Skyline of the city in the morning with the moon seen in the background

Road trip from Washington DC to Nashville

Updated by Dianne Titos on January 17 2024

From the East Coast to the heart of Tennessee, a road trip from Washington DC to Nashville will take you through stunning national parks, legendary drives like the Blue Ridge Parkway, and beautiful cities surrounded by mountain scenery, and that is even before you reach the country music mecca of Nashville.

The 765-mile road trip from Washington DC to Nashville will take 12 hours and 20 minutes to drive. You can visit Lexington, Louisville, Mammoth Cave, Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, the Great Smoky Mountains and Dollywood.

This epic adventure is perfect if you love history, music, and nature. 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 Nashville from Washington DC, and how long will the road trip take?

Comparison of road trip routes between Washington DC and Nashville
RouteDistanceDriving Time
Louisville Route765 miles12 hours 20 minutes
Blue Ridge Parkway Route855 miles16 hours 40 minutes

The Louisville Route on a road trip from Washington DC to Nashville is a 765-mile journey, taking around 12 hours and 20 minutes to complete without accounting for any detours.

Alternatively, the Blue Ridge Parkway Route is a more scenic drive, covering 855 miles and requiring about 16 hours and 40 minutes of driving.

While it's possible to complete either route in a day or two, we recommend taking 4-5 days to complete your road trip. This way, you'll get to relax and enjoy this amazing part of the world.

Neon signs for music venues in Nashville, lit up brightly along the street at night
From delicious barbecue to amazing live gigs and a rich musical heritage, Nashville is an amazing city to visit on a road trip from Washington DC.
Paul Brady Photography/

Best road trip route from Washington DC to Nashville

While both the Louisville and Blue Ridge Parkway Routes on this road trip from Washington DC to Nashville offer captivating scenic beauty and unique attractions, their experiences are distinctly different. Which one you choose will depend on what you want to see the most.

The quicker Louisville Route starts as you cross into Virginia. It skirts the edge of Shenandoah National Park, offering glimpses of the Appalachian Mountains' expansive scenic trails.

The journey then takes you through Kentucky's heartland in Lexington and Louisville, each famous for aviation history, horses, and whiskey. This route then goes through historic small towns and unique natural features like Mammoth Cave National Park.

The longer Blue Ridge Parkway Route begins by moving out of Washington, DC's suburbs and taking you to the Appalachian Mountain's stunning overlooks and scenic points.

It takes you through the heart of Shenandoah National Park and along the famous Skyline Drive, connecting to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This route is a nature enthusiast's dream, with forest-covered mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and beautiful Lake James in North Carolina.

Notable stops include Asheville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, where you can visit Dolly Parton's Dollywood. Tennessee, the final leg of this route, is a blend of country music heritage and rich wildlife, ensuring a relaxing drive to Nashville.

How to drive from Washington DC to Nashville

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

Louisville Route

Start the Louisville Route by heading west from Washington DC, on Interstate 66 (I-66) towards Front Royal, where you can explore the captivating Skyline Caverns.

Continue west and veer onto US-48, through the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, passing close to the beautiful Blackwater Falls State Park.

As you approach Charleston on I-79, consider a detour to Magic Island. The journey then leads you to Lexington, Kentucky, via I-64 West.

Your next stop is Louisville, home to Churchill Downs and the unique underground world of the Louisville Mega Cavern.

Driving further into Kentucky, you'll pass the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo and the world-renowned Mammoth Cave National Park near Cave City. As you continue, don't miss the chance to relax at Fountain Square Park in Bowling Green.

Your final stretch towards Nashville includes a drive past the Aviation Heritage Park before entering Music City, Nashville.

Statue of 2006 Kentucky Derby Champion Barbaro outside the entrance to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
You can visit the home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Thomas Kelley/

Blue Ridge Parkway Route

Begin your journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway Route from Washington DC, by heading west on I-66. Then, you'll hop on the smaller mountain highways, taking you through Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive. Shortly after, you'll merge onto I-81 South.

As you proceed, Roanoke awaits with its iconic Mill Mountain Star. Soon after visiting the city, you will get the opportunity to travel on a section of the legendary Blue Ridge Parkway, famous for its breathtaking views.

