View of the famous metal sculpture in Chicago with tall buildings in the background with blue sky
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Road trip from Kansas City to Chicago

Published by Pat Dorri on January 8 2024

Ready to pack your bags for an amazing Midwest road trip from Kansas City to Chicago? From a landscape of rolling hills and rich farmland, this journey will take you to the urban heart of Illinois on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, and you will get to visit charming towns located on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers on the way.

The 590-mile road trip from Kansas City to Chicago will take about 9 hours to drive. Highlights on the way include Columbia, St Louis, Springfield, Peoria, Joliet, Des Moines, Amana, Cedar Rapids, Rockford and Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area.

From fun and historical cities and quaint towns to natural areas full of beautiful wildlife, this drive from Kansas City to Chicago won't disappoint. Read on below to learn more about our recommended routes, top highlights, best places to stay, and the best seasons to travel.

How far is Chicago from Kansas City, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between Kansas City and Chicago
RouteDistanceDriving Time
St Louis Route590 miles9 hours
Des Moines Route570 miles9 hours 30 minutes

The St Louis Route on a road trip from Kansas City to Chicago will cover 590 miles, which will take about 9 hours to drive nonstop, without accounting for any detours.

Alternatively, the Des Moines Route is a little shorter than the alternative at 570 miles and requires about 9 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

Although you can complete them in a day, both routes are packed with unique sights and experiences. We recommend taking 2-3 days to get the most out of them.

Chicago skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape bird's view from park, Illinois, USA
Chicago is a beautiful city that is a great blend of urban attractions and relaxing greenery, so you will find whatever you are looking for during your visit to this fascinating city!
JaySi/Shutterstock.com

Best road trip route from Kansas City to Chicago

While both the St Louis and Des Moines Routes take you through neighboring regions, they are vastly different. Which one you choose will depend on what you want to see and experience the most.

The St Louis Route offers a journey through well-maintained interstate roads. You'll pass through conservation areas and prairies leading to St Louis, where the iconic Gateway Arch awaits you.

This route is a journey through American history. It includes a visit to the Lincoln House in Springfield, offering a glimpse into President Abraham Lincoln's life, and the historic towns of Springfield and Joliet in Illinois, both known for their Route 66 legacies.

The Des Moines Route balances Interstates and Highways, combining a smooth drive with scenic beauty, showcasing the beautiful hills and open farmlands of Missouri and Iowa.

This route is a cultural treasure trove, offering insights into Czech and Slovak history and the communal life of the Amana Colonies. It also brings the Wild West alive with a visit to the birthplace of the notorious Jesse James and the John Wayne Museum.

How to drive from Kansas City to Chicago

The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between Kansas City and Chicago. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.

St Louis Route

Starting your journey in Kansas City, take Interstate 70 (I-70) eastward. As you leave the city, you'll encounter the serene Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area, perfect for a nature break.

Next, cross the Missouri River and head towards Columbia, Missouri, where Warm Springs Ranch and its famous Clydesdale horses await. Further along I-70, Shelter Gardens in Columbia is the next stop for nature lovers.

Upon reaching St Louis, the STL Zoo and the majestic Gateway Arch National Park are must-visit landmarks. The city's rich history can also be explored at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, just a short drive from downtown St Louis.

Leaving St Louis, follow I-55 north towards Springfield, Illinois, where you can indulge in classic Americana at the Cozy Dog Drive-In and visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site to learn about the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Continuing north to Peoria, Illinois, the Peoria Riverfront Museum presents an engaging mix of art, science, and history. As you journey towards Chicago, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Wilmington is a unique natural area.

Finally, the Joliet Area Historical Museum, located in Joliet, will add a touch of local history before you complete your road trip to the bustling city of Chicago.

Aerial view of ancient Native American burial mound Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, USA.
We recommend visiting the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, especially if you are a fan of history. This city is believed to be settled around 600 CE.
Kent Raney/Shutterstock.com

Des Moines Route

Head north on I-35 towards Des Moines, Iowa. Along the way, a slight detour leads you to the Jesse James Birthplace, giving you a peek into the life of the infamous outlaw.

Continuing north, you can make a short detour to Winterset to visit the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, a must-visit for fans of the iconic actor. You will soon arrive at Des Moines, where you can admire the urban greenery at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

Leaving Des Moines, head eastward on I-80 towards the Amana Colonies in Iowa, where you can experience the area's unique communal lifestyle and rich heritage. From here, head northeast to Cedar Rapids.

As you travel towards Illinois, the landscape shifts to the serene Iowa cornfields, a quintessential Midwestern experience. In Dubuque, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Crystal Lake Cave is worth seeing.

You will soon drive through Rockford before your journey ends in the buzzing city of Chicago.

White exterior of the birthplace of John Wayne, now a museum with red and yellow flowers in the garden
You will have to make a slight detour off the route to visit this museum, but John Wayne's Birthplace Museum is on top of our list of places to visit for any movie aficionado.
Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com

Best places to stop between Kansas City and Chicago

There are plenty of wonderful stops between Kansas City and Chicago on a drive. Below are our favorite places for an overnight stop between Kansas City and Chicago so you can rest and explore.

