A few weeks ago, I got an invitation to participate in a road trip from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee. This year is my last year of law school, so I figured it was time to see the country and chase my dreams. By the time I found out about the trip, I was already entering the final stages of preparing for the bar exam. This was a good opportunity to take a trip with a bunch of other law students from a few states away, and I didn’t want to miss it.
Let’s face it: in the United States, we don’t drive much. Most of us take the train, cram our bodies into a car, and then drive a car that is usually only too big for one person. But what if you’re traveling with a friend? Sure, you can fit both of your bags in the backseat, but that doesn’t leave much room for a third person. Or for a dog.
This past Friday I hit the road with my family for a nearby Chicago vacation. We decided to take a road trip to Nashville, our last stop before our big vacation in Canada. We began our trip at 6:30am with a short drive from Chicago out to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We had big plans for that day, including a stop in Jackson, Wisconsin, for a hot dog at the Jackson Hole hot dog stand. We were all very excited.
The road journey from Chicago to Nashville will take you through some of the fanciest cities, deepest caves, and greenest woods in the Midwest and Upper South, and will take you past some of the most amazing monuments.
From Chicago to Nashville, the 470-mile journey takes 7 hours and 10 minutes. St. Louis and Fort Knox are among the sights along the way, as are the Housier and Shawnee National Forests, visits at Mammoth Cave and Horse Cave, and the incredible Louisville Mega Cavern.
There’s a lot of territory to cover on this trip, so make sure you read all the way to the conclusion to make sure you don’t miss anything.
What is the distance between Nashville and Chicago, and how long will the journey take?
During your road journey from Chicago to Nashville, you have a few options for routes that have little overlap. The best part is that both routes follow an interstate, making the journey extremely simple for first-time road trippers.
The quickest route will take you via Indiana and Nashville on Interstate 65. It’ll take you all the way through Indiana and a good part of Kentucky, and it’ll take you about 7 hours 10 minutes to travel.
Keep in mind that traffic between Indianapolis and Louisville (both from the north and south) may be heavy, so this route might take you an additional hour on a bad day.
Shawnee National Forest’s Garden of the Gods has a pathway named after it.
Shutterstock.com/Eddie J. Rodriquez
Another alternative is to add 30 miles to the journey by traveling via Illinois and Kentucky on Interstates 57 and 24. This route is similar to the first in terms of sights, but instead of traveling via Louisville, you may take a detour to St. Louis, Missouri.
This route has the benefit of avoiding traffic congestion since Champaign and Mt Vernon are not as congested as the cities on the other route. Even so, if you’re traveling over the holidays, try using an app to track traffic.
Both drives can be completed in a single day, but for the greatest experience, plan on taking at least three days to see as much as possible along the route.
The best route from Chicago to Nashville for a road trip
There isn’t a clear road trip route between Chicago and Nashville. The route you take should be determined by the particular sites you wish to see, but taking one on the way to Nashville and the other on the way back is the ideal option.
The Indiana Highway (via Interstate 65)
Continue south on Interstate 65, going via Lafayette and Indianapolis, after leaving Chicago via Interstate 90.
Take a day or two to explore Louisville after seeing Yellowwood State Forest and Brown County State Park. Bernheim Arboretum and Research is located farther south, followed by the thrilling Horse Cave and Mammoth Cave.
Before entering Tennessee, take an optional (but highly recommended) diversion to Bowling Green. In Goodlettsville, visit Moss-Wright Park and Rockland Recreation Area before continuing south to Nashville.
The Illinois Highway (via Interstates 57 and 24)
Take Interstates 90 and 94 south to Roseland, and from there, hop onto Interstate 57 and follow it out of Chicago, past Kankakee River State Park. From Champaign, do a detour to Allerton Park & Retreat Center, or continue along the interstate through Mattoon and Effingham.
If you want to take a diversion from Effingham, you may travel Interstate 70 to St. Louis, which is vast and home to attractions like the City Museum LLC and the Gateway Arch.
Once you’ve passed Marion, go back on the main road and take Interstate 24 through Shawnee National Forest before crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky. Before reaching Nashville, drive through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and make a pit break in Clarksville.
Between Chicago and Nashville, the Best Places to Stop
The wonderful thing about driving from Chicago to Nashville is that there are so many luxury places to stop along the way. Here are some of the finest places to stay in the area:
In Louisville, have a once-in-a-lifetime dinner.
The City of KFC is known across the country for its delectable food, and since you’ll be traveling through, there’s almost no reason not to stay and rest at a posh hotel. The Brown Hotel, with its renowned interior design, is the swankiest hotel in town.
In terms of presentation, the common sitting space is almost cathedral-like, and the bright, airy apartments are sure to make an impression. There’s even a world-class “concert hall” with a grand piano and some of the most opulent furnishings you’ve ever seen.
If you know what to look for, Louisville may be just as lovely as Nashville for a nighttime walk.
