With its cobbled streets and French heritage, Montreal feels like a world away from bustling Chicago, but these two waterfront cities are both fabulous places to explore. This road trip will take you from the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan all the way into Canada past colorful cities, world-famous waterfalls and glittering lakes.
The 860-mile road trip from Chicago to Montreal takes 14 hours to drive and offers views of the Great Lakes. Along the way you can explore St Joseph, Detroit, Hamilton and Toronto, or swing south to visit Cleveland, Niagara Falls and Syracuse.
One of the highlights of a journey between Chicago and Montreal is the chance to explore the stunning shores of three of the Great Lakes. Read on to find our more about what awaits you on this scenic drive, best places to stay at, things to see and the ultimate time to visit Montreal.
How far is Montreal from Chicago, and how long will the road trip take?
|Niagara Falls Route
|15 hours 40 minutes
The shorter of our two recommended routes travels via Toronto. This 860-mile route takes approximately 14 hours to drive, although you'll need many more hours to enjoy the fabulous attractions along the way.
Alternatively, the Niagara Falls Route is slightly longer, spanning 985 miles and requiring around 15 hours and 40 minutes of driving. You can add on to this route by detouring to explore the Finger Lakes in New York, in which case you'll need to increase your travel time a little.
While it's possible to comfortably complete these drives in just a couple of days, the diverse and picturesque landscapes along the way merit taking 4-5 days to fully appreciate the journey. Keep on reading to find out what's in store!
Best road trip route from Chicago to Montreal
Whether you travel via Toronto or Niagara Falls on your road trip from Chicago to Montreal, you're in for a real treat, seeing as both routes take you to some beautiful natural landscapes and fabulous cities.
Both routes follow the interstate or highway almost all of the way, and although the Niagara Falls Route is a little longer, you'll probably want to choose your route depending on the distinctly different vibes each trip has to offer.
Starting with the lively university town of Ann Arbor and the revitalized city of Detroit, the Toronto route also takes you through Hamilton, Toronto, and Kingston in Canada, making for some awesome urban exploration.
This route also showcases some stunning views of the Great Lakes - you can explore the Canadian side of Lake Erie, and then the route runs close to the shore of Lake Ontario. You'll have the chance to enjoy beach activities in the summer with stunning year-round photo opportunities.
On the other hand, the Niagara Falls Route follows the entire length of Lake Erie, offering beach relaxation in the summer and diverse natural landscapes throughout the year.
As an added bonus, this route is steeped in the beauty of the Finger Lakes Region, including the famous Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
City lovers will appreciate the stops in Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, and Syracuse as well as significant American historical sites like Edison's Birthplace Museum and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
How to drive from Chicago to Montreal
The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Chicago and Montreal. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.
From your starting point in Chicago, head to the southern end of Lake Michigan to join up with Interstate 94 (I-94). Turning inland on the interstate, you'll head towards Kalamazoo, home of the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum.
Continue to Battle Creek, where there are several museums to explore, then make your way to Jackson. After passing through Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, you'll arrive in Detroit.
Detroit is your last stop in the United States before you cross into Canada via either the Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Once you've crossed the border, follow signs onto ON-401 which runs to the north of Lake Erie on your road trip towards Toronto.
After a stop in Canada's largest city, Toronto, you'll continue east and the road here runs close to Lake Ontario. A little further along lake, you'll reach Trenton, home of the National Air Force Museum of Canada.
Next, ON-401 takes you to Kingston on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where you can explore the Fort Henry National Historic Site. For the final 3leg of your road trip, the highway follows the St Lawrence River all the way to your destination, Montreal.
If you have a little extra time to explore en route, you might like to hop off the highway at Ganoque to take the slow but scenic Thousand Islands Parkway before rejoining ON-401 at Butternut Bay.
Niagara Falls Route
The second of our routes from Chicago to Montreal is pretty straightforward to navigate, seeing as you'll spend the first leg of your trip heading east along I-90 through Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
First you'll pass Indiana Dunes National Park. Its beautiful lakeshore and unforgettable dune landscapes make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Then continue on to South Bend, Indiana.
Just before you reach the state border with Ohio, you can take a detour to the Wild Winds Buffalo Preserves at Fremont, IN, to see these gentle giants roaming the landscape.
Your next stop is Toledo, Ohio, which sits at the western end of Lake Erie. Another short detour will take you to Sandusky, the perfect gateway to Cedar Point, Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay via ferry.
The route continues along the south side of Lake Erie. Stop in Cleveland to visit the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, before continuing east towards Buffalo, New York, and then visit the magnificent Niagara Falls.
Continuing along the interstate, you'll travel through the northern part of New York state. Hop off the interstate to visit the picturesque town of Seneca Falls, or spend a little longer exploring the beautiful Finger Lakes region if time permits.
You'll finally leave the interstate at Syracuse after exploring the city's rich history and culture. From here, head to the Canadian border at Wellesley Island. Following ON-401 will then take you to your destination in Montreal.