Learn about the rich history of St Louis

St Louis, located about 250 miles and 3 hours 40 minutes from Kansas City on the St Louis Route, is ideal for an overnight stop. With its historical charm, famous restaurants, and beautiful architecture, St Louis is a unique city that is also famous for its blues music heritage.

This exciting city is famous for its iconic Gateway Arch, a 630-foot architectural marvel symbolizing the westward expansion of the United States. It offers an unforgettable experience with its unique tram ride to the top, providing stunning views of St Louis and the Mississippi River.

The sign above the museum's entrance, reads
To learn more about the role St Louis played in the nation's music heritage, you can visit the informative National Blues Museum during your visit.
Pamela Brick/Shutterstock.com

Another cultural gem is the National Blues Museum, celebrating the rich history and enduring legacy of blues music, deeply rooted in the American story.

For your stay, the highly-rated 21c Museum Hotel St Louis presents a unique blend of luxury and art. This award-winning boutique hotel, only a mile from the Gateway Arch, features a modern interior within a historic building, offering a 4-star experience.

The hotel houses a fabulous indoor swimming pool and wellness facilities, including a steam room, sauna, and gym. The on-site restaurant serves delicious Spanish-inspired tapas and amazing drinks; the perfect way to unwind after a long drive.

Nearby, explore more of St Louis' history at the Old Courthouse, a mere 20-minute walk from the hotel. You can also walk for 25 minutes to reach Laclede's Landing, a historic district filled with old-world charm, lively restaurants, and cobblestone streets.

Explore the communities and heritage of Amana

Amana, nestled 300 miles and approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes from Kansas City along the Des Moines Route, is an extraordinary stopover full of cultural and historical significance.

The Amana Colonies, a group of seven German Pietist religious communal settlements established in the 19th century, are the heart and soul of this unique location.

Colorful statue of German Pietists in front of the Amana Colonies Visitors Center in Iowa
For a different slice in American history, learn about the German Pietists and Amana Colonies during your visit to this charming and historic town.
EWY Media/Shutterstock.com

The Amana Heritage Museum, just a stone's throw away, offers an insightful glimpse into the rich history of these communities. You can explore the Amana Colonies themselves to experience this remarkable area's preserved architecture, traditions, and crafts.

Did you know that Amana's communal kitchens were in use until 1932? When you visit, you can feel the deep sense of community that defines this place.

For your stay, the luxurious Hotel Millwright is our top recommendation. This former 8-acre mill complex has been transformed into a contemporary hotel, and the industrial-styled rooms are adorned with Amana Textile bedding.

Make sure to book a table at the hotel's popular restaurant featuring German and American dishes, or at the Electric Thread, a trendy spot for craft beers.

The hotel's location offers direct access to hiking and biking trails, and you can enjoy the scenic picnic area at the complex. Just a 3-minute walk from the hotel, the historical Amana Train Station is worth a visit, while a 7-minute stroll leads to the central Amana Colonies.

Where to stay when you reach Chicago

Chicago, a city famed for its deep-dish pizzas, 1920s gangsters like Al Capone, and the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, is an urban explorer's dream.

After absorbing the city's rich history and iconic architecture, a visit to Millennium Park, where the famous 'Bean' sculpture resides, is a must. Art enthusiasts will find a haven in the Art Institute of Chicago, home to world-renowned collections.

Renaissance paintings and sculptures at the foyer of the museum, with people viewing them in distance
Art Institute of Chicago is a great place to spend an afternoon, especially if you are interested in learning more about the painters and sculptors of the past. We particularly recommend seeing the museum's Renaissance collection.
James Kirkikis/Shutterstock.com

A quirky piece of Chicago's history is its claim to the first Ferris Wheel, unveiled in 1893 and setting the standard for amusement rides worldwide.

For your stay, the luxurious and legendary Pendry Chicago, located on Michigan Avenue, is mere steps from Chicago's finest shopping and dining experiences. Housed in a 1929 art deco building, the hotel's interior is a stark contrast of contemporary luxury.

The rooms are sleek, modern, and offer panoramic views of the cityscape. For a taste of Chicago's vibrant bar scene, step into Bar Pendry, where you can enjoy a cocktail by a double-sided fireplace, embodying the city's warmth and hospitality.

From this fantastic hotel, you're only a few blocks from some of Chicago's most famous landmarks. Just over a mile away are the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan.

Things to see on a road trip from Kansas City to Chicago

There are so many sights and experiences throughout this region of America and this road trip from Kansas City to Chicago is the perfect way to enjoy these attractions. To help you plan your visit, we've included our favorites below.

