We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Road trip from Chicago

Chelmsford, United...
Level Contributor
29 posts
16 reviews
Save Topic
Road trip from Chicago


We intend to visit the States for 4 weeks either this summer or next. We want to spend a week in the Chicago area and then rent a car for a three week road trip, returning to Chicago. The obvious choice would seem to be a circle of Lake Michigan and there is a lot of info and advice around on that. I'd like some ideas for alternatives so that I can weigh up options before making a decision.

We would be travelling with a 13 year old and are looking for outdoor activities, small town America etc.

Thanks in advance,


Chula Vista...
Level Contributor
2,617 posts
104 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Hi and welcome to the forum,

Another possibility might be to do a loop like this:


Head east from Chicago past the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the suburban Detroit area to see the Henry Ford Greenfield Village:



Then onto the southern shore of Lake Erie with places like Port Clinton, Sandusky, and the amusement park at Cedar Point.




You could head into the Amish country of Ohio and perhaps into Pittsburgh, then stopping at Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic home, "Fallingwater," before heading to the New River Gorge area of West Virginia.





Then you could head back through the thoroughbred horse country of Kentucky near Lexington.


South of Louisville, there's Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace, Mammoth Cave National Park, and the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green (if you're into Corvette cars).




Louisville has Churchill Downs, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and some Lewis & Clark history.





You can head back through Indianapolis with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (impressive collection of Native American artifacts), Connor Prairie, and the White River State Park.


http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/ (The Brickyard 400 race is usually run the last weekend in July.)




Between Louisville and Indianapolis, you may want to take a little detour through Brown County to see some covered bridges and the little town of Nashville, IN or Bean Blossom, IN where they have a Bluegrass music festival.




While not on the route that I had above, two places worth consideration are the Dayton, Ohio area with its air museums (that's where the Wright Brothers lived), and Cleveland with its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among other things.

Another option might be to do the first part of that trip to Pittsburgh where the Ohio River is formed, and then drive the Ohio River to Cincinnati or Louisville and then back to Chicago.

Hope that's a suitable alternate for you.

Level Contributor
10,853 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Are you visiting family in Chicago? If not, what do you plan to do with a week there?

Etc. is a bag of options. Does it include amusement parks, zoos, historical attractions, music cities such as Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans. Are you willing to camp?

Whether you are doing the trip in 2013 or 2014 may be a big consideration. One option would be a great loop west to incorporate Yellowstone, but it's late to get in-park reservations for this summer, unless perhaps you're willing to camp, stay in gateway cities, or troll for cancellations.

When you come in summer also makes a difference. E.g, you might visit a state fair. There are excellent ones in Ohio and Minnesota (the ones I personally know about) and likely in Illinois, Indiana and certainly elsewhere in the Midwest. These fairs are massive and draw many hundreds of thousands of persons.


The waters of the Great Lakes are warmest in August. You have July 4th festivities to consider.

Traveling into the South in the summer is not a favorite of myself and others on this forum due to great heat, humidity and the risk of tropical storms and even hurricanes. In late July and August, you'll find lots of heat and humidity in northern states as well.

So one option might be heading through Indiana into Ohio. Perhaps visiting the New River Gorge in West Virginia for rafting, visiting the greater Washington, DC, region, then swinging north through Gettysburg to Niagara Falls. Come back along the south shore of Lake Erie, stopping at Presque Isle/Waldameer (see Cleveland day trips travel article in thread linked below), shopping at Grove City Premium Outlets (no sales tax on clothes in Pennsylvania), Ohio Amish country, Cleveland attractions (Blossom Music Center, Cleveland Museum of Art (free admission and much to impress a 13-year-old boy: it's one of the best in the U.S. and the most digitally advanced; check out its Gallery One and armor court), the U.S.S. Cod, West Side Market, Steamship Mather, Progressive Field), Cedar Point in Sandusky, a ferry ride to Put-in-Bay (see travel article), The Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and back along the beautiful eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago.

Here's a thread that discusses Ohio and the New River Gorge (which has other activities besides rafting, such as bungee jumping and ziplines).


The Ohio State Fair is in Columbus in late July/early August. It features an all-state band and choir, myriad entertainment venues, a midway of amusement rides, etc., food galore, agricultural competitions, and a magnificent physical plant such as a large horse arena. The Ohio Expo Center where the fair is held also is the home of the three-week All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the largest single breed horse show in the world.

A 13-year-old also likely would be fascinated by The Ohio State University campus in Columbus, one of the very largest universities in the U.S. with excellent athletic venues such as Ohio Stadium, which seats over 100,000 persons for American "Big Ten" conference football games. Columbus arguably is the biggest college town in America, and the all-state band and choir at the Ohio State Fair feature a large repertoire of Ohio State Buckeye fight songs, the OSU alma mater, etc., befitting as many members of the all-state band aspire to join TBDBITL. Marching bands are a very serious undertaking in Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest.




Check out The Wilds, near Zanesville, a great small town America destination.

Another option would be a grand exploration of the Great Lakes region, heading east from Chicago along the southern shore of Lake Erie to Niagara Falls, across Ontario to Sleeping Bear Dunes, across the Mackinac Bridge to Sault Ste. Marie, into Canada and around Lake Superior to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in northern Michigan, then south through Wisconsin to Chicago.

Here's a travel article that is in progress:


For small towns, here's a thread that might interest you.


Read through this forum for the last six months for relevant threads. Then put together a possible itinerary for our review.