The parkway will lead you further into North Carolina, where you can check out the majestic Cascade Falls. Soon, you'll arrive in the charming town of Blowing Rock. Then, continue on I-40 to Asheville, a city known for its gorgeous views, arts scene and historic architecture.

From here, cross into Tennessee to experience the natural splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an ideal stop for outdoor enthusiasts. In Pigeon Forge, don't miss Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park.

Next, you'll arrive in Knoxville. From here, continue on route to Crossville, famous for its Palace Theater and historic charm. After driving a little further east on I-40, you'll arrive in Nashville, the home of country music.

Autumn view of the Appalachians from Loft Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park is a sight to behold on the Blue Ridge Parkway Route, especially in the fall.
Jon Bilous/

Best places to stop between Washington DC and Nashville

With so much to see and do on a Washington DC to Nashville road trip, you'll find plenty of reasons to take your time and stop for the night. Below are our favorite places to rest, relax, and explore before getting back on the road.

Learn about whiskey-making in Lexington

Lexington, Kentucky, is a great stopover on the Louisville Route, located roughly 8 hours and 20 minutes into the drive. The city's rolling pastures and equestrian legacy make it a paradise for anyone who loves horses and rural charm.

It's a place where you can savor both the simplicity of a good Old Fashioned cocktail and the richness of genuine hospitality. It also has a wonderful restaurant and bar scene.

Red brick facade of the mansion with a front lawn, surrounded by trees
The beautiful mansion called Ashland, a lovely place to visit on a sunny afternoon, used to belong to the 19th century senator Henry Clay.
James Kirkikis/

Lexington proudly stands as the "Horse Capital of the World.” The city also holds historical significance, with attractions like Ashland - The Henry Clay Estate, and the famous Kentucky Theater.

If you enjoy a good whiskey, Lexington is the place. Don't miss a visit to the famous distilleries such as the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

For your stay, we recommend staying at the beautiful Lyndon House Bed and Breakfast. This historic structure, once on the outskirts but now within a few blocks of downtown Lexington, blends historic charm with modern comfort.

Each morning, you'll awake to the smell of fresh coffee and a delicious home-made breakfast. The Lyndon House also features a serene back porch overlooking the garden, an idyllic spot for relaxing.

Near the Lyndon House, explore more of Lexington's cultural scene. The Loudoun House, just about a mile away, offers a glimpse into the city's artistic soul. Also within walking distance is the Living Arts and Science Center.

A true Blue Ridge Parkway experience in Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock, located about 6 hours and 30 minutes along the Blue Ridge Parkway Route, is a picturesque mountain stopover. As the only full-service town directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's an ideal resting point.

Blowing Rock is home to the famous Cone Manor and the legendary Blowing Rock itself, one of North Carolina's oldest and most beloved tourist attractions, celebrated for its stunning views.

Blowing Rock North Carolina Vista
Blowing Rock is quite unique; wind currents flowing through the gorge are capable of lifting a vertical shoot upwards, often creating an effect where light objects appear to be "floating" upward.
jamee Kennedy/

In Blowing Rock, don't miss Doc's Rocks Gem Mine, where you can enjoy gem mining and learn about the area's history. The town's folklore, including tales of updrafts at the Blowing Rock, adds an enchanting layer to your visit.

For your stay, The Manor is a beautiful property and offers a blend of natural charm and modern elegance. Ideally situated, it allows easy exploration of Blowing Rock on foot.

The Manor, with its modern decor, is both spacious and comfortable. You'll also enjoy balconies in some rooms and some real Southern hospitality during stay.

Near The Manor, the serene Bass Lake Trail, just a short mile away, is the perfect place to hike by the water. Also, the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum nearby is also worth a visit.

Where to stay when you reach Nashville

Nashville, the hometown of country music and the birthplace of bluegrass, pulses with a world-famous music scene that also embraces R&B, pop, and rock.

For a deep dive into this rich musical heritage, a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must. Then, check out the Honky Tonk Highway, where the sounds of Nashville come to life.

