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Shortest Road Trip On Route 66: Kansas

For a family that readily takes road trips to faraway destinations like Yellowstone National Park, you’d think we’d have taken the kids on a drive along Route 66 by now. And yet, our recent adventure on the Kansas section of Route 66 was our first. This was an easy section, being the shortest and all!

Kim with kids by Tow Mater in Galena, Kansas

Where does Route 66 pass through Kansas?

Route 66 was established in 1926 and became a major transportation route for people and goods traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles. The iconic highway does, in fact, pass through Kansas. It passes through roughly 13 miles of southeastern Kansas. The Kansas towns along the route are Galena, Baxter Springs and Riverton. 

Southeastern Kansas has quite a few quirky little attractions near Route 66, at at least within about an hour or so from it. Check out this list of 20 road trip stops to explore in this southern section of Kansas.

A Kansas Route 66 mark on the road

Top stop for families along Route 66 in Kansas

If I had to recommend one stop for families driving Route 66 in Kansas, I’d have to pick the town of Galena. The town is going to be a hit with families, particularly families of littles who love the animated film, “Cars.” It was in this town that the filmmakers spotted the truck that inspired Tow Mater, and now you can see that truck (and a handful of other “Cars” character replicas) in town.

Exterior of Gearhead Curios along Route 66 in Galena, Kansas

Two spots on Galena’s Main Street, Gearhead Curios and Cars on the Route, will jump out at you, simply because of the large photo-ops out front. Both spots are in former gas stations and have managed to retain the nostalgic look of them while still creating a modern tourist stop. 

Route 66 sodas and shot glasses at Gearhead Curios in Galena, Kansas

Gearhead Curios, located in a renovated Texaco Station, is the stop for some souvenirs and a bottle or two of Route 66 soda. My daughter loved the Route Beer. The owner, Aaron, will talk your ear off and by the end, you’ll feel like you’ve made a friend. Do go inside and check out the fun decor. He’s planning a grand opening in June 2023.

Cars on the Route is still undergoing renovations, so you can’t go inside just yet, but outside is what’s going to make you stop anyway. It’s an old Kan-O-Tex Service Station, and it looks pretty vintage cool. In addition to the tow truck that inspired Tow Mater, there are a few other replicas in front. 

Luigi's Pit Stop near Route 66 in Kansas

A short distance from Cars on the Route is Luigi’s Pit Stop. There are big plans for it, but for now, it consists of fun photo ops and cutouts for pictures. They’re a mix of “Cars,” Kansas and Route 66 themed set-ups. If your kids are a little older and easily embarrassed, this is a fun place to truly act goofy and get some good eye rolls.

Kim as a sunflower in Galena, Kansas

One other interesting thing to point out: The Murder Bordello is across the Cars on the Route. I got your attention there, didn’t I?! The home was once a bordello, and lore has it that the madam of the place killed a few of the clients. It’s supposedly haunted, too. That’s all in dispute but it’s still a fun side story.

Exterior of the

Kansas attractions worth stopping near Route 66

If you want more stops along the route – and why wouldn’t you? – here’s a list of other notable things to see and things to do in this tiny section of Route 66.

Top of an old-fashioned gas pump at the Route 66 Visitors Center in Baxter Springs, Kansas
  • In Baxter Springs, stop at the Route 66 Visitors Center. You can’t miss it, it inhabits another old-fashioned gas station (a Phillips 66). Down the street, there’s the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum, which showcases the town’s history and the local mining industry.
  • Nelson’s Old Riverton Store, formerly called the Eisler Brothers Store, is the oldest continuously-operating general store west of the Mississippi River. It’s packed to the rafters with items, and is known for their sandwiches, which you can purchase in the back of the store. Go in there with kids at your own risk: Like any general store, the candy and goodies are front and center when you walk in. This is also another place to note for its Route 66 souvenirs. 
The sandwich counter at Nelson's Old Riverton Store in Kansas

Parent tip: The old-fashioned gas stations are plentiful along Route 66, and many are undergoing renovations and being flipped into some truly neat shops and attractions. However, it turns out, kids aren’t really into old gas stations. Who knew, right?! I didn’t think much of it until I found out from my husband that the kids were muttering about “another gas station,” after our third one of the day. So, you know, maybe not stop at all of them. Look for other photo opps.

Route 66 Visitors Center in Kansas is located at an old Phillip 66 gas station

Where to stay near Route 66 in Kansas

There aren’t an abundance of accommodation options along Route 66 in Kansas, unfortunately. I stayed north of the route both nights I was in the area: 

I’d recommend either, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Both places have indoor pools (sorry, no hot tubs). 

The lobby of the Hampton Inn & Suites in Pittsburg, Kansas

However, if you’re looking for the authentic Route 66 experience, here are a few options:

  • Motel: The budget-friendly Baxter Inn 4 Less in Baxter Springs. It has a 7.7 star rating on Booking.com, but it’s not much to look at.
  • B&B: The Old Riverton Post B&B in Riverton is an apartment with a balcony. It gets a high 9.2-star rating on Booking.com. The Mollie Retreat in Galena is a pet-friendly, one-bedroom apartment. There’s also the super-cute YellowDoor Downtown studio apartment in Galena, though it’s pretty small for traveling families.  The Color Wheel House in Baxter Springs is a Premier Host on VRBO and sleeps up to six people. 

Interesting facts along Route 66 in Kansas

Route 66 mural on the side of Bricks & Brews Woodier Grill & Pub in Baxter Springs, Kansas

Because I love random facts, and I learned quite a few of them while traveling through Kansas, I’m including these interesting Route 66 Kansas factoids. Do with them what you will.

  • Baxter Springs played a significant role during the American Civil War, serving as a supply depot for Union troops. The town was the site of the infamous Baxter Springs Massacre, which occurred on Oct. 6, 1863. Confederate guerrillas attacked a Union wagon train and killed more than 100 soldiers and civilians.
  • Galena is known for its rich mining history. The town was established in 1877 and quickly became a major lead and zinc mining center, producing over 40% of the world’s supply of zinc during World War I. Learn about it at the Galena Mining and Historical Museum.
  • The infamous Bonnie & Clyde robbed the Condon National Bank in downtown Galena. Galena Liberty Pawn has one of couple’s shotguns on display with documentation on its origins (it’s from a shootout that took place in Joplin, Mo., a few miles east of Galena). 
  • Riverton is home to the Rainbow Bridge (AKA, the Marsh Arch Bridge), an iconic historic landmark designed by James Barney Marsh that was built in 1923. It’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge passes over Brush Creek.

Got any more Kansas Route 66 trivia? Leave a comment with what you know!

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