This post is part of a series I’ve done on Route 66. In 2022, I drove the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. 2500 miles, 8 states, countless stories, and an endless stretch of small towns, neon, diners, motels, and roadside attractions. Read through all of my Route 66 posts here. They’re also linked at the end of this post. If you’re planning your own Route 66 road trip, either the whole thing or just a part, I hope these help you out. Enjoy the drive!
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Missouri over the years. My grandparents live in Springfield and I’ve driven I-44 across the entire state…quite a bit. But no shortcuts were taken on my Route 66 trip! I diligently followed every twist and turn and was surprised to see what I’d been blowing past on the interstate all those years.
Missouri has a great portion of Route 66. Unlike some states where the route is really chopped up by the interstate (or completely paved over), in Missouri you can drive almost the entire thing unencumbered by semi trucks and speeding SUVs.
So, from the Mighty Mississippi to the Great Midwest to the Ozark Mountains, let’s get rolling down Route 66 from St. Louis to Springfield.
Route 66 from St. Louis to Springfield, MO
Route 66 Stops in St Louis
Read my full post about where to go on Route 66 in St Louis here.
Route 66 Stops St Louis to Sullivan, MO
There are a couple of different routes through St Louis so as you leave the suburbs (Kirkwood), you’ll have to decide which way you want to go. Both roads connect back at Gray Summit about 25 miles west of town.
The POST 1932 route more or less follows I-44 and there’s portions where you’re actually driving on the interstate so it’s the quicker route. There’s really not a ton to see along this stretch, but there are some big rock formations if you’re into that. Between the two routes, I would take the PRE 1932 route.
The PRE 1932 route follows Highway 100 and for quite a ways you’re just driving through St Louis suburbs and newer construction (not much vintage Route 66-ness), but once you get a ways west out of town, the road opens up and there’s some scenic country.
Big Chief Roadhouse: Wildwood, MO
On the PRE 1932 alignment, you’ll pass the Big Chief Roadhouse. Even if you’re not there when it’s open, it’s a cool building to see.
Sunset Motel: Villa Ridge, MO
Near Villa Ridge, you’ll pass the Sunset Motel which is in the process of being renovated. The neon sign has been replaced and it’s a good one!
Meramec Caverns: Stanton, MO
Growing up in Tulsa, OK with grandparents in Springfield, MO I’ve been seeing the barns advertising Meramec Caverns along I-44 for over 30 years now. So when I started plotting out my Route 66 trip through Missouri, seeing Meramec Caverns was high on my list.
Well, I’ll cut to the chase…it didn’t disappoint! And if you’re cruising through Missouri on Route 66 (or looking for something fun in the St Louis area, I highly recommend stopping for the cave tour. And I’d actually say if you only have time for one roadside attraction/diversion in Missouri that you should probably make it Meramec Caverns.
I’ll mainly let the pictures speak for themselves, but here are the details you need to know:
Tours of the cave take approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes and depart every 20-30 minutes. You don’t need reservations…you can just show up and they’ll put you on the next tour. Tickets cost $26/adult and $14/child (5-11), 5 and under are free. They give you the option to add gratuity for your guide onto your credit card when you purchase your tickets which is a nice option if you don’t have cash.
You can’t take strollers or wheelchairs, but it’s all paved and mostly a flat, leisurely paced walk until you get to the end and there’s a couple of staircases to get up to one of the most impressive rooms. But there is an option to skip that part and wait at the bottom if it’s too much.
It is pretty chilly in the cave. It’s around sixty degrees but it’s 100% humidity so I think it felt colder. There’s also an upper chamber and a lower chamber and it was definitely colder in the lower. I had on jeans, boots, and a light sweatshirt and I went back for my coat after I bought the tickets, but I’m a pretty big baby when it comes to cold. Most people in our tour just had light jackets or sweatshirts and some were even wearing shorts. But they do sell a lot of jackets in the gift shop so that makes me think that a lot of people end up buying them there.
Highlights of the Cave Tour
The guides are really great and keep the tour moving quickly and tell a mix of historical and scientific facts. Besides being the largest commercial cave in Missouri, Meramec Caverns is famous for being one of Jesse James’ hideouts. So you’ll hear plenty about that.
