The Route 66 Chicago to St Louis stretch through Illinois may be your first introduction to ‘The Mother Road’! In all honesty, it’s too much to do in one go. But it is possible. With the stops we made, we were on the road for 12 hours! In this post I share 9 must see roadside attractions and stops between Chicago to St Louis along Route 66. From ‘giants’ to historic landmarks!
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Route 66 Chicago to St Louis
How many miles is Chicago to St Louis?
Following Route 66: 334 miles = approximately 12 hours drive time with stops
(Following I-55 (Route 66 mostly runs parallel): 297 miles = approximately 4hr 30 hours drive time without stops)
Where To Stay
For accommodation in Chicago IL, check out:
Comfort Suites O’Hare Airport in Schiller Park (free on-site parking)
Motel 6 O’Hare in Elk Grove Village (free on-site parking)
Chicago Loop Hotel in Downtown Chicago (no parking)
For accommodation in St Louis MO, check out:
Hampton Inn St Louis at the Arch (on-site parking)
Chicago – Route 66 Begin Sign
🗺E Adams St, Chicago, IL 60603, United States
You can’t talk about the first stretch of this iconic road trip without mentioning the Route 66 starting point! I wrote a full guide on the official and unofficial Route 66 starting point in Chicago which you can find here. As a tourist driving Route 66, the Route 66 BEGIN sign may be on your list of things to see. This can be found close to the corner of E Adams St and N Michigan Ave. Sometimes it is covered in stickers and difficult to see though!
For more information about Route 66 in Chicago, this may be useful: Route 66 Chicago: A Guide To The Start of Route 66 & 2 Days In Chicago!
Wilmington – Gemini Giant
🗺S East St, Wilmington, IL 60481, United States
The Launching Pad Restaurant is the location of one of Route 66’s ‘giants’. The giants were originally Paul Bunyan statues created by International Fibreglass in California. Other companies (mostly car garages) then started using the ‘moulds’ for other advertising giants, switching out Paul Bunyan’s axe for other objects, such as mufflers and tyres. They became known at ‘The Muffler Men’.
The 28ft Gemini Giant was purchased in 1965 and holds a rocket and has an astronaut helmet. The Launching Pad is a restaurant and gift shop that’s open during the peak travel season (closed in winter).
Odell – Standard Oil Gas Station
🗺400 S West St, Odell, IL 60460, United States
The Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gas station was built in 1932. It was designed to look like a house with a canopy, which helped create a homely feel, making travellers feel comfortable. To keep up with traveller demand, a garage and repair shop was added in the 1940s. It operated as a gas station until the last 1970s. The gas station is now a welcome centre for the town of Odell. It is open daily between 11am – 3pm.
Pontiac – Route 66 Association of Illinois
🗺110 W Howard St, Pontiac, IL 61764, United States
Unfortunately out of all the things listed in this post, Pontiac was a place we decided to skip as we were restricted for time. Looking back, I really wish we had made a stop there! The Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum has a large Route 66 mural on the side of the building!
In this same location is Bob Waldmire’s converted school bus. He was famous for his Route 66 artwork and driving around in an orange VW Bus. Because of this Bob became the inspiration for Filmore the VW bus in Cars: The Movie. He sometimes lived in the school bus which is now permanently parked in Pontiac after his death. It is a piece of artwork on its own!
Atlanta – The Bunyon Giant
🗺112 SW Arch St, Atlanta, IL 61723, United States
Another Route 66 giant is ‘The Bunyon Giant’ in Atlanta. This one looks like the more traditional Paul Bunyan character but instead of an axe, he is holding a giant hotdog! It was originally used to advertise Bunyans Cafe which was located in Cicero, Illinois. However it has since found its home in Atlanta.
Springfield – Cozy Dog Drive In
🗺2935 S 6th St, Springfield, IL 62703, United States
Illinois is said to be home to the hot dog on a stick. They are a hot dog, covered in a corn bread like batter, which is then deep fried. It first made an appearance at the Illinois State Fair in 1946. (The Iowa State Fair serves almost 70 types of food on a stick now!). The Cozy Dog Drive In was built 3 years later but has been at its current location since 1996. It’s a fun little place to stop at for a cheap quick bite to eat while travelling along Route 66 between Chicago and St Louis. There’s also a gift shop. The Cozy Dog Drive In is closed on Sundays and on public holidays.
Staunton – Henry’s Rabbit Ranch
🗺1107 Historic Old Rte 66, Staunton, IL 62088, United States
One of Route 66’s many quirky roadside attractions is Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, Illinois. This visitor centre and gift shop looks like one of the classic gas stations. BUT is it also a rabbit ranch, yes, with real rabbits! It started after 2 pet rabbits begun multiplying out of control and eventually turned into a Route 66 attraction.
As well as rabbits that are alive and kicking, there’s also an art installation similar to that at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas (minus the spray paint). 7 VW Rabbits (also known as a Mark 1 Golf) are buried nose first into the ground! The Rabbit Ranch (Hare It Is) is also a play on the ‘Here It Is’ Jackrabbit Trading Post along Route 66 in Joseph City, AZ.
When the information centre and gift shop is closed, visitors are welcome to take photos from the outside.
Granite City – Chain of Rocks Bridge
🗺4205-4207 Chain of Rocks Rd, Granite City, IL 62040, United States
A 4-mile round trip detour off Route 66 will take you to the Illinois side of the Chain of Rocks Bridge. The one mile bridge across the Mississippi River was constructed in 1929. What makes it unique is that there is a 30 degree bend in the middle!
The Chain of Rocks Bridge is closed to vehicle traffic, however it is open for cyclists and foot traffic. There has been crime around the bridge in the past. It is recommended to park on the Illinois side, rather than the Missouri side. Vehicles are left at your own risk. We parked up and walked a short section of the bridge to get a few photos. Otherwise it can be seen from the ‘New Chain of Rocks Bridge’ (I-270) that runs parallel.
St Louis – Gateway Arch
🗺Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO 63102, United States
Finishing up this section of Route 66, you can’t miss the St Louis Gateway Arch. This 630ft tall arch way celebrations western expansion and is the taller monument in the US. It is located in the Gateway Arch National Park, with the arch being completed in 1965. A 4 minute tram ride takes visitors to the observation desk at the very top of the arch.
Tickets do often sell out in advance. If you plan to visit the museum and ride the tram it may be best to stay in St Louis for the evening and do the tour the following day. As it took us 12 hours to travel along Route 66 Chicago to St Louis, we arrived close to closing time, so were unable to get tickets. I have since been back to St Louis several times and did the tour on a return visit.