Majestic Mountains Along Route 66: A Guide to the Best Hiking Trails and Scenic Views

Photo by Nyokki

Route 66 and its mountainous landscapes

Route 66, also known as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road,” has long captivated the hearts of travelers and adventurers alike. Spanning over 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, this iconic highway has been the backdrop for countless road trips, stories, and memories. While many are drawn to the classic Americana charm of the small towns and quirky roadside attractions, the mountains along Route 66 offer a whole other world of adventure and natural beauty just waiting to be explored.

The diverse landscapes of Route 66 include rolling plains, forests, deserts, and of course, majestic mountains. These mountainous regions, ranging from the Ozark Plateau in Missouri to the San Bernardino Mountains in California, offer a variety of hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether one is an experienced hiker, a casual nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a picturesque backdrop for their road trip, the mountains along Route 66 provide an unforgettable experience.

In this comprehensive guide, readers will find all the necessary information to plan their mountain adventure along Route 66. From choosing the right hiking trail and gear to ensuring one’s safety in the mountains, this guide aims to inspire and prepare travelers for the journey of a lifetime.

The importance of planning your mountain adventure

Before setting off on a mountainous adventure along Route 66, it is essential to take the time to plan and prepare. Proper planning ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience, allowing travelers to make the most of their time in these stunning landscapes. Some key factors to consider when planning a mountain hike include the accessibility and difficulty of the trails, weather conditions, and the necessary gear and supplies.

Researching the various mountain ranges and hiking trails along Route 66 is an important first step in the planning process. This guide will provide detailed information on the top mountains and trails to explore, but additional resources such as guidebooks, maps, and online forums can help paint a more complete picture of what to expect.

Additionally, it is crucial to monitor weather conditions leading up to the hike. Mountain weather can change rapidly and unexpectedly, so being prepared for various scenarios is essential. Finally, ensure that all necessary gear and supplies are packed, including appropriate clothing, food, water, and safety equipment.

Top mountain ranges along Route 66

Route 66 spans across eight states, with each offering its own unique mountainous landscapes. The following are some of the top mountain ranges to explore along the historic highway:

Mark Twain National Forest Old Spring Mill | Sally Jacobs

Ozark Plateau (Missouri)

The Ozark Plateau, located in southern Missouri, is a region characterized by dense forests, rolling hills, and rugged terrain. Hikers can find a variety of trails within the Mark Twain National Forest, which encompasses a portion of the Ozarks. The Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri, is also located within this region and offers challenging hikes and stunning views.

View from a lookout point along Ouachita scenic byway in early morning in November | Sari ONeal

Ouachita Mountains (Oklahoma)

The Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma provide a mix of rugged and scenic beauty, with pine and hardwood forests, clear streams, and rocky cliffs. The Ouachita National Forest offers numerous trails for hikers of all skill levels, as well as opportunities for camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

The highest mountains in Arizona, the San Francisco Peaks outside of Flagstaff can be seen through the “canines” of Sycamore Canyon as seen from Perkinsville road, about 10 miles from Jerome. | Ron Chilston

San Francisco Peaks (Arizona)

The San Francisco Peaks, located just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, are a volcanic mountain range that includes Humphreys Peak, the highest point in the state. The Coconino National Forest encompasses the San Francisco Peaks, providing a variety of hiking trails, including the challenging Humphreys Peak Trail, which leads to the summit at 12,637 feet.

San Bernardino Mountains, forest view, landscape, California. | Scenic Corner

San Bernardino Mountains (California)

The San Bernardino Mountains in southern California are home to the popular ski resort town of Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino National Forest. This mountain range offers a variety of hiking trails, including the iconic Pacific Crest Trail, which passes through the area.

Best hiking trails for different skill levels

With such a vast array of mountains and hiking trails along Route 66, there is truly something for everyone. The following are some of the top trails for various skill levels:


  • Devil’s Den Trail (Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas): This 1.6-mile loop trail offers a gentle introduction to hiking in the Ozarks, with scenic views of the surrounding forests and rock formations.
  • Cedar Lake Trail (Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma): This easy 3-mile loop trail around Cedar Lake features gentle inclines, well-maintained paths, and opportunities for wildlife viewing.
  • O’Leary Lookout Trail (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona): A 9.6-mile out-and-back trail that leads to a historic fire lookout with panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Rock Quarry in Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas | Andrew M Young


  • Bell Mountain Trail (Ozark Plateau, Missouri): This 11.6-mile out-and-back trail will take hikers to the summit of Bell Mountain, with stunning views of the surrounding wilderness.
  • Horsethief Springs Trail (Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma): This moderate 13-mile loop trail offers a mix of dense forests, mountain vistas, and historical sites, including the location of a former outlaw hideout.
  • Kachina Trail (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona): A 10.2-mile out-and-back trail through the diverse landscapes of the Coconino National Forest, including meadows, aspen groves, and ponderosa pine forests.
hiking around flagstaff – kachina peaks | Rightlaners


  • Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail (Ozark Plateau, Missouri): This challenging 12.9-mile point-to-point trail features steep inclines, rugged terrain, and stunning views from the highest point in Missouri.
  • Boardstand-Old Military Road Loop (Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma): A strenuous 19.8-mile loop that combines the Boardstand and Old Military Road trails, offering a challenging and rewarding hike through the heart of the Ouachita National Forest.
  • Humphreys Peak Trail (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona): This difficult 10.7-mile out and back trail ascends to the highest point in Arizona, with steep inclines, high elevation, and breathtaking views from the summit.
Waterfall from Taum Sauk Mountain trail | Reggie Person

Scenic viewpoints and photo opportunities

In addition to the incredible hiking trails, the mountains along Route 66 offer numerous scenic viewpoints and photo opportunities for travelers to capture the beauty of these landscapes. Some notable spots include:

  • Talimena Scenic Drive (Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma): This 54-mile scenic byway winds through the Ouachita National Forest, offering stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and forests.
  • Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona): Just east of the San Francisco Peaks, this national monument features a 1,000-foot high volcanic cinder cone and offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Rim of the World Scenic Byway (San Bernardino Mountains, California): This 110-mile scenic drive offers numerous overlooks and photo opportunities, showcasing the beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains and the surrounding valleys.
Talimena National Scenic Byway in Oklahoma during autumn | RaksyBH

Essential gear for a successful mountain hike

Packing the right gear is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable mountain hike. Some essential items to include in your pack are:

  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots with good traction
  • Comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing, including layers for changing weather conditions
  • A hat and sunglasses for sun protection
  • A backpack with a hydration system or water bottles
  • High-energy snacks and a packed lunch
  • A map and compass or GPS device
  • A first aid kit and any necessary personal medications
  • A multi-tool or pocket knife
  • A headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • Emergency supplies, such as a whistle, fire starter, and space blanket

Safety tips for hiking in mountainous terrain

Hiking in the mountains can present unique challenges and hazards. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, consider the following safety tips:

  • Know your limits and choose a trail that is appropriate for your skill level and physical fitness.
  • Check the weather forecast before departing and be prepared for changing conditions.
  • Stay on marked trails and avoid taking shortcuts or wandering off the path.
  • Be aware of any potential hazards, such as unstable terrain, wildlife, or altitude sickness.
  • Carry a fully charged cell phone and consider investing in a personal locator beacon for emergencies.
  • Inform someone of your hiking plans, including your intended route and expected return time.
  • Hike with a buddy or group whenever possible, and maintain a steady pace that is comfortable for all members.
Sunrise at Echo Bluff state park Missouri | M.Curtis

Nearby accommodations and camping options

For those looking to extend their mountain adventure, there are numerous accommodations and camping options available near the various mountain ranges along Route 66. Options range from rustic cabins and campgrounds to charming bed and breakfasts and luxury resorts. Some popular choices include:

  • Echo Bluff Park (Ozark Plateau, Missouri): This park features a variety of accommodations, including cabins, campsites, and a lodge, as well as hiking trails, fishing, and swimming opportunities.
  • Beavers Bend State Park (Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma): This park offers a range of camping options, including RV sites, tent camping, and cabins, as well as hiking trails, fishing, and water activities on the nearby Broken Bow Lake.
  • Flagstaff KOA Holiday (San Francisco Peaks, Arizona): This campground offers a range of camping options, including tent sites, RV sites, and cabins, as well as amenities such as a nature inspired playground.
  • Big Bear Lake (San Bernardino Mountains, California): This popular mountain resort town offers a variety of accommodations, including cabins, hotels, and vacation rentals, as well as outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and skiing.
Big Bear Lake Camping Area, Southern California | Sahani Photography

Additional outdoor activities to enjoy along Route 66

In addition to hiking and exploring the mountains along Route 66, there are numerous other outdoor activities to enjoy along the way. Some popular options include:

  • Fishing: Many of the mountainous regions along Route 66 offer excellent fishing opportunities, with abundant streams, rivers, and lakes. Be sure to obtain any necessary fishing licenses and follow all fishing regulations.
  • Rock climbing: The rugged terrain of the mountains along Route 66 provides ample opportunities for rock climbing and bouldering, with numerous climbing routes and crags to explore.
  • Skiing and snowboarding: In the winter months, several of the mountain ranges along Route 66 offer skiing and snowboarding opportunities, including Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains and Arizona Snowbowl near Flagstaff.
  • Wildlife viewing: The mountains along Route 66 are home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, elk, deer, and coyotes. Be sure to observe wildlife from a safe distance and avoid feeding or approaching them.

Embracing the beauty of Route 66’s majestic mountains

The mountains along Route 66 offer a world of adventure and natural beauty, just waiting to be explored. From the rolling hills of the Ozarks to the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, there is truly something for everyone. By taking the time to plan and prepare, choosing the right hiking trail and gear, and following basic safety guidelines, travelers can fully embrace the beauty of Route 66’s majestic mountains. Whether one is seeking a challenging hike to a summit or simply a scenic photo opportunity, the mountains along this iconic highway offer an unforgettable experience.

So, pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and hit the road to explore the magnificent mountains along Route 66.