The Wine Table is the most unique formation in the cave and I’m pretty sure the only other known one in the world is in Italy and it’s underwater. Its legs formed from the bottom up and it looks more like a creature than a table. Unfortunately, back when the cave still hosted proms, a few mischievous high school students snuck into the room where the wine table is and stood on top of it and broke its neck.
You can thank them for the extremely strict laws about touching or breaking any cave formations in the state of Missouri. They tried to reattach the formation, but it broke at its weakest point so they still use the metal support.
The big finale is the “Stage Curtain” theater show. They’ve actually built a small theater into one of the biggest formations which does look an awful lot like a curtain. Once everyone is seated there’s a light show (and some video) choreographed to God Bless America.
Is being in the cave scary or claustrophobic?
Not going to lie…I was a little apprehensive before the tour. I don’t really like caves and have low key anxiety in certain situations so I was expecting it to bother me but it really didn’t at all. All of the rooms are a decent size (you’re never in any super huge caverns though) and it didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. Everything is well lit and pathways are large. You’ll never have to squeeze through any tight spaces. Apart from knowing you’re underground, I didn’t find it too scary.
There are supposedly bats in the cave system, but we never saw any and since they’re nocturnal and it’s a very large cave it’s pretty rare to see them. Plus they’re the small, cute kind and pose no actual danger anyways.
The only part that psyched me out just a teeny tiny bit was the part where they turn off the lights. I think it happened when we were back in the Jungle Room. It doesn’t happen suddenly (the guide gives plenty of warning), but the guide explains about total cave darkness and then when everyone is standing still and holding onto a railing they turn the lights off for maybe 30 seconds or so. And it is DARK. You can’t see your hand in front of your face! But like our guide said, if it’s scary, you can close your eyes ; )
Overall, it’s a very family friendly tour and mobile older people will be good too.
Keep an eye out for old barns dotting Route 66 (and I-44) that advertise Meramec Caverns. It’s been one of the cavern’s most successful marketing strategies since opening for commercial tours in the 1940s.
Jesse James Wax Museum: Stanton, MO
Meramec Caverns was a famous hideout of Jesse and Frank James so naturally Jesse James’ legacy has been immortalized in a nearby wax museum. And they have theories, people! Including one that James didn’t die in a shootout in 1882 but instead lived under an alias until 1951. The museum is open every day in the summer, closed during the winter and open only on weekends during the spring and fall so call ahead to make sure they’re open during your trip.
Route 66 Stops Sullivan to Rolla
From Sullivan to Rolla you’ll have to follow your map pretty closely to stick to the route. Sometimes it’s right on I-44 and sometimes it meanders a bit. Here are a few sites to look out for:
Shamrock Court: Sullivan, MO
I LOVE a good Route 66 renovation project and can’t wait to circle back in a few years to see how it turned out!
Wagon Wheel Motel: Cuba, MO
This place is a gem. I’ll be honest…I love the idea of vintage Route 66 motels but in reality there are very few I would actually stay in. Well this is one of them. It’s on a nice property and feels more like you’re in the country than in town even though it’s right on the route.
Missouri Hicks BBQ: Cuba, MO
Next door to the Wagon Wheel Motel is one of Missouri’s most famous bbq joints. I haven’t eaten here yet, but I’m planning a stop soon.
Other Spots in Cuba, MO
The town of Cuba is pretty much covered in murals that detail the town and region’s history including its spot on Route 66. Also there’s a very nicely preserved 1932 Phillips 66 station. It was previously a restaurant, but it’s sitting empty for now.
Fanning General Store: Fanning, MO
This one is a don’t miss. Yes, you’ll want to see the giant rocking chair out front (once the world’s largest but not anymore), but it’s a very quaint general store where you can stock up on snacks and drinks. Their selection of bottled pop almost rivals Pops in Oklahoma.
St James & Rosati
The area around St James and Rosati is a place I need to go back and explore a little more. Downtown St. James is very cute and I have a feeling that you’d find some treasures in the antique stores. There are several wineries in this area and it’s worth the quick detour into Rosati to check them out.