An exhibition of electric guitars that belonged to Chet Atkins and other musicians in the museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville hosts amazing exhibitions and we definitely recommend visiting if you are a lover of music!
Brenda Kean/

In the heart of this rhythmic city, Placemakr Premier SoBro offers a luxurious and convenient stay. Situated on Lower Broadway, the dynamic center of Nashville's dining and entertainment scene, the hotel provides fully furnished luxury studios.

Each room is equipped with a kitchen for that home away from home feeling. You'll also have soaring city views from your rooms.

Nashville's culinary scene, from sizzling southern barbecue to innovative fusion cuisine, is just steps away. Head out from your hotel and explore this beautiful city and all its fun and experiences.

Things to see on a road trip from Washington DC to Nashville

There are plenty of things to see and do along both routes on a drive from Washington DC to Nashville. To help you plan your perfect drive, we've listed our favorite highlights below.

Louisville Route

  1. Skyline Caverns - Discover a world beneath the surface at Skyline Caverns in Front Royal, featuring unique anthodites and stunning underground formations. This natural wonder offers guided tours, revealing a fascinating subterranean ecosystem.
  2. Blackwater Falls State Park - Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, Blackwater Falls State Park boasts the spectacular Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade tinted with tannic acid from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.
  3. Magic Island - Magic Island in Charleston is a tranquil urban park, offering a scenic retreat with walking trails, picnic areas, and a sandy beach along the Kanawha River.
  4. Aviation Museum of Kentucky - Located in Lexington, the Aviation Museum of Kentucky showcases the state's aviation history with an impressive collection of aircraft, artifacts, and exhibits on pioneering aviators.
  5. Kentucky Horse Park - Celebrate the horse at Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park, a working horse farm and educational theme park dedicated to all things equine, including museums, shows, and horseback riding.
  6. Kentucky Historical Society - The Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort provides a deep dive into Kentucky's rich history with interactive exhibits, historical artifacts, and engaging educational programs.
  7. Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay - This vibrant amusement park in Louisville features thrilling rides, a water park, and family-friendly attractions, offering a day of fun and excitement for all ages.
  8. Louisville Mega Cavern - An underground adventure awaits at Louisville Mega Cavern, offering unique experiences like zip-lining, tram tours, and an underground bike park in a former limestone mine.
  9. Swope's Cars of Yesteryear Museum - Located in Elizabethtown, Swope's Cars of Yesteryear Museum displays a fascinating collection of vintage automobiles, showcasing the evolution of automotive design and technology.
  10. Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo - Experience a slice of Australia in Kentucky at the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, featuring hands-on encounters with Australian wildlife and educational tours.
  11. Mammoth Cave National Park - Explore the world's longest-known cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park, offering guided cave tours, hiking trails, and rich biodiversity in central Kentucky.
  12. Cave City - Cave City, Kentucky, is a gateway to outdoor adventure, known for its proximity to Mammoth Cave National Park and a variety of family-friendly attractions and unique lodging options.
  13. Fountain Square Park - Fountain Square Park in Bowling Green is a picturesque urban oasis, featuring a historic fountain, lush gardens, and a tranquil setting for relaxation and community events.
  14. Aviation Heritage Park - This park in Bowling Green honors Kentucky's aviation history, displaying historic aircraft and commemorating the achievements of local aviators.
Beautiful caverns lit up by natural light coming through an opening on its ceiling
For an otherworldly experience, pay a visit to the magical Skyline Caverns in Virginia.
Al Orfali/