Best places to stop between Chicago and Montreal
The key to transforming the drive from Chicago to Montreal from a long interstate drive to an unforgettable road trip is to make sure you have enough time to enjoy the fabulous places you'll pass along the way.
We'd recommend taking at least 4 or 5 days to get the most out of your road trip. Here are some of our top tips to get you started with your planning.
Admire urban landscapes in Toronto
Toronto is the ideal stopover on the Toronto Route from Chicago to Montreal, located approximately 8 hours and 20 minutes into the journey. This vibrant city, one of the most multicultural in the world with more than 180 languages spoken, sits on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario.
Canada's largest city is also a hub for arts and culture. Bursting with diverse neighborhoods, towering skyscrapers, world-class museums, and a vibrant waterfront, it's a must-visit urban destination when you're in the region.
Top attractions include the iconic CN Tower, offering breathtaking views of the city and beyond, and the Royal Ontario Museum, renowned for its vast collection of art, world culture, and natural history.
If you'd like to learn more about what you can see on a walking itinerary in Toronto, you can find our detailed guide here.
For your stay in Toronto, the 1 Hotel Toronto comes highly recommended. This stylish oasis, inspired by the natural beauty of Lake Ontario, is situated in the fashionable Queen Street West neighborhood.
1 Hotel Toronto features five on-site dining options, all celebrating fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including several restaurants, a rooftop lounge, and a cafe and juice bar.
The hotel's central location makes it a perfect base for exploring nearby attractions, with the stunning CN Tower just a 20-minute walk away and the historic St. Lawrence Market, known for its vibrant food scene, a mere 10-minute drive.
Marvel at the majestic Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is a must-see for travelers on the Niagara Falls Route, offering the awe-inspiring natural wonder of the waterfalls and a lively city brimming with entertainment and dining options.
Situated about 8 hours and 40 minutes into the journey, the city is uniquely situated on both sides of the US-Canada border. Connected by the Rainbow Bridge, both sides of the city overlook the famous Horseshoe Falls. The area is also known for its local casinos, so you will have plenty to do and enjoy during your visit.
For your stay in Niagara Falls, The Butler House Bed & Breakfast is one of the best options. This comfortable and quaint American Craftsman-style residence, dating back to 1910, is located in the Park Place Historic District, just a mile from Rainbow Bridge.
The Butler House Bed & Breakfast offers a cozy and authentic local living experience. Each morning, guests are treated to a delicious hot breakfast, with free snacks and refreshments available throughout the day.
Nearby attractions include the Niagara Falls State Park and the Niagara Falls Observation Tower, both just a 20-minute walk away, allowing guests easy access to explore the breathtaking beauty and unique experiences Niagara Falls offers.
Where to stay when you reach Montreal
Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, is celebrated as the cultural heart of Canada. This French-speaking city is a tapestry of cosmopolitan charm and Quebecois style.
Wander the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montreal, marvel at the grandeur of the Basilique Notre-Dame, or immerse yourself in the vibrant city life of Plateau Mont-Royal, all while being surrounded by world-class entertainment and culture.
Other key attractions include the Montreal Biodome, where you can explore replicas of four ecosystems found in the Americas, and the beautiful Montreal Botanical Gardens.
For your stay in Montreal, consider the luxurious Hotel Birks Montreal. Housed in the historic 1894 Birks Building, this hotel offers a French-inspired luxury experience in the heart of downtown Montreal.
Every room in the Hotel Birks Montreal is comfortably equipped, while some rooms also offer a private terrace with city views, claw-foot tubs, and a cozy gas fireplace. Why not indulge at the in-house Spa Valmont for a rejuvenating interlude during your stay?
Dining at the hotel is a culinary delight. Choose from a continental, express, or a-la-carte breakfast enjoyed on-site, and don't miss the chance to dine at the adjacent Restaurant Henri Brasserie Francaise, which offers classic French comfort food made with seasonal Canadian produce.
Things to see on a road trip from Chicago to Montreal
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what to see and do on your road trip from Chicago to Montreal. We've listed some of the highlights below, but don't forget to leave some extra time to discover hidden corners of the cities you'll pass along the way.
- New Buffalo - Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, this charming beach town is known for its picturesque marina and inviting sandy beaches. With a perfect blend of relaxation and outdoor activities, quaint New Buffalo is a popular stop for road-trippers.
- Silver Beach, St. Joseph - With its pristine sandy shoreline, Silver Beach is a stunning lakeside spot with a family-friendly atmosphere and a historic carousel.
- Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum - This immersive experience includes a unique collection of historic aircraft, interactive exhibits, and state-of-the-art flight simulators.
- Historic Bridge Park, Calhoun County - Showcasing restored truss bridges, this unique outdoor museum bridge is a great place to stretch your legs while you explore engineering marvels and enjoy scenic river views.
- The Cascades, Jackson - This man-made waterfall is famous for its impressive nightly light show, offering a dazzling display of water and light in a serene park setting.
- Ann Arbor - The home of the University of Michigan is a vibrant college town with a rich cultural scene. Stop off here to enjoy museums, galleries, and a range of eclectic dining options.
