Chicago's skyline during sunrise, on the shore of Lake Michigan

Road trip from Washington DC to Chicago

Published by Dianne Titos on January 15 2024

Windy City is famous for its stunning architecture, picturesque lakeside setting, and fascinating museums. This road trip from Washington DC to Chicago is the perfect opportunity to explore beautiful cities and towns by both Lakes Erie and Michigan as well as some of the most iconic cities and landmarks of the Midwest.

The 745-mile road trip from Washington DC to Chicago will take 12 hours and 10 minutes to drive. On the way, you can visit Bedford, Somerset, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, Boonsboro, Morgantown, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Lafayette.

This incredible journey from Washington DC to Chicago is dotted with so many sights en route and planning ahead is important. Read on below to learn more about our recommended routes, the best places to stop along the way, top highlights, and the best seasons to travel.

How to drive from Washington DC to Chicago

The map below shows two great route options for your road trip from Washington DC to Chicago. Click on the star icons for headline details, and scroll down for much more information below.

* Always remember that drive times can be impacted by traffic, closures, weather and other conditions. It's best to double check while planning and before starting out on your trip.

Comparison of road trip routes between Washington DC and Chicago
RouteDistanceDriving Time
Cleveland Route745 miles12 hours 10 minutes
Indianapolis Route835 miles13 hours 45 minutes

How far is Chicago from Washington DC, and how long will the road trip take?

The Cleveland Route from Washington DC to Chicago takes around 12 hours and 10 minutes to complete and covers 745 miles without any detours,

Alternatively, the Indianapolis Route is a bit longer, spanning 835 miles and requiring around 13 hours and 45 minutes of driving.

While you can complete both routes in a day or two, we recommend taking your time and spending at least two to three days on the road. This will give you the chance to experience all the amazing sights and activities that this region is known for.

Chicago, Illinois, USA with the skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape bird's view from park, Illinois, USA
Chicago is not only about striking urban landscapes, but also about beautiful green areas and stunning lakeside views.

Best road trip route from Washington DC to Chicago

While both routes between Washington, DC and Chicago will keep you busy with many places to visit for days, they each have their own unique highlights. Which one you choose depends on what you want to see and do the most.

The Cleveland Route takes you through four different northern states, offering a rich blend of state forests, lakes, and parks, ensuring there's almost always something picturesque to see out the window.

This route not only lets you explore the city of Pittsburgh but also provides a scenic drive along the shores of Lake Erie and will give you the opportunity to visit Cleveland, as the route name suggests. You will also drive through colorful Toledo and South Bend.

On the other hand, the Indianapolis Route takes you through five states, big cities, and dense forests. This route has the perfect mixture of nature and big-city fun. Some of the places you can visit on this route are Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

A highlight is the drive through Wayne National Forest between Athens and Columbus, a perfect spot for a nature-filled lunch break. However, this route doesn't have as many lakefront views as the Cleveland Route.

Cleveland Route

Begin your journey from Washington DC on Interstate 270 (I-270) Northwest. You will get to visit the quirky Big Coffee Pot in Bedford and Coral Caverns. You will then merge onto I-70 and I-76 towards Scottdale, Pennsylvania before arriving at Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, don't miss the chance to visit The Andy Warhol Museum and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

Next, head towards Cleveland, Ohio, on I-76 West. Make sure to check out the Brandywine Gorge Trail and West Side Market, ideal stops for nature lovers and food enthusiasts. Soon, you'll arrive In Toledo, Ohio. From here, continue on I-90 West.

Your final stretch towards Chicago will take you past Fawn River Nature Preserve and the Wolf Lake Boardwalk in Indiana, offering tranquil nature experiences.

Once in Chicago, tons of urban fun and attractions and the famous cityscape await you.

Chicago, Illinois, USA with the skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape bird's view from park, Illinois, USA
You can visit the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh if you follow the Cleveland Route and see the famous artist's works in person.

Indianapolis Route

You will start your drive following I-270 and then heading west on I-68 towards Morgantown, West Virginia. Morgantown is a charming university town where you can visit Krepps Park for a relaxing break.

Following the route, you'll soon cross the Ohio River and drive west to Athens. From here, drive through the lush landscapes of Wayne National Forest. You will soon reach Columbus, Ohio, where you can visit the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the historic German Village.

From Columbus, take I-71 South towards Cincinnati. Here, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden await with their rich exhibits and wildlife.

Continue your journey on I-74 towards Indianapolis, Indiana. Here, stops like the Indianapolis City Market and The Children's Museum of Indianapolis are well worth it.

Your next leg will take you to Lafayette via I-65. This last stretch of your trip on the interstate will lead you to Chicago, Illinois.

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA skyline and canal taken at early evening.
You can visit the colorful city of Indianapolis on the route that carries this iconic city's name.
Sean Pavone/

Best places to stop between Washington DC and Chicago

With so much to see and do along the way on a drive from Washington DC to Chicago, you're going to want to rest up in one of the exciting destinations below. This gives you plenty of time to explore these amazing regions of America.

