Camping on Route 66: The Classic American Road Trip

September 30, 2023

The family road trip seems like a relic of a bygone era. In the age of interstate highways and affordable air travel, the modern world has made a considerable effort to move on from the Griswoldian urge to pile the family into a station wagon for a cross-country trek dotted with overnight stays in rustic campgrounds. Here’s the thing, though: Those road trips haven’t gone anywhere. And in Pulaski County, families can get up close with the wild Missouri Ozarks while cruising the most storied highway in the United States.


Get Your Kicks

Historic Route 66 has been ingrained in the culture of Pulaski County since its establishment in November 1926. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, the transcontinental highway proved as instrumental in the growth of Pulaski County communities as the railroad did decades before. Waynesville, for example, saw an explosive growth in traffic after the Mother Road was paved in 1931.

The cross-country pilgrims who made their way through Pulaski County for the first time were no doubt entranced by the natural beauty just outside their car windows. The rolling Ozark hills beckoned travelers to pull over, pitch a tent, and spend an evening communing with Mother Nature. Over time, Pulaski County developed a reputation that spread across the Show Me State — visitors from the St. Louis metro area flocked to resorts like Gasconade Hills Resort, Wilderness Ridge Resort, and Blue Jay Farm — all of which are still in operation. That same pull lives on today at the many campgrounds around Pulaski County. Though each offers its own unique experience, all promise the same family-friendly outdoors experience shared by those who passed through following Route 66 generations ago.

“It’s such a huge deal to have Route 66 so close,” said Larry Helms, owner and manager of BSC Outdoors, which offers tent camping and RV pull-throughs on the banks of the Gasconade River. “We own 4 acres near the Devils Elbow Bridge, which is now 100 years old, as one of our put-in points. A lot of folks who camp and float with us can see the bridge firsthand. It brings these attractions to life. You can read about it, look at it on the web, but once you’re here and you can actually sit there, look at the bridge, and enjoy the scenery, it’s a big deal.”


Set Up Camp

For Helms, camping is an integral part of the Route 66 experience, one reminiscent of his own childhood. Back then, he said, family road trips to California — punctuated by sunny days on the beaches of Santa Monica — were dotted with camping excursions along the Mother Road. “We camped all along the way. There were places where you could pull off at night and camp along Route 66,” Helms said. “I just think that’s really special. There aren’t so many places like that anymore, but there are campgrounds around that support Route 66. It’s just a way for people to get away from the normal, run-of-the-mill things that they do every day.”

Sheila Cook, owner of Gasconade Hills Resort, said the opportunity to immerse yourself in history sets camping in Pulaski County apart from other destinations around the country. “People travel Route 66 because of the history of the road,” she said. “The history is what draws them here. They want to stop at these historical landmarks and see the Main Street of America, travel it from one end to the other.”

Located a mile from the Mother Road, Gasconade Hills Resort offers tent camping, RV pull-throughs, and rental cabins and campers. Cook said the resort dates back to the 1930s and its history is intertwined with the history of Route 66. “When the resort was originally built by the original owners, the Joneses, it stretched much further all the way up to Route 66,” Cook said. “What’s great about our resort is we do have original cabins from the ‘30s from the original campground. So, we hope to draw in history buffs to the campground, whether they’re in RVs, tent camping, or staying in one of those cabins.”

That appreciation for a vintage experience reminiscent of 20th-century transcontinental journeys — and with it, a love of all things historical — is what drew Cook to Pulaski County in the first place. And while the campgrounds of Pulaski County offer the usual activities (fishing, hiking, canoeing, etc.) you’d expect at any number of sites across the country, that connection to Historic Route 66 offers an outdoor expedition unlike any other.

“That’s what drew us here, the history, the beauty, and then coming across those historic cabins,” Cook said. “It is very, very special to be a part of something like that.”

Cruise down the Mother Road for an unforgettable outdoor adventure. Learn more about the campgrounds and Route 66 sites in Pulaski County and immerse in the fascinating stories that echo throughout the Ozarks.


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