There's something about Alabama that's just calling our name with its rich history, stunning scenery with the Appalachian Mountains in the north and its long stretches of sandy beaches. If you feel the same way, then then this amazing road trip from Chicago to Alabama is what you have been looking for!
The 1,000-mile road trip from Chicago to Alabama will take about 15 hours to drive nonstop. Discover Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as a range of stunning cities like Birmingham, Mobile, Atlanta, Montgomery and Louisville.
Keep reading to discover all that awaits you on this ideal trip through beautiful Alabama.
How far is Alabama from Chicago, and how long will the road trip take?
|The Mobile Route
|17 hours 30 minutes
|The Montgomery Route
|17 hours 30 minutes
If you're interested in really exploring the states at your leisure, we recommend taking the Montgomery Route, which covers 1,040 miles and will take you just about 17 hours and 30 minutes to drive in total. This time doesn't include stops for gas, bathroom breaks or overnight stays.
The shorter route is the Mobile Route, which traverses just under 1,000 miles and which will take you about 15 hours to drive in total. Like the previous route, this time doesn't include stopping points.
We recommend taking about five to seven days regardless of which route you choose, to really get the most out of this trip.
Best road trip route from Chicago to Alabama
When it comes to choosing a route to get to Alabama, it all comes down to what sort of attractions you'd like to see and stops you'd like to make along the way.
The Montgomery Route is city-forward and includes stops in both small and large towns, including Cincinnati, Pigeon Forge, Knoxville and Gatlinburg.
You'll have the opportunity to pass through gorgeous states of Indiana and Ohio, with the option to add stops in great cities like Atlanta and Lexington. It's the ideal route for those looking to get a taste of small and mid-sized cities in the south.
The Mobile Route, on the other hand, is shorter and more direct than the Montgomery Route and favours larger cities like Indianapolis, Nashville and Louisville.
You'll be able to take in stunning scenery along the way, but the focus will probably be on exploring these iconic three cities while on your journey.
The Montgomery Route
Starting in Chicago, head south on Interstate 65 (I-65) and take a detour towards Cincinnati to see the city's famous skyline. From there, head south to Knoxville, Tennessee, and explore the beautiful scenery of the Smoky Mountains National Park, where you can hike, bike or drive the scenic roads.
Next, visit the family-friendly amusement park and entertainment center in Pigeon Forge and its neighbor, Gatlinburg, where you can hike, zip line, and visit attractions like the Gatlinburg SkyBridge. While at Pigeon Forge, a must-visit attraction is the iconic Dollywood!
Continue on to Chattanooga to visit the Tennessee Aquarium, and enjoy a riverboat ride on the Tennessee River, or explore the city's rich Civil War history at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
From there, head southwest to Birmingham, Alabama, known as the Magic City, and visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Vulcan Park and Museum. Lastly, stop in Montgomery, the state capital, to see the Rosa Parks Museum and learn about the city's crucial role in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Mobile Route
Starting from Chicago, head southeast on I-65 towards Indianapolis, which will take about three hours. You'll follow this interstate most of the way on this route.
In Indianapolis, you can visit attractions such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the Indianapolis Zoo before continuing on to Louisville, Kentucky, which is approximately two hours away.
In Louisville, make sure to visit the Churchill Downs racetrack and the Kentucky Derby Museum before heading south to Nashville, Tennessee, which will take about three hours.
In Nashville, take time to explore the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Grand Ole Opry before continuing on to Birmingham, Alabama, which is approximately three and a half hours away.
In Birmingham, visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Vulcan Park and Museum. From there, travel to Montgomery, which is about an hour and a half away, to see landmarks such as the Rosa Parks Museum and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Finally, drive for around two hours to reach the charming port city of Mobile, Alabama, where you can visit the USS Alabama, the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mobile Carnival Museum.
Best places to stop between Chicago and Alabama
There are tons of places to stay along the way from Chicago to Alabama, but we think the ideal spots are all located in the stunning state of Alabama. Keep reading to discover the best cities to spend the night.
A magical stay in Birmingham
If you're looking for a perfect road trip destination in Alabama, consider stopping in Birmingham, also known as the "Magic City” and reachable along both routes. This historic city is located in the heart of Alabama and offers a wide range of attractions and vibrant nightlife.
Birmingham is known for its role in the Civil Rights Movement, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the historic Carver Theater, and its thriving culinary scene, which includes barbecue and soul food.
One of the highlights of Birmingham is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum that tells the story of the city's role in the Civil Rights Movement through exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays.
The Vulcan Park and Museum is also worth visiting, as it is home to the world's largest cast iron statue and a museum that explores the city's history and culture.
If you're planning on staying overnight, we recommend the Elyton Hotel, Autograph Collection. This beautiful hotel is located in the heart of the city and has all the amenities you could ask for such as a fantastic fitness center where you can stretch your legs after a long drive.
Why not take in the views from the terrace of the property before heading to the upscale restaurant located on-site for a delicious meal? When you are properly reenergized, you can head out to explore McWane Center, BJCC, and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which are located a short distance from the hotel.
Explore the history of Montgomery
If you're taking the Montgomery Route, Montgomery warrants a couple of days to explore, if you have the time. A city full of rich history and culture, making it a great final stopping point or continuation towards Mobile.
Known for its pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery was the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery marches. It was also the first capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Today, visitors can explore several museums and landmarks in the city, such as the Rosa Parks Museum, dedicated to the life and legacy of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor.
The Alabama State Capitol, a historic building that served as the first capital of the Confederacy, is also a must-see. It was the site of key Civil Rights events, such as the speech by Dr. King that followed the Selma to Montgomery march.