Learn about the Rock & Roll legends in Cleveland

Cleveland, nestled on the edge of Lake Erie, is an ideal overnight stop on the Cleveland Route from Washington, DC, to Chicago. About 6 hours and 30 minutes into the drive, Cleveland is famous for its theater district with a burgeoning music and art scene.

Did you know that Cleveland is the birthplace of Superman, conceived by two young men living in the city?

For those who appreciate the finer things, the city's local wineries and breweries offer an afternoon well spent tasting exquisite wines and beers. And for the more adventurous, Lake Erie awaits with its inviting outdoor activities and water sports.

Interior of the West Side Market with food and produce stalls, photo taken from above
Visit the famous West Side Market for a bite or a light lunch during your visit to Cleveland.
Sean Pavone/

Two must-visit attractions in Cleveland are the historic West Side Market, known for its diverse eateries, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a tribute to the legends of rock music.

For your stay in Cleveland, the luxurious Drury Plaza Hotel Cleveland Downtown is an exceptional choice. You will be treated to complimentary popcorn and soda in the afternoons, and a delicious hot breakfast is included each morning.

You'll love the hotel's indoor swimming pool and gym. There's also a bar on-site so you can relax after a long day exploring the city.

The hotel's central location is perfect for exploring the city. Nearby, you can visit the Masthead Brewing Co., just a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Also, the Historic Cleveland Coastguard Station, a mere 10-minute drive away, offers a glimpse into the city's maritime history.

Visit an authentic German Village in Columbus

Columbus is an ideal halfway stopover on the Indianapolis Route from Washington, DC to Chicago. After about 7 hours and 10 minutes of driving, Columbus is famous for its commitment to a clean environment. It's also known for its food scene, museums, and family-friendly parks.

Two key attractions in Columbus are the Center of Science and Industry and the charming German Village, known for its quaint streets and unique architecture.

Beautiful flowers hanging from a post with a clock on top, German flag hanging on the balcony of a building in the background
You might think that you have been teleported to a German Village in Europe during your visit to Columbus!

For your stay, the highly rated Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection, is an exquisite choice. Located in a grand art deco building with views of the Scioto River, the hotel is one of a kind.

Throughout the hotel, you'll notice subtle hints of stargazing in the decor, adding to its charm. If you are traveling with pets, don't worry, dogs and cats are welcome.

Its prime location in the heart of downtown Columbus makes it an excellent base for exploring the city. Nearby, the Riffe Gallery and the Ohio Theatre are both just a 5-minute walk away, offering artistic experiences right at your doorstep.

Where to stay when you reach Chicago

Chicago, renowned for its iconic deep-dish pizza and jazz music scene, will be full of fun experiences and cultural delights. For a panoramic view of the city, head to the Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower), one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Also, don't miss exploring Chicago's famous restaurant and bar scene. Some of the world's best cuisine comes from this city, so make sure to plan several days of dining in style. Don't forget to try the famous Chicago-style deep-dish pizza!

Tall Willis Tower with a few skyscrapers in the background on a sunny day
You might immediately recognize Willis Tower, because it has become a symbol of Chicago over the years.

When it comes to accommodation, the beautiful citizenM Chicago Downtown is one of our favorite places to stay. This trendy, artsy hotel stands out amidst the city's skyscrapers with its artistic decorations. The outdoor terrace provides a spectacular vantage point to admire the city's skyline, offering a unique perspective of Chicago.

The hotel's prime location makes exploring the city's attractions effortless. You're just a short distance from major landmarks and the buzz of downtown. And when it comes to starting your day, the citizenM offers a diverse breakfast selection with unlimited coffee during breakfast hours, ensuring you're well-fueled for your adventures.

For a touch of uniqueness during your stay, why not check out the Gangsters and Ghost Tour, offering an intriguing glimpse into Chicago's storied past. Afterwards, don't miss a visit to the hotel's popular restaurant and bar to relax after your day exploring.

Things to see on a road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago

There's plenty to experience on a road trip through America's Midwest and Great Lakes region on this Washington DC to Chicago road trip. To help you plan, we've included our favorite highlights below.

