The drive from Chicago to Atlanta spans just over 724 miles, bypassing the Great Smoky Mountains and into the heart of country music. Between a gritty, bold skyline and one of the most historically significant cities of America, there’s a surprising myriad of valley views and artistic pursuits.
While you can make the drive from Chicago to Atlanta in 11 hours non stop, I suggest stretching this Chicago to Atlanta road trip over a few days. Don’t just admire the mountain ranges – climb them!
Treat your ears to music shows and learn about the history of places you stop off – Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, Indianapolis have so much culture to share with you!
The route is pretty straightforward as all major stop offs are on the same expressway bar one detour.
- Take route I-65 S from Chicago to Nashville.
- Switch to I-40 E from Nashville to Knoxville.
- Route I-75 is the most direct from Knoxville to Chattanooga.
- Back to route I-65 S from Chattanooga to Atlanta.
Best stops on the drive from Chicago to Atlanta
Map of the Chicago to Atlanta road trip,
you can see the Google map here.
1. Start the road trip in Chicago, Illinois
No doubt you’ve spent some time in Chicago, but if you haven’t, the Navy Pier, the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park are just few of the many Chicago icons. Enjoy time out on Lake Michigan before you say ‘see you later’!
I’ve been to Chicago twice and it’s up there ahead of New Orleans and New York as my favourite city in the USA.
You can see all the best things to do in Chicago here, and if you’re in Chicago for winter, you need to read this article before you go. There are more road trips from Chicago here, and a guide to driving from Chicago to New Orleans here. BUT, let’s stick with the drive from Chicago to Atlanta for now.
Here are the best stops on the drive from Chicago to Atlanta.
2. Lafayette, Indiana
A relatively small city that mostly caters to Purdue University, Lafayette isn’t the most adventurous of places but it does boast a huge attraction: Columbian Park Zoo. Opened in 1908, Indiana’s 2nd largest zoo doesn’t just boast the usual exhibits – you can also visit the Family Farm and milk a cow too.
See where Indiana first began at Fort Ouiatenon, the first European settlement built in 1717. Another place to stretch your legs is at Jerry E. Clegg Botanic Gardens, featuring walking trails through prairie and oak woodlands.
3. Indianapolis, Indiana
Fondly referred to as Indy, Indianapolis is the first big city on your Atlanta road trip!
Besides hosting Fortune 500 companies, it’s also home to several ‘world’s largest’. Alongside the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis comes the world’s largest sporting complex – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It boasts a really cool Indy Racing Experience Driving Program where you can try out competition-grade cars.
Newfields, where the Indianapolis Museum of Art is based, is another not-to-miss site. For a relaxing walk, scour around White River State Park, Canal Walk or pick up some facts along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
This is a great stop on the Chicago to Atlanta road trip, and well worth a stopover for the night to check out the local nightlife, too.
4. Bloomington, Indiana
Don’t just stick to the big cities on your drive from Chicago to Atlanta!
Bloomington is just off the expressway towards Louisville, surrounded by Indiana’s beautiful nature. Indiana’s largest natural estate, Brown County State Park, is a riot of colour in the fall. Explore 20 miles of tree-lined trails on horseback or on foot; maybe even rent a cabin to stay. Stop by Bluespring Caverns Park, where you explore caves via boat.
Those who prefer the indoors or those travelling with young kids will enjoy the WonderLab Science Museum and the Eskenazi Museum of Art.
5. Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville is the home base of several famous names, like boxing legend Muhammad Ali and our guilty pleasure – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). It’s also known for its ‘Museum Row’ in the western main district, including Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Baseball players can learn about how these baseball bats came to be.
Another must-visit is Churchill Downs, hosting grounds for the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing fans can check out the massive stadium and stands; maybe even catch a race! For another kind of thrill, Kentucky Kingdom is a 63-acre amusement park with an adjacent Hurricane Bay Water Park.
6. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Rally your sense of adventure as you pass through central Kentucky.
It’s time to spice up your Chicago to Atlanta road trip with Mammoth Cave National Park. Featuring one of the longest cave systems in the world, Mammoth Cave takes between 1 to 6 hours to explore depending on your tour. Multiple trailheads will take you to more caves or canoeing spots; the town of Cave City is close by as well.
