If you're looking for a scenic drive from the shores of the Great Lakes to the heart of Georgia, a road trip from Chicago to Atlanta is not going to disappoint. This beautiful trip is full of variety, without being too long, and includes some fantastic opportunities for charming detours and memorable overnight stops along the way.
The 720-mile road trip from Chicago to Atlanta takes over 11 hours to drive, passing Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and Chattanooga, or follow the Mississippi River Route through St Louis, Memphis and Birmingham.
Read on for top tips on which route to take; plus the best places to stop and things to do to make the most out of your road trip to Atlanta.
How far is Atlanta from Chicago, and how long will the road trip take?
|Direct Route||720 miles||11 hours|
|Mississippi River Route||970 miles||14 hours|
The Direct Route from Chicago to Atlanta covers 720 miles and takes about 11 hours to drive before adding in stops for food, fuel and rest.
It's possible to do the entire drive in a day if you set off early enough, but you'll be sat in the car on the interstate for the entire time and not get the chance to see anything along the route.
Breaking up the trip into 2 days makes it far more manageable and the benefit is that Louisville, Nashville and Memphis are all amazing places to spend the night roughly halfway there.
The Mississippi Route will take a little longer at 14 hours on the road, but you do get to pass through St Louis, Memphis and Birmingham, Alabama on the way so if you have time on your hands, that is a great way to spend a few days.
Best road trip route from Chicago to Atlanta
There are two main routes to take on the way south from Chicago to Atlanta depending on what you want to see and where you want to stop along the way.
Both routes are mainly straightforward interstate drives that take you through some vibrant cities and stunning countryside, so your choice of route will probably come down to which cities you feel more drawn to, and whether you have the extra time needed to take the Mississippi River Route.
The most direct route from Chicago to Atlanta covers 720 miles and will take around 11 hours to drive. The route is very easy to follow as it follows major interstates the whole way and passes through 3 major cities.
Start off following the I-90 out of Chicago and a few miles after you cross into Indiana, take I-65 going south.
The interstate will take you down the length of Indiana through Indianapolis and across the Ohio River into Louisville, Kentucky. You'll drive right past Louisville downtown before crossing into Tennessee and reaching Nashville.
From Nashville, join the I-24 which will take you further south to Chattanooga where Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia meet.
As you leave Chattanooga the I-24 merges with the I-75, will take you into Georgia, past Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests and all the way to Atlanta.
Mississippi River Route
The Mississippi River road trip route from Chicago to Atlanta is longer at 970 miles and will take around 14 hours of driving. The Mississippi splits Missouri and Illinois, and further south Arkansas and Tennessee so you'll cross a state line or two on the way down.
Take the I-55 out of Chicago, then drive across Illinois until you reach the Mississippi River when you get to St Louis, Missouri.
As you might have guessed from the name, the route follows the Mississippi south all the way to Memphis - you can continue to follow the I-55 all the way or follow the river more closely along smaller roads if you want to take in the views.
When you approach Memphis, join the I-40 to take you through the heart of the city. When you're ready to continue your trip, pick up I-69 which will take you southwards out of the city until you re-join the I-55 once again.
From Memphis, the exploration of the Deep South takes you to the state of Mississippi. Take the I-269 E and then change onto the I-22, which you'll follow to Birmingham, Alabama.
The I-22 leads you onto the I-65 into Birmingham, then take the exit for the I-20. This road will take you the rest of the way across the Yellowhammer State and across into Georgia on the way to Atlanta.
Best places to stop between Chicago and Atlanta
This is a road trip where you are really spoiled for choice in terms of places to stay so here are just 3 suggestions that let you break up the route by stopping overnight.
Spend a night in the city of Nashville
One of the stops on your multi-city road trip is the great city of Nashville. Though closer to your destination (along the Direct Route), it's a great place to stop over if you can cover most of your journey in one day and wish to leave only a minimal amount of driving for the next one.
A visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame is a great starting point to your stay, to remind yourself of the many great artists who forged their careers here, or take a trip out to Storytellers Hideaway Farm and Museum to get a glimpse of the place Johnny Cash used to come to escape from the crowds.
Back in the city, you can cool down with a canoe or kayak trip along the river, then try out the Lost River Cave & Zipline for a different perspective on the city.
Wind down from your journey with opulence at the luxurious Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The resort is like a quaint town of its own, and here you'll be surrounded by indoor gardens, a waterfall, and winding rivers, making it the perfect place to get some peace and quiet.
It has numerous bars bars and 15 restaurants on site, plus many pools and an in-house spa, so you'll have everything you could ever need within the property of this beautiful resort. This place also boasts an expansive indoor-outdoor aquatic experience called Soundwaves that's sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
The resort is a walk from the Grand Ole Opry, where you can go and catch a live show, and 10 minutes from the Gaylord Springs Golf Course where you can play a quick game of golf. Other Nashville attractions like the Parthenon and the Nashville Zoo are nearby.
