cottages has been lovingly restored. Built in 1935, it is the oldest continuously operating tourist court on the historic highway. The restoration, which had to conform to the motel’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, included the original café, 19 rental rooms stylishly decorated with modern amenities, the motel office and Connie’s Shoppe, where you can buy women’s accessories and souvenirs. They kept the original doors and windows, and saved most of the hardwood floors.
In downtown Cuba, many buildings are adorned with colorful murals, depicting the history of the area. Feast on down-home barbecue, hickory smoked 12 hours at Missouri Hick Bar B Que. While you are in the area, visit the Route 66 Red Rocker, four miles west of Cuba on Historic Route 66. The 42-foot, 1-inch tall steel rocker was added to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008.
Followers of the Mother Road are familiar with the big neon sign which has been pointing to the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon for 70 years. This vintage auto court has 44 guestrooms and 17 two-room efficiencies; some are decorated with Route 66 themes.
When hunger strikes in Lebanon on I-44, grab a table at Dowd's Catfish and BBQ, a bayou-themed restaurant specializing in barbecue and bayou fried catfish. For fun and excitement, Lebanon has two automobile racetracks.
Lebanon I-44 Speedway, a high-banked, 3/8th-mile asphalt oval, is the only NASCAR track in Missouri and the only weekly (April-September) asphalt oval within 300 miles. The dirt track at Midway Speedway holds a variety of racing from B-mods to motocross, lawn tractor pulls to pure stocks, April-October.
The highway was officially designated Route 66 on April 30, 1926, at a meeting in Springfield. In 1938, Route 66 became the first completely paved transcontinental highway in America. The Springfield Route 66 Information Center offers maps, brochures, visitor guides and other information.
The Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven is a good place to stay while exploring the city’s many attractions. The original Rail Haven, built in 1938, had a split-rail fence around eight sandstone cottages with adjoining garages. In 1951, the motel was a founding member of the new Best Western chain. Today, the Rail Haven offers 98 guestrooms; the original eight cottages have become part of a modern strip-style motel, with all of the expected amenities. Antique gas pumps, vintage signs and a 1955 and a 1956 Ford decorate the grounds, paying homage to its place on the historic highway.
Don’t leave Springfield without visiting Pythian Castle. Built by the Knights of Pythias as an orphanage in 1913, the structure was later owned by the U.S. Military for more than 50 years. The nearly 40,000-square-foot castle holds more than 50 rooms, including dungeons and a ballroom. The Paranormal Task Force and the Ozark Paranormal Society have certified Pythian Castle as a haunted site. After the tour, grab some chow at the renowned Billy Sims Barbecue and enjoy the fun, family oriented tailgating atmosphere along with some of the tastiest and most tender brisket and ribs around. (Second location in Joplin.)
In Carthage, on the western border of Missouri’s Route 66, the Boots Court Motel is restored to its 1940s glory. To maintain authenticity, the owners searched flea markets and used furniture shops, seeking antiques and period furniture to decorate each room, many of which maintain their original wood floors and tiled bathrooms. When the motel opened in 1939, the original owner, Arthur Boots, advertised: "A radio in every room." That promise is upheld today – all rooms have a radio, but there are no televisions.
Get a feeling for the bygone days on the Victorian Home Driving Tour (self guided) through one of the state's largest historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. Brochures and maps are available at the Carthage Convention and Visitors Bureau. (A step-on guide is available to bus tour groups, for a fee. Reservation required.) In Carthage, Boomers BBQ and Catering is the place for multi-award-winning Missouri barbecue. If you’re in a hurry, run by their drive-up window.
So go on ... get out there and discover the hundreds of exciting adventures and fun family attractions along Historic Route 66. Get your kicks!