Cleveland Route

  1. The Big Coffee Pot - An iconic roadside attraction in Bedford, Pennsylvania, this whimsical structure, shaped like a giant coffee pot, offers travelers a unique photo opportunity.
  2. Coral Caverns - Located near Manns Choice, Pennsylvania, Coral Caverns is a natural wonder showcasing ancient coral reef formations and an array of fascinating geological features.
  3. Jackson the Elephant - This quirky roadside sculpture in Somerset, Pennsylvania, features a life-sized elephant, providing a fun and unexpected sight for passersby.
  4. Big Mac Museum, North Huntingdon - Celebrating the iconic Big Mac, this museum in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, offers a playful and informative look at the history of this famous burger.
  5. The Andy Warhol Museum - Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this comprehensive museum is dedicated to the art and life of the influential pop artist Andy Warhol, featuring extensive collections of his works.
  6. Children's Museum of Pittsburgh - A vibrant and interactive museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offering educational and fun exhibits for children of all ages.
  7. Brandywine Gorge Trail - A scenic trail near Cleveland, Ohio, offering stunning views of Brandywine Falls and the surrounding lush forest landscapes.
  8. West Side Market - Cleveland's historic public market, known for its diverse array of food vendors and bustling atmosphere, offering a taste of local cuisine and culture.
  9. Culinary Vegetable Institute - Situated in Milan, Ohio, this institute is a gourmet haven, offering cooking classes, workshops, and events focused on farm-to-table dining experiences.
  10. Imagination Station - A hands-on science center in Toledo, Ohio, providing interactive exhibits and educational programs that encourage creativity and learning in children.
  11. Fawn River Nature Preserve - A serene nature preserve in Steuben County, Indiana, offering tranquil walking trails and opportunities to observe local wildlife and flora.
Coffee-pot shaped building in Bedford, PA, on an overcast day
For a quirky experience, you can stop by and take a photo with the Big Coffee Pot on the Cleveland Route.
Jon Bilous/

Indianapolis Route

  1. Krepps Park - A charming community park in Morgantown, West Virginia, offering recreational facilities, picnic areas, and a peaceful environment for relaxation.
  2. Wayne National Forest - Spanning across southeastern Ohio, this expansive national forest is a paradise for hikers, campers, and nature lovers, with its diverse ecosystems and scenic beauty.
  3. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens - Located in Columbus, Ohio, this conservatory showcases exotic plant collections, art installations, and seasonal exhibits in a picturesque setting.
  4. German Village - A historic neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, known for its charming brick houses, cobbled streets, and a variety of quaint shops and eateries.
  5. Ohio Statehouse - The state capitol building in Columbus, Ohio, offering guided tours and exhibits about Ohio's history and government.
  6. Kings Island Theme Park - A premier amusement park in Mason, Ohio, featuring thrilling roller coasters, family rides, and entertainment for all ages.
  7. Loveland Castle - A unique, medieval-style castle in Loveland, Ohio, offering tours, gardens, and a glimpse into historical architecture.
  8. Cincinnati Art Museum - An impressive museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, boasting a diverse collection of over 67,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years of world history.
  9. Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden - One of the oldest zoos in the United States, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, offering a wide range of animal exhibits and beautiful botanical gardens.
  10. Indianapolis City Market - A bustling marketplace in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, featuring local food vendors, artisans, and regular cultural events.
  11. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis - The world's largest children's museum, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, offering interactive exhibits across a variety of topics, from science to culture.
  12. Tippecanoe Battlefield Park - A historic site in Lafayette, Indiana, commemorating the Battle of Tippecanoe with a museum, monument, and walking trails.
Indianapolis Children’s museum with models of dinosaurs
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the perfect stop for families, and for those looking to let their inner child out!
IN Dancing Light/

Both Routes

  1. Monocacy National Battlefield - This historic site in Maryland marks the location of the Battle of Monocacy during the Civil War, offering insightful tours and exhibits about this crucial conflict.
  2. Greenbrier State Park - A beautiful park in Boonsboro, Maryland, known for its sparkling lake, sandy beach, and a network of hiking trails amidst the Appalachian Mountains.
  3. South Mountain State Park - Nestled in Maryland, this park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring picturesque hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, and rich biodiversity.
  4. Albanese Candy Factory Outlet - Located in Merrillville, Indiana, this factory outlet offers a delightful array of candies and sweets, with tours available to see candy-making in action.
  5. Wolf Lake Boardwalk - A picturesque boardwalk in Hammond, Indiana, perfect for leisurely strolls and enjoying the serene views of Wolf Lake.

Best time to go on a road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago

Chicago is an incredible destination year-round, especially on a road trip from Washington DC. However, each season presents its own thrills and challenges.

Winter across both routes can be challenging, with cold temperatures and icy conditions. It's essential to be well-prepared for driving in such weather, and note that some nearby national parks and state forests may be inaccessible.

Icy formations and snow on the ground with the Chicago skyline in the background
Chicago becomes a winter wonderland during the colder months, so pack accordingly and enjoy the beautiful sight of the city under a shroud of snow.
Donna R. Theimer AIFD/

Even in the cold, Chicago's attractions like the Willis Tower will still be open and provide indoor havens for warmth. You'll also love experiencing the holiday lights and festivities in cities and towns on both routes.

Spring is the ideal time for this journey, offering a respite from the sometimes unbearable summer heat and avoiding the large crowds. Chicago's spring temperatures, ranging from the high 40s to 60s Fahrenheit, create perfect conditions for exploring the city's outdoor and indoor attractions.

Summer in Chicago can see temperatures soaring into the 80s Fahrenheit, ideal for enjoying events like Lollapalooza in August. Plus, you could coincide your trip with the Taste of Tremont in July on the Cleveland Route or the Columbus Arts Festival in June on the Indianapolis Route.

Fall is another perfect time to visit, with pleasant temperatures and great weather. This is also a beautiful time of year to travel because of the fall colors that turn the forests along both routes into sight to behold.