To make or not to make reservations… that is the question. But seriously, planning a trip of this length, we really DID have to make some decisions about advance reservations versus the spontanaeity of the road.
Like most travellers who chose to take Route 66, we wanted room for spontaneity and time to discover things as we go. We also wanted the flexibility to make changes to our itinerary en route. And we didn’t want to get tied into chasing a schedule.
Yet, our trip wasn’t “open-ended.” We had a return date, meaning we couldn’t let ourselves get so behind in terms of mileage that we didn’t make it back in time for the flight to France.
We tried to find a balance by setting up a series of “checkpoints” where we would have reservations that required us to arrive by a certain date. In between, we would have no reservations, leaving our options open. As long as we made our checkpoints on schedule, we would get there and back within our timeframe. And if we had to speed up in between to “catch up”, we could get back on track in reasonable chunks, rather than having delays build up until at the end we find ourselves physically just too far behind the timeline.
PLANNING FOR “NO PLANS”
The first thing we did to ensure that we kept up some kind of pacing during the drive was to plan for “pickup” days. We inserted an extra day into each segment, which we could either use to relax a bit and “see” a few of the local sites, or to “catch-up” as needed.
We also developed “short-lists” of options for the segments where we had no concrete plans. This way, if we spotted something interesting along the Route, we could just stop, but if nothing “jumped out” at us, we wouldn’t have to go searching more than we wanted to. The short-list options gave us an idea of what was out there. And frankly, while researching those options, we sometimes discovered opportunities that we wouldn’t have come across during the drive if we hadn’t known about them in advance.
ST. LOUIS TO TULSA TO AMARILLO OPTIONS
Our first “open-ended” segment was from St. Louis to Amarillo. On either “end” of the segment we had reservations for state park campsites (Meramec State Park near St. Louis, MO and Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, TX). In between we were completely free.
We knew we might have to stay in a hotel at some point along the segment, but mostly we were looking for places to camp. We found a comprehensive campground list put together by the folks at Route 66 News. Then, because we prefer a “rougher” kind of primitive tent camping to the amenities of most private campgrounds, we did a bit of research into options on government land. We looked at State Parks, which typically have quite developed camping facilities, and also at the National Forest land, where there is a choice between minimally developed camping areas and “dispersed camping” (which is about as “primitive” as you can get).
Looking at our map, we divided the St. Louis to Amarillo segment into driveable chunks and identified potential camping options at reasonable intervals. We came up with a workable list, with none that far off the Route 66 itineray, even if they weren’t all “on” the route itself.
St. Louis, MO: We had reservations at the Meramec State Park, just west of the city.
Rolla, MO: our first possible stop is about an hour and a half west of Meramec, at the Mark Twain National Forest near Rolla, where dispersed camping is allowed throughout the forest, “except in day use areas, administrative sites, within 100′ of springs, stream, caves and other natural features or archeological sites, or where otherwise prohibited.” Depending on time, we could find our own spot, or head for the Cole Creek Trail, where hikers are welcome to camp along the trail.
Lebanon, MO: a little over two hours out, just east of Springfield MO, is the Bennett Spring State Park. The park offers tent camping as well as electric and full hook-up campsites, and has all kinds of amenities. With five campgrounds to choose from there is likely to be “walk-in” availability on most dates — especially as Campground Five is completely “unreserved” first-come, first-serve.
Tulsa, OK: just east of Tulsa is the Twin Bridges State Park which has both tent and RV campgrounds, and even one-room lake huts with electricity, ceiling fans and screened windows!
Sand Springs, OK: a bit west of Tulsa, and not exactly on Route 66, but not that far off, is Keystone State Park, with cabins, tent sites and RV sites.
Hinton, OK: not quite halfway between Tulsa and Amarillo, in west central Oklahoma, is Red Rock Canyon State Park. RV and tent campsites are located down in the canyon, not far from the canyon walls that are a favorite for rappelling and open exploration.
Foss, OK: in western Oklahoma, closer to Amarillo than Tulsa, is Foss State Park. Located on a lake, this park has both RV and tent campsites available.
Amarillo, TX: We had reservations at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just south of the city.