Route 66 in Kansas title

Best things on the 13 miles of Kansas Route 66

Get your kicks on Route 66 in Kansas

Unfortunately, the “Route 66” lyrics skip the 13.2 short miles of Route 66 in Kansas. But you shouldn’t. Three small towns, Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs, offer plenty of things to explore on the Kansas segment of the route. Unlike other states, the state of Kansas didn’t turn its Mother Road into an Interstate. Therefore, you’re driving on the original route.

Please read all about Route 66 in Kansas, plus many other road trips, in the book Midwest Road Trip Adventures.

Let’s explore.

We’ve enjoyed several visits to Kansas Route 66. One of them was sponsored, but all opinions are our own. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

Table of contents: Galena | Riverton | Baxter Springs

Galena sign on Route 66 in Kansas
One of many lovely selfie opportunities on Route 66 in Kansas

Start Route 66 in Galena, Kansas

Begin your Kansas Route 66 journey in Galena, just over the state line from Missouri. The short distance is state Highway 66, the Kansas Historic Route 66 Byway. However, instead of staying on 66, take the Front St. fork to the north.

The viaduct goes over Hell’s Half Acre. It still wears mining scars, but the site used to be covered with piles of chat, mining leftovers. Eagle-Picher Smelter stood there. In 1935, the International Union of Mine, Mills, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) went on strike, and the company replaced them with strikebreakers. In response, the union blocked the Route 66 Viaduct. Eventually, Gov. Alf Landon declared martial law. 

The strikebreakers wrecked the IUMMSW’s Galena union hall two years later. The riot injured nine men, and one died. 

Interstate 44’s 1966 completion diminished Galena’s traffic. The last Galena mine closed in the 1970s. The mines had produced almost 12 million tons of zinc and 2.9 million tons of lead.

The smelter site became a Superfund clean-up site in 1983.

Haunted Steffleback House on Kansas Route 66
Legend says that murderous madam Ma Steffleback lived in this house.

Mining began after early settlers picked up chunks of galena lead ore, which gave the city its name. One madam, Ma Steffleback, robbed and murdered numerous victims.

Related: A nude reclining woman in a stained-glass window may be at Steffleback’s brothel. The historic home is one of 13 haunted places in Kansas.

The Galena Mining and Historical Museum on Route 66 in Kansas
The Katy depot is not the only building in the Galena Mining and Historical Museum.

Learn about mining on Kansas Route 66

Hear more stories at the Galena Mining and Historical Museum in the old Katy train depot. The museum’s size is deceptive because the depot hides a larger building behind it. The museum’s star is a model of the Grand Central Mine in Central City, Missouri. The murals “Abandoned Mine Scenes” by Carol Bliss-Riley originally decorated the Smithsonian Institution.

A veterans memorial stands beside the museum. Walk behind the museum’s train to view military equipment.

Omelet and hash browns with coffee at Sweet Creek
Savor breakfast at Sweet Creek Bakery & Deli, Galena

Walk across the street to Sweet Creek Diner & Bakery. Start your morning with an omelet and one of their luscious baked goods.

Order the burrito Torito at Mi Torito Mexican Restaurant in another restored train depot.

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The Sheriff welcomes you to Kansas Route 66
Look for Michael Wallis’ autograph on the Sheriff.

As soon as you turn into Galena, look for the selfie opportunities at a former car wash. Many characters, including Lightning McQueen, have stopped at Luigi’s Pit Stop for some tender loving care. Murals include the Santa Monica Pier, the western terminus of Route 66. You can be Dorothy or ride in Fillmore. The Sheriff of Radiator Springs bears the signature of his voice actor, Michael Wallis. Pause at the Ghost Bike to honor two German cyclists who died on Route 66.

Wallis wrote the book on Route 66 (ad).

Cars on the Route
Cars-style vehicles gather around Cars on the Route, including Tow Tater.

Meet more Cars characters at Cars on the Route

If you enjoyed the movie Cars, then Cars on the Route is a must-visit. When the movie’s director John Lasseter and Joe Ranft of Pixar saw the rusty tow truck Tow Tater at the former Kan-O-Tex service station, Tow Mater was born. A boom truck keeps Tow Tater company. Enjoy a vintage soda fountain treat inside.

Related: Enjoy more car culture in Norton, Kansas.

Prime your family for your Route 66 trip with a Cars movie box set (ad).

In Downtown Galena, look for ghost signs on the vintage buildings.

Schermerhorn Park on Route 66 in Kansas
Legend says that Jesse James hid in Schermerhorn Cave.

Explore the Kansas Ozarks in Schermerhorn Park

Fifty-five square miles of the Ozarks cover Kansas’s southeast corner. In Schermerhorn Park, wade or swim in shallow Shoal Creek and look for fossils in the rocks across the creek. Legend says that notorious outlaw Jesse James hid in Schermerhorn Cave. Experience hands-on learning in the former Boy Scout cabin turned Southeast Kansas Nature Center.

Roxie’s reliable report: Shoal Creek is the only Kansas river to run west to east.

Eisler Bros. Riverton Store
Eisler Bros. Riverton Store is a general store with a huge selection of Route 66 souvenirs.

Eisler Bros. Old Riverton Store: The best Route 66 shopping in Kansas

Unincorporated Riverton is the smallest community on Kansas Route 66, but it offers plenty of attractions.