When it comes to finding a place to stay in Montgomery, the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Montgomery is a great option. This hotel offers an array of amenities, such as a free breakfast buffet, fully equipped kitchens in all suites, an outdoor pool and fitness center, and complimentary Wi-Fi and parking.
Pet-friendly rooms are also available for those traveling with furry friends. The hotel's 24-hour market and business center make it convenient for guests who need to work or grab a snack at any hour, while the on-site laundry facilities allow for easy clean-up during extended stays. It's an ideal place to stay during your visit.
A Gulf paradise experience in Mobile
Consider making a stop in charming Mobile, Alabama if you need a place to stay on either route but especially if you're taking the Mobile Route.
This port city, founded in 1702, is Alabama's oldest city and boasts an array of cultural attractions. Mobile offers several museums and stunning architecture that showcases a unique blend of styles.
One of the city's highlights is the USS Alabama, a WWII-era battleship docked at a nearby memorial park and the centerpiece of the USS Alabama National Park.
The GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico is another must-visit attraction, a multi-storied museum that explores the Gulf of Mexico's maritime heritage. The Mobile Carnival Museum is a unique museum solely dedicated to Mardi Gras.
When it comes to finding a place to stay, we recommend Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Mobile, and a highly rated hotel offering an array of amenities such as a 24-hour fitness room, hot tub, outdoor swimming pool, and on-site spa services.
The hotel's beautiful facade faces Mobile Bay, offering guests stunning views. Dining at Fathoms, a fast-casual urban kitchen serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is a must-try experience.
This hotel is conveniently located just minutes from the I-10 and within walking distance from many attractions, including Mardi Gras Park, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, and the Mobile Carnival Museum.
Things to see on a road trip from Chicago to Alabama
On your drive to Alabama, we definitely recommend stopping by some road-side attractions. Here are some of our favorites, broken down by route:
The Montgomery Route
- Creation Museum – This museum showcases biblical history through exhibits and interactive displays, including a life-size replica of Noah's Ark.
- Cumberland Falls State Resort Park – A picturesque park known for its 68-foot waterfall, moonbow sightings, hiking trails, and scenic vistas.
- Lost Sea Adventure – Discover this underground lake with boat tours, cave exploration, and guided tours highlighting geological formations and history.
- Lookout Mountain – A scenic mountain with attractions such as Rock City Gardens, Ruby Falls, and the Incline Railway, offering stunning views of the surrounding area.
- International Friendship Bell – Commemorating the works of the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge, and peace, The International Friendship Bell is a colossal structure weighing over 8,000 pounds.
- Wheels Through Time Motorcycle – With interactive and educational exhibits, this museum is an impressive 38,000 sq. ft. and houses over three hundred rare motorcycles.
- Tennessee Aquarium – Located along the Tennessee river, The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga showcases an array of marine life, as well as birds and butterflies.
- Red Clay State Historic Park – This beautiful park, just twenty minutes off route, offers exhibits on Native American tribes and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder spanning across Tennessee and North Carolina, offering endless opportunities for adventure and the perfect stop along this route.
The Mobile Route
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum - A museum dedicated to the history and evolution of the iconic Indy 500 race, featuring a collection of race cars and memorabilia.
- Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory - Explore this museum and factory that offers tours showcasing the history and production of Louisville Slugger baseball bats, with interactive exhibits and a batting cage.
- Jack Daniel's Distillery - Take in this historic distillery that produces the famous Jack Daniel's whiskey, offering guided tours and tastings.
- GulfQuest National Maritime Museum - Discover this museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Gulf Coast, with interactive exhibits and a full-scale replica of a container ship's bridge.
- Dollywood – This celebrated park features thrilling roller coasters, live music, delicious food, and entertainment for all ages.
- Peach Park - This roadside stand and park offers fresh, locally grown produce, homemade ice cream, and peach-inspired treats, with picnic areas and playgrounds.
- Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail - This historic trail marks the route of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march, with interpretive signs, historic landmarks, and scenic views.
Best time to go on a road trip from Chicago to Alabama
While you can visit Alabama any time of year, the best would be during the shoulder season when the weather is more manageable and tourism rates are at their lowest. This all depends on the city you end up visiting, though.
Summers in Alabama can be quite hot and humid, with occasional thunderstorms and hurricanes in the coastal areas. During summer, the temperature ranges from mid-80s to mid-90s Fahrenheit, with high humidity levels making it feel even hotter.
Despite the heat, summer is a popular time for tourism in Alabama, especially for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and visiting the Gulf of Mexico beaches.
The state's beautiful natural landscapes come to life in the summertime, making it a perfect time for visitors to explore the state's rich culture and history while also taking part in exciting outdoor adventures.
Winters in Alabama are generally mild, with occasional cold snaps and rare snowfall in the northern parts of the state. The temperature during winter ranges from the mid-30s to the mid-50s Fahrenheit, with coastal areas experiencing milder temperatures.
Though winter sees fewer tourists compared to the summer, it's still a great time to visit Alabama's many indoor attractions such as museums and historic sites. Exploring the state's rich history and culture while enjoying the mild winter weather can make for a perfect vacation.
Spring and fall are considered the best times to visit Alabama, as the temperatures are mild and the humidity levels are low. Average temperatures during both seasons range between the mid-50s and mid-70s Fahrenheit, providing ideal weather for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Visitors can enjoy exploring Alabama's many state parks, hiking trails, and beaches, as well as visiting historical sites and cultural landmarks. Additionally, accommodation prices tend to be cheaper during these seasons compared to the peak summer season, making it an excellent time for budget-conscious travelers
When it comes to finding events and festivals, Alabama is host to tons year-round. Consider visiting during some of the following: Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and Baldwin County (Feb-Mar), the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores (May), the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery (Mar-Nov), the World Food Championships in Orange Beach and the Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores (Oct).