St Louis Route

  1. Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area - A nature lover's paradise, this area features diverse wildlife and several trails through beautiful oak-hickory forest.
  2. Maple Leaf Lake Conservation Area - Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, this conservation area boasts a serene lake and trails perfect for hiking, bird watching, and enjoying Missouri's natural beauty.
  3. Warm Springs Ranch - This renowned breeding farm for the Budweiser Clydesdales offers guided tours, showcasing these magnificent horses in a picturesque setting.
  4. Shelter Gardens - A botanical haven in Columbia, Missouri, Shelter Gardens provides a peaceful retreat with its variety of plants, water features, and a replica one-room schoolhouse.
  5. Weldon Springs Conservation Area - A scenic destination offering hiking, fishing, and bird watching, perfect for a tranquil escape into nature.
  6. STL Zoo - Located in Forest Park, St Louis, this zoo is famous for its diverse range of animal exhibits and commitment to conservation and education.
  7. Gateway Arch National Park - This iconic landmark in St Louis symbolizes westward expansion, featuring an impressive arch, museum, and riverfront trails.
  8. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site - A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these ancient mounds near Collinsville, Illinois, offer a glimpse into the pre-Columbian Native American city.
  9. Ariston Café, Litchfield - One of the oldest cafes on Route 66, Ariston Café offers a nostalgic dining experience with a historic ambiance and classic American cuisine.
  10. Cozy Dog Drive-In - Famous for inventing the corn dog, this historic eatery on Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois, offers a taste of Americana.
  11. Lincoln Home National Historic Site - Explore the preserved residence of Abraham Lincoln, offering a deep dive into the life and times of the 16th US President.
  12. Peoria Riverfront Museum - This museum in Peoria, Illinois, combines art, science, and history in an interactive setting, perfect for a family-friendly educational experience.
  13. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie - Near Wilmington, Illinois, this prairie restoration area offers hiking trails and a chance to see bison, showcasing the beauty of the native tallgrass prairie.
  14. Joliet Area Historical Museum - This museum in Joliet, Illinois, highlights the rich history of the region, including the heritage of Route 66 and the city's industrial and cultural past.
Mascots of a fast food restaurant hugging each other
Did you know that Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois, is known as the place where the original corn dog on a stick originated from?
Logan Bush/Shutterstock.com

Des Moines Route

  1. Jesse James Birthplace - Visit the birthplace of the notorious outlaw Jesse James in Kearney, Missouri, for a glimpse into his controversial life and legend.
  2. John Wayne Birthplace Museum - A slight detour off the route located in Winterset, Iowa, this museum celebrates the life and career of the iconic Western film actor John Wayne, with a collection of memorabilia and personal items.
  3. Pappajohn Sculpture Park - In downtown Des Moines, this park features over 20 unique and large-scale sculptures by internationally acclaimed artists, set in a picturesque urban green space.
  4. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden - A lush oasis in the heart of Des Moines, the botanical garden showcases exotic plants, seasonal flowers, and a tranquil environment for visitors.
  5. East Village, Des Moines - This vibrant neighborhood offers an eclectic mix of historic buildings, trendy shops, diverse restaurants, and a lively arts scene.
  6. State Historical Museum - Dive into Iowa's rich history through a variety of exhibits showcasing its cultural, political, and natural heritage.
  7. Iowa State Capitol - The magnificent architecture and beautiful grounds of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines make it a must-visit for its historical and aesthetic significance.
  8. Adventureland Park - This amusement park in Altoona, Iowa, offers a variety of rides and attractions, making it a fun destination for families and thrill-seekers alike.
  9. Amana Colonies - These seven villages in Iowa are known for their rich German heritage, communal history, unique crafts, and charming rural landscape.
  10. National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library - Located in Cedar Rapids, this museum celebrates Czech and Slovak culture with exhibits on history, art, and immigration.
  11. NewBo City Market - A bustling market in Cedar Rapids offering local produce, artisan goods, and a range of culinary delights, perfect for food enthusiasts.
  12. Crystal Lake Cave - Near Dubuque, Iowa, this natural limestone cave offers guided tours through an underground world of stunning mineral formations.
  13. Discovery Center Museum - A hands-on children's museum in Rockford, Illinois, featuring interactive exhibits on science, technology, and art, ideal for young explorers.
Majestic and expansive capitol building with a golden-colored dome and several smaller domes
The majestic building of Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines is a sight to behold.
DesMoinesMike/Shutterstock.com

Best time to go on a road trip from Kansas City to Chicago

Chicago is an incredible city with plenty to see and experience throughout the year. However, each season has its own advantages and special highlights.

Winter along both routes is cold and snowy. Be mindful of potential snow-related driving challenges in Central and Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois.

That said, winter is a magical time to visit Chicago and the towns and cities in between. Don't miss the holiday parades and events or experience Chicago or St Louis' famous New Year's Eve celebrations.

Springtime brings milder weather, especially on the Des Moines Route. Iowa's landscapes burst into life with wildflowers and lush greenery, although rain showers may make roads slippery.

In Chicago, spring temperatures range from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for exploring the city's outdoor attractions like Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.

During summer, Chicago's temperatures can soar to the high 80s, making it an ideal time for festivals. On the St Louis Route, you could catch the Taste of St Louis in August, while the Des Moines Route offers the Des Moines Arts Festival in June and the Iowa State Fair in August.

In Chicago, Lollapalooza in August and the Taste of Chicago in September are highlights not to be missed. This is also the perfect time to swim, sail, or kayak on Lake Michigan.

Fall is mild, with temperatures between 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you travel during this season, don't miss Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the colorful fall foliage along both routes.