Other notable attractions in the area include:
- Dinosaur World – complete with life-sized models and fossil displays.
- Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum – exhibiting rare animal specimens.
- Raven’s Cross Escape Games – the haunted escape rooms of your dreams.
- Diamond Caverns – literally brimming with formations.
7. National Corvette Museum, Kentucky
If you’re a car aficionado, turn off I-65 Exit 28 for this fascinating pit stop. The National Corvette Museum, founded in 1994, shows off classic cars with a Corvette as its crown jewel. You can easily spend an hour or two marvelling at the 70 models on display. There’s also a gift shop with Corvette-themed memorabilia to commemorate your visit.
Working with the associated NCM Motorsports Park, the museum offers you the chance to ride in a Corvette or take your car for a lap around the road course. It’s pretty cool!
8. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is one of the best stops on the drive from Chicago to Atlanta – dust off that guitar, throw down some country tunes and you’ll be serenading your way across the state. While Memphis, the soul of rock-n-roll is a little too far from us, Nashville evokes nostalgia and homey comforts with its folk-tailored music.
I absolutely loved visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as the Johnny Cash Museum. While the Grand Ole Opry is a must for post-dinner musical entertainment, you might find casual performers outside of the Athens-styled Parthenon!
READ MORE: Where to Stop on the Memphis to Nashville Drive
9. Knoxville-Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Quaint 19th-century buildings decorate the Market Square district of Knoxville town, hiding the fact that there are some unusual entertainments just around the corner. Backed by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (picnics at the isolated Cades Cove are fantastic by the way) are two unexpected finds:
- Dollywood – Styled after Hollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park spoils you with slides, rides, live music and delicious pulled pork sandwiches.
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Being so landlocked, it’s amazing to come across an aquarium, with glass-bottom boat rides too!
10. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Not many have heard of Chattanooga, but it tops any Chicago to Atlanta road trip itinerary. I loved my weekend there – there’s a lot of fun things to do in Chattanooga!
Located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, it’s a beautiful natural reserve.
Take the 10-mile Riverwalk to see how much green is embedded in the city. The classic steam engine at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum delivers more lush landscapes on a time crunch. Other incredible attractions include the cave waterfalls of Rock City & Ruby Falls, narrated Duck Boat Tours and all the outdoor activities you can think of – hiking, kayaking and even mountain biking.
READ MORE: The Best Hotels in Chattanooga
11. Marietta, Georgia
Before you hit Atlanta proper, stop by for the hair-raising rides at Six Flags White Water. The 69-acre water park houses awesome rides like the Bahama Bob Slide and Black River Falls. The food and drinks are priced pretty high though, so pack some snacks to bring.
The rest of Marietta isn’t so heart-pumping, this Georgian city the home of several history and art museums. The Marietta Museum of History is housed within former cotton warehouses near leafy Marietta Square. One noteworthy historical site to visit is the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, which witnessed an 1864 Civil War battle.
READ MORE: Best Quotes for Long Drives
First, congratulations! You’re now pulling into the historical, vibrant city of Atlanta with all its artsy venues and foodie destinations – including museums and great outdoor spaces.
There are lots of fun activities to do in Atlanta, here are just a few ideas to keep you busy.
- Georgia Aquarium – An epic home to over 120,000 marine animals.
- High Museum of Art – Showcases many modern art exhibits with family activities ever 2nd Sunday of the month.
- Atlanta Botanical Garden – Especially pretty during Christmas; hosts events all year round within the wide range of flora and fauna.
- Centennial Olympic Park – The site of 1996 Olympics transformed into a popular hangout spot. The musical fountain is super fun to watch!
- World of Coca-Cola – For fans of the fizzy carbonated drink.
- Atlanta History Center – A stunning building where you can learn about Atlanta’s role in the Civil War and 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site – Pay tribute to Martin Luther King and learn more about African American History.
- Fox Theatre – Definitely catch a show at this historical theatre!
There are plenty of other funky museums and street markets scattered throughout the city.
The drive from Chicago to Atlanta
Last thing to note: the drive from Chicago to Atlanta is pretty straightforward. Do note that you’ll have to puff uphill around the Smoky Mountains, but once you’re over the peak, it’s all smooth driving downwards.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below!