- Henry Ford Estate - The life and achievements of the American industrialist are celebrated at this historic estate, featuring his grand residence and beautifully landscaped grounds.
- Hitsville, USA - The birthplace of Motown Records, this iconic Detroit attraction is a must-visit for music lovers, offering a glimpse into the studio where legends like Stevie Wonder and The Supremes recorded their hits.
- Detroit Institute of the Arts - Renowned for its diverse and comprehensive collection, which features everything from ancient artifacts to contemporary art, this gallery is a cultural gem in the heart of Detroit.
- London - Known as the "Forest City," you'll find a harmonious blend of urban life and natural beauty in London, home to numerous parks, cultural institutions, and a vibrant arts scene.
- CN Tower - One of Canada's most iconic images, take a trip up to the observation deck to admire breathtaking panoramic views and the thrilling EdgeWalk.
- Canadian Automotive Museum - With a remarkable collection of vintage and classic vehicles showcases, this fascinating museum showcases Canada's automotive history.
- Brighton Provincial Wildlife Area - Lace up your hiking boots to explore tranquil trails where you'll find diverse wildlife, and birdwatching opportunities.
- National Air Force Museum of Canada - Situated in Trenton, the museum celebrates the nation's aviation heritage with its extensive collection of aircraft and memorabilia.
- Fort Henry National Historic Site - Take a tour of this 19th-century military fortress to find out more about Canada's history. With stunning views of the surrounding waterways, you might also be lucky enough to see a historical re-enactment during your visit.
Niagara Falls Route
- South Bend - The home of the University of Notre Dame, South Bend offers a mix of historic sites, cultural attractions, parks, and a vibrant downtown area.
- Midwest Museum of American Art - This fascinating collection showcases American art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses, making it a treasure trove for art enthusiasts.
- Wild Winds Buffalo Preserves - Set against the backdrop of beautiful natural landscapes, the preserve provides a unique opportunity to see American bison up close.
- Toledo, Ohio - On the western tip of Lake Erie, Toledo is known for its impressive art museum, zoo, and vibrant waterfront area, blending cultural attractions with natural beauty.
- Cedar Point Amusement Park - Looking out across Lake Erie, you can enjoy record-breaking roller coasters and a variety of family-friendly attractions at this world-renowned amusement park.
- Edison's Birthplace Museum - Stop off in Milan, Ohio, to learn more about the early life of the famous inventor. The museum, located in the house where he was born, includes a collection of historical artifacts.
- Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - Situated on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, this museum is dedicated to preserving the history of rock music, featuring iconic memorabilia and interactive exhibits.
- Buffalo - Buffalo is rich in architectural heritage and cultural attractions, including the historic Erie Canal and vibrant neighborhoods like Elmwood Village.
- Niagara Falls - Straddling the US-Canada border, this iconic natural landmark is a must-see on the Niagara Route. Take the Maid of the Mist boat tour or visit the Journey Behind the Falls experience to see its awe-inspiring beauty from a different angle.
- Rainbow International Bridge - This bridge connects the United States and Canada at Niagara Falls, offering stunning views of the falls and the surrounding area.
- Seneca Falls - Known as the birthplace of the American women's rights movement, Seneca Falls offers historical sites and museums dedicated to this significant chapter in history.
- Finger Lakes - Take a detour off the interstate to visit the region's picturesque lakes, award-winning wineries, and charming small towns, where you can enjoy a perfect blend of natural beauty and culinary delights.
- Syracuse - Syracuse is known for its rich history, vibrant arts scene, and landmarks like the Erie Canal Museum and the Everson Museum of Art.
- Brockville Railway Tunnel - This historic tunnel offers a unique walking experience with colorful lighting and interpretive panels detailing its history.
Best time to go on a road trip from Chicago to Montreal
Montreal, a city celebrated for its cultural vibrancy and historical allure, offers distinct experiences across the seasons. Whether taking the Toronto or Niagara Falls Route to Montreal, the journey varies depending on the time of year.
Visit Montreal during winter and you'll often be treated to views across the city in the snow. But it is not only about the destination - you can also enjoy the Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights if you follow the Niagara Falls Route.
You'll need to wrap up warm, though, since average temperatures hover around 21 degrees Fahrenheit. With such low winter temperatures, you might encounter challenging driving conditions on whichever route you take between Chicago and Montreal.
In contrast, spring and fall are more straightforward times to travel, with temperatures ranging from 39 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit during these seasons.
Montreal springs to life in summer, with Just for Laughs comedy festival running in July and OSHEAGA Music and Arts Festival following on in August.
You'll also find plenty to enjoy on the drive from Chicago in summer. Highlights include the Cleveland International Film Festival on the Niagara Falls Route. You can also enjoy Art in the Park in July as you drive through Plymouth in Michigan.
As you'd expect, this is the warmest time to visit the city, with temperatures reaching a pleasant 81 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a great time to explore the city's cobbled streets and outdoor cafes.