Listen to the blues in Memphis
If you're taking the Mississippi Route then a stay in Memphis is a must.
Music-lovers can take a trip out to Elvis Presley's Graceland or visit Sun Studios, where some of the legends of rock and roll started their careers. In another former studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music pays tribute to more icons of American music.
When you're done, head out to the many live music venues of Beale Street where the city's vibrant legacy lives on.
You should also consider a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum, located in the former hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, which brings together stories and artefacts that tell the history of this monumental movement.
Or for a look further back in history, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is a fascinating small museum - book a tour in advance to guarantee a space - with secret tunnels and hideaways that were used by people trying to escape slavery.
While you're in town you'll want to stay somewhere right in the heart of the action and the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis is the perfect choice.
It's stunningly located in the center of Memphis, with unforgettable views across the city and the river. Its modern vibe and attention to detail will make for a relaxing and comfortable stay, and you can walk right out onto Beale Street to soak up the atmosphere.
There's also private parking available, which makes life easier for every road tripper, and a garden which makes for a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.
Things to see on a road trip from Chicago to Atlanta
Whichever route you take on your road trip from Chicago to Atlanta, there's so much to stop over for and discover along the way.
Here are some of those attractions that, if you're interested, you should stop and explore:
- Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory - An attraction showcasing the history and story behind the slugger baseball bat, with a tour of the factory where the bats are made.
- The Children's Museum of Indianapolis - A slim detour from the route, this is the world's largest Children's museum, with countless exhibits fascinating to people of all ages.
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway - A racing circuit home to the Indy 500 & other races, equipped with a museum, and a golf course.
- White River State Park - A state park situated along the banks of the white river, spread across over 250 acres, it boasts extensive greenery, the Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana state museum, and other attractions.
- Kentucky Kingdom - An amusement park in Kentucky that's home to many rollercoasters, water attractions, and its most famous ride, the Hurricane Bay.
- Hidden River Cave & American Cave Museum - A Museum in Kentucky along with tours of several underground caves and a zip-line.
- Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo - A themed park in Kentucky with Kangaroos and Emus, and other interactive experiences like gem-mining.
- Chattanooga Ghost Tours - A horror shop in Tennessee that organizes ghost hunts and paranormal tours.
- Ruby falls - A guided cave tour in Tennessee with a picturesque 145 ft underground waterfall.
- Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park - A slight detour from the route, it is a park that preserves the area where Abraham Lincoln was born and spent his early years.
- Mammoth Cave National Park - A national park and a UNESCO world heritage site, it's home to the world's longest cave and other natural marvels (breathtaking in the winter months).
- Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park - Again a slight detour from the route, a national park that preserves two battlegrounds from the times of the civil war.
- Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum - A Museum that offers railroad experiences in vintage trains.
- The Parthenon - Located in Nashville's Centennial Park, it is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon of Athens.
- World of Coca-Cola - Located in your destination city of Atlanta, a 20-acre area that houses a museum that tells the history of the world-famous Coca Cola drink.
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum & Library - Springfield Illinois was Lincoln's home for much of his life and the city pays homage to him in these engaging exhibitions.
- Air Combat Museum - Appreciate the history of aviation at this excellent collection in Springfield.
- Missouri Botanical Gardens - Take some time out to walk through the stunning displays at one of the world's most highly regarded botanic gardens.
- The Gateway Arch - Take in the view across St Louis when you ride up to the top of this monumental arch, or simply enjoy the views in the park built around it.
- Graceland - Visit the home of the King, Elvis Presley, when you pass through Memphis.
- Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum - This museum, set in landscaped grounds, is a must for motorsport enthusiasts, with its extensive collection of vintage motorbikes.
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute - A thought-provoking collection of stories and artefacts that trace the journey from the end of slavery to the assassination of Martin Luther King.
- Talladega National Forest - Get out into the fresh air to hike through the southern Appalachian foothills.
Best time to go on a road trip from Chicago to Atlanta
Though you can make the road trip from Chicago to Atlanta at any time of the year, with a large part of the journey being mountainous, the experience in some seasons will be better than others.
In the winter months, driving through Illinois's snow-clad roads, through the Kentucky mountains to Atlanta's cold weather wouldn't be ideal as the drive wouldn't be as scenic or comfortable.
Atlanta has a sweltering and humid atmosphere in the peak summer months, with the highest room rates, so visiting the city from June to August is tough to recommend if you don't enjoy the sticky hot weather.
The best time to take the trip would be the spring (March-May) or the fall (August - October) months. Not only is spring the best time to visit Atlanta, but the drive through the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky will also be one of the most scenic and charming ones ever.
The rate of rooms during the spring and fall in Atlanta, and the cities you may stopover in, will be ideal, and you'll be able to spend plenty of time outdoors.
Whichever time of year you choose to visit, remember to carry all your essentials, binge on your favorite road trip snacks, and stop to discover some of the unique attractions along the route from Chicago to Atlanta!