Eureka and Gray Summit: I-44
Heading south and west out of St. Louis, the I-44 freeway has pretty well obliterated old Route 66 as far as Eureka, where the sprawling amusement park Six Flags St. Louis (636/938-5300, around $60) effectively marks the city’s suburban edge. The park has all the thrill rides and water park fun you could want, and often hosts concerts and special events.
A very different experience can be had at Gray Summit, just west of Six Flags, where the Missouri Botanical Garden tends to the magical Shaw Nature Reserve (636/451-3512, daily, $5), a 2,400-acre semi-wilderness of native plants, cultivated orchards, and wildflower meadows, just 40 miles from the Gateway Arch. And if you like animals, especially dogs and cats, you’ll want to check out the well-trained pets showcased across I-44 at Purina Farms (314/982-3232, Tues.-Sun. 9:30am-4pm summer, Wed.-Fri. 9:30am-3pm and Sat.-Sun. 9:30am-4pm spring and fall, free). Dogs catch Frisbees and do all sorts of amazing tricks, while cats sit there and look pretty.
In between Six Flags and the Shaw Nature Reserve, Route 66 re-emerges from the shadows of I-44, winding through the hamlet of Pacific, where the Red Cedar Inn served dinner every evening from 1935 to 2007, when it closed. West of Pacific, Route 66 climbs toward Gray Summit past the faded old Route 66 sign for the Diamonds Truck Stop and the Gardenway Motel.
For most of the 30 miles between Gray Summit and Meramec Caverns, old Route 66 is overwhelmed by the I-44 freeway, so most Route 66 aficionados opt for the freeway and save their exploring for better stretches, like Devil’s Elbow.