Spots in Rolla, MO
Coming into Rolla, there’s a couple of neat sites to watch out for:
The Giant Faucet & the Mule Trading Post: I haven’t seen the giant faucet sign at night, but I bet it’s a site. And the Mule Trading Post has certainly seen better days (it’s not currently open), but the big hillbilly out front is something to see.
Stonehenge: On the campus of Missouri S&T, there’s a half scale replica of Stonehenge (14th St & Bishop). I felt like I saw it fine just driving by.
Totem Pole Trading Post: This is a classic Route 66 stop. The sign out front is pretty great and inside it’s a mish mash of Route 66 souvenirs and antiques.
Tater Patch: From the outside it looks like a classic roadhouse, but it’s very family friendly and a popular lunch spot with locals. They’re known for their spuds, but the burger I had was fantastic. Portions are HUGE.
Slice of Pie: For a lighter lunch option, head to Slice of Pie for chicken salad sammies, chicken pot pie, etc. But you really come for the pie. Or cake or brownies. They have a large dessert menu, but go early if your heart is set on something specific. They get quite a few tour buses that wipe out the selection.
Route 66 Stops Rolla to Springfield
The road between Rolla and Springfield is one of my favorite stretches through Missouri.
Devil’s Elbow, MO
Arguably the most scenic part of Route 66 through Missouri is around Devil’s Elbow. Through Hooker is the first bit of 4 lane Route 66 built in MO, and the 90 foot Hooker Cut was the deepest road cut in Missouri at the time.
Devil’s Elbow refers to a bend in the river that was notorious for causing logjams.
I really hate to even mention this place because it is tacky in the worst way haha, but I did like their neon map of Route 66. It’s a modern roadside attraction that capitalizes on bathroom humor. Fudge shop, souvenir shop, everything shop and they even advertise sideshows. I saw enough just driving through the parking lot. But I can imagine that kids of a certain age would really get a kick out of it.
Frog Rock: Waynesville, MO
Keep your eyes peeled for this green guy just east of Waynesville. Ribbet.
Munger Moss Motel: Lebanon, MO
This stretch of Route 66 through Lebanon has a pretty high concentration of preserved Route 66 spots, starting with the Munger Moss Motel. Built in 1946, the Munger Moss Motel isn’t quite as charming as the Wagon Wheel Motel in nearby Cuba (in my opinion), but WOWZERS THAT SIGN. And in all honesty, I would give this motel a shot. It’s a shame that Cuba and Lebanon are so close together and you probably won’t need to spend the night in both places.
Starlite Lanes: Lebanon, MO
Across the street from the Munger Moss is Starlite Lanes. Vintage bowling alleys aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, but this one just might be worth the stop to play a game or two.
Wrinks Market: Lebanon, MO
Wrinks Market has been there forever and although new businesses come and go (it’s currently something called the “Vintage Cowgirl”), they always keep the original facade.
Route 66 Museum: Lebanon, MO
I haven’t stopped at this museum yet, but it’s home to several 50s era Route 66 recreations including a motel room, a soda fountain, and a diner. If you have time, it’s probably worth the stop.
The Road from Lebanon to Springfield
West of Lebanon around Phillipsburg the road rambles away from the interstate all the way through Marshfield and it’s a particularly nice drive. You’ll see cows and pastures, grain silos, etc. And not a semi in sight.
Route 66 Stops in Springfield
Read my full post about Route 66 in Springfield, MO here.
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve written about my cross country road trip pretty extensively section by section. Read them all here: Part 1 (Chicago), Part 2 (Chicago to St. Louis), Part 3 (St. Louis), Part 4 (St. Louis to Springfield MO), Part 5 (Springfield, MO), Part 6 (Springfield, MO to Tulsa), Part 7 (Tulsa), Part 8 (Tulsa to OKC), Part 9 (OKC), Part 10 (OKC to Amarillo), Part 11 (Amarillo), Part 12 (Amarillo to Albuquerque), Part 13 (Albuquerque), Part 14 (Albuquerque to Flagstaff), Part 15 (Flagstaff), Part 16 (Flagstaff to San Bernardino), Part 17 (Los Angeles).
I’ve got the scoop on where to stay including the best Route 66 motels recommendations.
And finally, my final trip recap where I spill the beans on how many days you need, the best itinerary, my favorite don’t miss spots, and other tips.