Stop into The Brown Gift Shop and Gallery for a memento and follow it up with a lunch at The Lobby Bar or one of the two on-site restaurants to remember your visit with some area artwork.
This ancient hotel is unquestionably pricey, but with all it has to offer, it has every right to be. Furthermore, since it is just a mile from the city’s center, the location receives extra points for being so near to many of the city’s main sites.
Take in the sights and sounds of Nashville’s music scene.
The only thing that can make the sound of classic all-American tunes sweeter is a stay at a luxurious resort. Although Nashville has them in spades, the biggest standout is definitely The Hermitage Hotel.
The attention to detail at this hotel is second to none, from the magnificent lobby to the top-of-the-line rooms. The Deluxe King rooms, which appear world-class yet have that distinct sense of home, are a clear highlight.
Every evening at this hotel seems like a business meeting in the nicest conceivable manner, whether you’re dining at the restaurant or having a drink at the bar.
On Honky Tonk Highway in Nashville, attempt to get a table at a country bar.
If walking about Nashville doesn’t exhaust you, a workout at the on-site fitness center will. Take use of the concierge service and have an in-room dinner while admiring the city view after you’re nice and sleepy.
This hotel is not for the budget traveler, but if you can afford it, a stay at The Hermitage Hotel is one of the most memorable Nashville experiences you can have.
On a road journey from Chicago to Nashville, there are many sights to view.
The amount of sites to visit on the road journey from Chicago to Nashville is astounding, and many of them are in or near large cities, so you won’t have to do any offroading. It’s difficult to include all there is to see, but make a point of visiting the following locations:
- Lake Michigan – The first leg of your trip will take you around Lake Michigan’s southern tip, the second biggest of the Great Lakes and the only one completely inside the United States.
- Lafayette was the location of the Battle of Tippecanoe during the American-Indian Wars, and numerous museums and historic places still exist to recount the tale.
- Indianapolis is the state capital and most populous city in Indiana.
- Louisville is the capital of Kentucky and the state’s most populated metropolis.
- The Mega Cavern in Louisville is a massive cave system featuring an underground zipline system.
- The Hoosier National Forest is a great place to go hiking and fishing near Louisville.
- Jim Beam American Stillhouse – Take a tour of one of America’s most renowned whiskey manufacturers’ iconic facility.
- Bernheim Arboretum And Research Forest – Bernheim Arboretum And Research Forest is a 35-square-mile forest and nature reserve that is home to a variety of animals, plants, and trees. This is a great place to get lost in nature for a bit, with miles of hiking paths and waterways.
- Fort Knox – The location was originally utilized as a fort during the Civil War in 1861, before being transformed into the famous army post and gold repository in 1936.
- Mammoth Cave is the world’s biggest known cave system.
- Horse Cave is a city in Kentucky renowned for its Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo and a series of complex cave systems.
- The Kentucky Museum and Library, as well as the National Corvette Museum and the Historic Railpark and Train Museum, are all located in Bowling Green.
- St. Louis is a large city in Missouri that is home to the Gateway Arch, the country’s highest landmark.
- Shawnee National Forest – With sweeping hilltop vistas, it’s no surprise that this is one of the area’s most popular woods.
Mammoth Cave’s rock formations are sure to make an impact.
When is the best time to travel from Chicago to Nashville?
The road journey from Chicago to Nashville may be done at nearly any time of year and still be enjoyable, but Nashville’s peak season is unusual in that it lasts over 6 months.
When the weather is nice, Nashville is busy and lively; many of the local music events take place from mid-spring to mid-fall, drawing large crowds.
Be aware that temperatures in the city may reach the 90s in the middle of the summer, and that the city can swing from scorching hot to huge rainstorms at any time of year.
A vacation to Nashville would be incomplete without a stop to one of the city’s great music venues.
Although there isn’t as much to see, coming in the late autumn may be a good choice if you simply want to wander about the city. In November, temperatures remain around 60 degrees, and hotel rooms are inexpensive.
Winter is also a feasible option, provided you don’t mind the continuous 50-degree temperatures. If you want to keep your vacation quiet, February is a good time to go since the city has few tourists, and the weather starts to warm up around early March.
You may wish to schedule your journey around some of the stopover places, since each has its own set of seasonal highs and lows. Summers in Louisville, for example, are often wet, while hotel rates in St. Louis spike around June.
John and I are going on a road trip from Chicago to Nashville to see our nephew, and we’re documenting it in our blog. We’re traveling for the first time, so we decided to accomplish a few things in our time away. This blog post is about our preparations for the trip, and how we plan to live the trip without being tied to our computers.. Read more about places to go between chicago and gatlinburg, tennessee and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do you stop on the way to Nashville?
I stop at the next city.
What is halfway between Chicago and Nashville?
The halfway point between Chicago and Nashville is in the middle of the Mississippi River.
How far is Chicago to Nashville TN?
Chicago is located in Illinois and Nashville TN is located in Tennessee. The distance between the two cities is approximately 2,878 miles.
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