This last stretch of the Mother Road—from western Arizona to the coast of California—is pretty lengthy, but there are plenty of detours and attractions to break up the drive.
Surrounded by national forests and designated wilderness areas, and just 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff is an oasis of natural beauty with all the comforts and conveniences of a big city. Home to Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff somehow manages to be a bustling college town with a quaint, small-town vibe. Its historic downtown is home to breweries, restaurants, and shops located in buildings from the 1890s. Unlike the dry, sweltering desert cities in southern Arizona, Flagstaff—thanks to its elevation of nearly 7,000 feet—has a more comfortable four-season climate with plenty of snow in the winter, so plan accordingly.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is a geological wonder. Established in 1915 to protect ancient cliff dwellings, the National Park Service took over the 3,600 acres in 1934. Step inside curved canyons, ascend towering cliffs, or hike the Rim and Island Trails. Remember to wear decent walking shoes and bring plenty of water.
The Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff has a rich history of famous guests, including Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne. It also might be the most haunted hotel along Route 66. Wayne was one of the first people to suspect that the Monte Vista might have a bit of a ghost problem. He reported seeing the figure of a bellboy—but don’t worry, he claimed it was friendly. In 1970, the hotel allegedly picked up yet another ghost when a wounded bank robber died at the bar in the lounge. There have been several more ghost sightings throughout the years, including a lady in a rocking chair and a crying baby in the basement.
The Lowell Observatory is considered one of the most important astronomical observatories in the world. Designated a National Landmark in 1965, the observatory’s historic telescope is now available for public educational use. Head to the Steele Visitor Center to take a guided tour. Tours are available day or night, but the best time to visit is after dark, when the big telescope is set up along with several smaller ones. Regardless of the time, plan on spending at least a few hours here.
Flagstaff is a great place to spend the night. Starlight Pines Bed and Breakfast—with its clawfoot tubs, private balconies, delicious breakfasts, and comfy beds—will make you feel like royalty. Located just 10 minutes from downtown, this bed and breakfast only has four guest rooms, so you’ll want to book in advance.
Williams was the final Route 66 town bypassed by I-40. The town took its battle against the bypass to the courts, but stopped fighting in 1984. Despite the setbacks, Williams has held on thanks to its status as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.” This stretch of the Mother Road is particularly well-preserved and features many eateries, shops, museums, parks, and lakes. Williams’ Main Street has been designated a National Historic District, and it’s a great place to relax and refuel before you tackle the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon Railway was established in 1901. Jump on board to enjoy champagne, live entertainment, and gorgeous views.
Congratulations! You have reached the end of the Mother Road—and by now you know it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. But whether the Santa Monica Pier is your ending or starting point, take some time to celebrate and reflect. With more than 2,000 miles of classic neon, motels, larger-than-life roadside attractions, museums, diners, and countless colorful characters, it should be obvious why the allure of Route 66 is as strong as ever. The road may look different today than it did decades ago—or even yesterday—but that’s all part of the fun.
Banner Photo Credit: Flickr/Grand Canyon National Park