Good planning!

Chelmsford, United...
Level Contributor
29 posts
16 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Thank you both for such comprehensive replies. I'll read those links and do some more research.

Sorry about the vagueness of etc. I suppose we're looking for a mix of scenery, outdoor adventure and small town culture. State or county fairs would be great too.

We want a week in Chicago as we lived there for a year in the early 90s so want to revisit old haunts there and see friends.

I've considered camping and certainly need to keep costs down but have been thinking about mini cabins in state parks as a compromise.

Thanks again. Off for hours of fun with google maps.


Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
60,942 posts
42 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Road trip from Chicago

With 3 weeks you can make a trip to Black Hills/Badlands SD www.travelsd.com and to Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP from Chicago. Would be my first pick.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
20,062 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Or, if a one way trip is an option, with 3 weeks, you could do the whole of Route 66. See:




For the quirky Americana to amuse the 13 y o:


Just a different option. Have a great time planning,


Just a few more thoughts.

Level Contributor
10,853 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Road trip from Chicago

If you research Yellowstone, the best of the lower 48 national parks given its geothermal features (the best in the world) and fauna, and decide you can make a go of it in 2013 by camping, check out the state fair in Iowa. It's considered one of the best in the U.S., but I've never been to it so can't compare it with the Ohio State Fair.

There is no comparison between county fairs and state fairs, although the biggest of the county fairs still are fun.

Ada, Michigan
Level Contributor
175 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Michigan also has some quite interesting islands that have ferry service to visit as well. Beaver island, Mackinac island and the wild Isle Royal which is like our own slice of Alaska...

Beaver island http://www.beaverisland.org/

Mackinac island http://www.mackinacisland.org/

Isle Royal http://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm

Bloomington, Indiana
Destination Expert
for Bloomington
Level Contributor
8,548 posts
22 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Road trip from Chicago

Here are a few links to threads regarding things to do/see in Indiana.

First, on that concentrates on I-65 (running SE from Chicago to Louisville) and a little bit on Kentucy:


Second, here's one focused on outdoor activities near French Lick/West Baden, Indiana (which is worth going to to see the restored hotels, check out their forums for more information):


Third, my first response to this one outlines some of the main things in south-central Indiana:


Fourth, here's one that has a list of things to do in Indianapolis:


Beyond that here's a few (semi-random) thoughts. There maybe overlap with things covered in the above threads (too lazy to make sure things are repeated), but I'm going to keep these short as many (most) are probably mentioned. Also, these tend to focus on Southern Indiana ("my" area):

1. Smaller cities/towns - each of these have one or more things going for them: Bloomington, Columbus, Nashville, French Lick/West Baden, Madison and many others.

2. Holiday World - Near Santa Claus, Indiana. One of the best rated "non-mega" theme parks in the US (world?). Widely recognized for their roller coasters and also has a rather large water park.

3. Larger Cities - A swing through this area could include the following larger cities: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, if you head west you could add Saint Louis to the mix and there are others (mainly if you headed further south). Won't go into all of the things these cities offer (or the other one you could add), just too many to mention.

4. Outdoors/Nature Stuff - Lots of these (I will skip mentioning those I know are covered in some of the above threads): Lots of (mostly smaller) state and national parks (forests, wildlife refuges, etc.), large areas of national forests, at least two large (and many more not so large) lakes; some caves, Ohio & Wabash Rivers. Further south you also get into all the things Kentucky has to offer (perhaps the most famous being Mammoth Cave). Southern Illinois will have some similar offerings (if you do the west swing towards St. Louis).

That's all I've go time for right now, hope they help and will be glad to offer more suggestions/details. But ask that if you do want more information on Indiana to post on that forum. I check it with more regularity than the Road Trip forum.


Level Contributor
10,853 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Road trip from Chicago

This is one of the few times I might disagree a little with Tet.

If you like the outdoors and are willing to raft in the New River Gorge, and if your son has never been to Washington, DC, and you can fit it in, and if you go to Gettysburg and Niagara Falls, I think your son is at the age where he might enjoy an eastern road trip encompassing those destinations as much if not more than the Yellowstone loop, especially if you don't have reservations for 2013. This year is the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Gettysburg will be jammed in late June and early July, but there should be a hefty reenactment schedule.

Big anniversary dates of the Battle of Gettysburg have been life events in the U.S. Unless things are much different in 2013, and the battle has transcended into ancient history, I would suspect the city will be jammed with film crews.

You likely would not be able to get reservations in Gettysburg during this period at this late date. If you decide to drive there, as there is much lodging within not many miles of Gettysburg, leave very early in the day because roads into Gettysburg can be congested even at normal times during the summer. Denizens of the Gettysburg forum surely could give you much better advice.

If you do Yellowstone, based on everything that I've read, target early to mid-June, if you're bound by school vacations. I've been there in August and wouldn't recommend it as much as other months due to summer vacation season congestion. I believe the Chicago Blues Festival is in early June, if that is an interest. If it's not, lodging may be more expensive at that time as it's the largest of Chicago's music festivals and a big draw.

I also prefer the Denver loop to Yellowstone rather than the Chicago loop, but if you could fit in the Iowa State Fair, that would be a great equalizer IMO.

Edited: 22 February 2013, 22:07
Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
60,942 posts
42 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Road trip from Chicago

That's ok TE ;) But in summer I'd rather go west instead the hot and humid east.