Blue Ridge Parkway Route

  1. Manassas National Battlefield Park - Visit the site of two major Civil War battles at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia, offering a glimpse into American history with trails, monuments, and interpretive programs.
  2. Shenandoah National Park - Shenandoah National Park in Virginia captivates with its rolling hills, waterfalls, and wooded hollows, offering spectacular hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
  3. Skyline Drive - Traverse the stunning Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, a 105-mile scenic roadway offering breathtaking mountain views, wildlife sightings, and access to numerous trails.
  4. Frontier Culture Museum - Explore the diverse cultural heritage of early American settlers at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia, featuring reconstructed farms and interactive exhibits.
  5. Pink Cadillac Diner - The Pink Cadillac Diner in Natural Bridge is a retro-themed eatery, known for its classic American cuisine, colorful décor, and nostalgic atmosphere.
  6. Mill Mountain Star - Overlooking Roanoke, Virginia, the Mill Mountain Star is an iconic illuminated star and scenic viewpoint, offering panoramic views of the surrounding valley.
  7. Blue Ridge Parkway - Experience the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic drive that stretches from Virginia to North Carolina with stunning vistas and numerous recreational opportunities.
  8. Cascade Falls - Located in the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Cascade Falls is a majestic 66-foot waterfall with an accessible trail leading to a picturesque viewing area.
  9. Blowing Rock - Blowing Rock, North Carolina, is a charming mountain village known for its unique rock formation, stunning views, boutique shopping, and outdoor activities.
  10. Fernihurst Mansion - Fernihurst Mansion, located in Asheville, North Carolina, is a historic 19th-century estate, part of the A-B Tech campus, with its architecture reflecting the region's rich history.
  11. Biltmore Estate - Asheville's Biltmore Estate is America's largest privately-owned home, featuring a stunning 250-room mansion, beautifully landscaped gardens, and a winery on its vast grounds.
  12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers diverse wildlife, lush forests, and an array of recreational activities, including hiking and scenic drives..
  13. Dollywood - Dollywood in Pigeon Forge is a renowned theme park co-owned by Dolly Parton, celebrating Appalachian culture with rides, music, crafts, and seasonal festivals.
  14. Urban Wilderness - Knoxville's Urban Wilderness presents an outdoor adventure in an urban setting, featuring miles of trails for hiking, biking, and exploring the natural beauty of Tennessee.
  15. Palace Theater - The historic Palace Theater in Crossville, Tennessee, is a cultural landmark, hosting a variety of performances, concerts, and community events in a beautifully restored setting.
Pink Cadillac Diner with vans parked in front on a sunny day
For a quirky experience, stop by and have a meal at the cute Pink Cadillac Diner near Natural Bridge.
Joseph Sohm/

Best time to go on a road trip from Washington DC to Nashville

Nashville is the perfect destination throughout the year. Each season brings something unique to explore so you can plan your Washington DC to Nashville road trip accordingly.

In winter, chilly yet manageable temperatures, averaging in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit, will greet you in Nashville. However, be mindful of heavy snowfall in mountainous areas.

Winter in Nashville is also a time for cozy indoor concerts and warm Southern Cuisine. If you're traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway Route, parts may close due to snow and ice, making the journey more challenging.

The Louisville Route in winter brings the Bourbon Classic Festival in February, and on the Blue Ridge Parkway Route, don't miss the Smoky Mountain Winterfest in March. Along both routes, you'll find plenty of holiday events and festivals around New Year's and Christmas.

Blue Ridge Parkway with forest white with frost
Blue Ridge Parkway is known for its stunning autumnal scenery, but we think it is equally stunning in winter. However, it is a good idea to check the road conditions and be prepared for icy conditions if you choose to travel during this time.
Gabriel Swinney/

Spring and fall are perhaps the best times to experience these routes. Nashville's spring, with temperatures ranging from the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit, is perfect for exploring outdoor attractions.

If you're traveling on the Louisville Route in spring, don't miss the famous Kentucky Derby in May. On the Blue Ridge Parkway Route, the Biltmore Blooms will give you a unique experience from March to May.

Nashville's Cherry Blossom Festival in April is a delightful event that captures the essence of spring. You'll also get to see plenty of wildflower blooms along both routes.

Summer in Nashville can be hot, with temperatures often reaching into the high 80s Fahrenheit, making it a great time to enjoy the city's nightlife and outdoor music scene.

However, the high season on the Blue Ridge Parkway Route means busier tourist spots, especially in areas like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. If you're seeking a summer festival, Nashville's CMA Music Festival in June is a great event to attend.

Fall brings a spectacle of colors, especially around mid-October. Both routes showcase spectacular fall colors around Shenandoah National Park, while the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are ablaze with autumn hues.

Nashville in the fall is pleasantly warm, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit, perfect for exploring the city's outdoor spaces and surrounding natural areas.