The Old Riverton Store offers a little bit of everything — and a lot of Route 66. The store features an entire room of everything and anything Route 66. No matter the season, the store offers flowers and bedding plants. Eat their deli delights and drink a bottle of delicious Route 66 Root Beer.

While in Riverton, look for the 20-foot tall FFA Route 66 sign. The Route 66 Byway and Cherokee County provided $300 to the Riverton Future Farmers of America chapter. Kansas Department of Transportation donated scrap metal and old hubcaps.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Empire Dam Falls on Lowell Reservoir are some of the state’s prettiest water features.

Original Route 66 Marsh Arch Bridge
The current Route 66 bypasses this original Brush Creek Bridge.

Drive a piece of original Route 66

Leave Riverton on Southeast Beasley Road and go south toward Baxter Springs. Constructed in 1923, the Rainbow Bridge is the only remaining Marsh Arch bridge on the route. The current road veers away from the bridge, which is on the original road. Walk or drive across the historic bridge. I enjoyed a leisurely walk. If you choose, park on the pullout next to the bridge.

Route 66 Visitor Center, Baxter Springs
On Route 66 in Baxter Springs

Baxter Springs, where Route 66 intersects the Civil War and the cattle drives

The Route 66 Visitor Center is easy to find in the largest Kansas Route 66 community. Look for the restored Phillips 66 pole sign and gas pumps at the Baxter Springs Independent Oil and Gas Service Station. After you visit with the staff, sign one of their bricks.

Lucky people will meet Dean Walker. Walker earned his “Crazy Legs” nickname because he can rotate his right leg 180 degrees. Disney caused Tow Mater to drive in reverse only because of Walker’s talent. He’s also acted as a town tour guide, and that’s why Mater conducts McQueen’s Radiator Springs tour.

Doc Hudson from Cars at the Gearhead Curios on Kansas Route 66
Doc Hudson is parked next to Gearhead Curios.

For more nostalgia, visit Gearhead Curios. Look for the vintage Big Boy and take a selfie with the license plate flag. The city’s history is depicted in the Baxter Springs Bas Relief Mural.

Mining exhibit in the Baxter Springs museum
Are you claustrophobic? If not, the Baxter Springs Museum’s mining exhibit will instill that fear.

The Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum describes the city’s Civil War role, mining, dthe Neutral Strip dividing the Cherokee and Osage peoples, cattle drives, and baseball legend Mickey Mantle.

Related: Look for the world’s largest hand-carved wooden chain, one of 18 Kansas world record holders.

In the 1940s, baseball Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle came to play for the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids. Mantle and his Whiz Kids teammate Ralph Terry later played together with the New York Yankees.

Fort Blair Blockhouse, Baxter Springs, Kasnas
The Fort Blair replica is on the Baxter Springs Civil War Trail.

Fort Blair and the Baxter Springs Massacre

Route 66 through Baxter Springs is Military Avenue because it once was the road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Fort Scott. The Army built Fort Blair to protect the road. It’s a stop on the Baxter Springs Civil War Tour.

A small blockhouse replica sits where Fort Blair once stood. Duty at the post was boring until October 1863. Lt. James Pond arrived from Fort Scott on October 4 to take command of the post’s Third Wisconsin Cavalry and Second Kansas Colored Infantry. He sent all but 90 men to forage on the next morning.

Pond did not know that William Quantrill and his 400 raiders were coming. Quantrill murdered two Union teamsters on the road, then attacked the post. Pond dragged a howitzer outside the post by himself and fired it three times. The raiders retreated. The lieutenant later received the Medal of Honor.

General James Blunt’s troops collided with Quantrill’s men near Fort Blair. Because the raiders wore Union uniforms, Blunt believed they were Pond’s men. Instead, Quantrill attacked. The raiders killed 85 soldiers and wounded 10. They plundered Blunt’s supply line, then left for Texas. The Army buried the dead in the Baxter Springs Soldiers’ Lot, the northeast part of the city cemetery.

Roxie’s reliable report: A few months later, Pond’s brother George earned the Medal of Honor in Drywood, between Arma and Fort Scott. Six pairs of brothers earned the Medal in the Civil War.

Bricks and Brews, Baxter Springs
Enjoy wood-fired pizza at Bricks and Brews.

Order a Fire on the Mountain pizza and stuffed Portobello mushrooms at Bricks and Brews Woodfire Grill and Pub.

Stay at the Inn at River Street.

Where Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri meet
I placed my finger on the cairn 50 feet from where Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri meet.

Stand in three states at once

Finish your Route 66 in Kansas adventure by standing in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri simultaneously. A stone cairn is the most obvious marker, but it’s 50 feet away from the actual tri-point. Instead, look for a plaque on the ground at the end of a dirt road.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Downstream Casino is nearby. Its parking lot is in Kansas, but the casino building is in Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Big Brutus
Big Brutus, the World’s Largest Electric Shovel

More to explore

North of Galena, visit the World’s Largest Electric Shovel, Big Brutus.

Nearby Fort Scott is one of the 12 best small cities to visit in Kansas. Visit more Southeast Kansas communities and explore more of Kansas and the Midwest. Drive more of America’s byways.

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