Chicago to Chattanooga driving

Road Trip from Chicago, IL to Chattanooga, TN

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Are you planning a road trip from Chicago to Chattanooga and looking for a scenic route that will take your breath away? You’re in luck! There are plenty of picturesque routes that will make your journey a memorable one. Whether you want to take the scenic route through the rolling hills of southern Illinois or explore the lush forests and sparkling lakes of Tennessee, there’s something for everyone on this route. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most stunning routes from Chicago to Chattanooga, so buckle up and prepare for an unforgettable adventure!

Long journeys should be worth it with an incredible experience. There are endlessly exciting and adventurous places and things to be seen and experienced along the way.

You have choices of routes to take with detours and tempting trails. We have picked one of the best routes without going off-route. This journey would take 14 hr 14 min over 809 miles. It takes two days to complete the drive, but you can spend more time if you wish to stay more than a day in one place. 

See The Full Route Map and Itinerary

Day 1

474 mi — about 7 hours, 58 mins

We start the day by passing a scenic route within reach of Chicago. The journey begins by heading towards the Duncan Hines scenic byway. It takes about 7hrs to complete the journey of 474 miles.

  • Chicago, IL
  • Duncan Hines Scenic Byway

Travel Overview: 6 hours 50 minutes — 421 mi

Say goodbye to Chicago as you approach the exciting Duncan Hines scenic byway. 

Stop in Sweeden, KY.

In Sweeden, find attractions and events in Bowling Green, Kentucky, home to the National Corvette Museum, Downing Museum, Lost River Cave, and more exciting places. 

Day 2

335 mi — about 6 hours, 16 mins

Duncan Hines Scenic Byway

Travel Overview: 56 minutes — 45 mi

This drive combines the legacy of Duncan Hines, the inventor of the infamous cake mix, the birthplace of the Corvette, and the fascinating landscape of Mammoth Cave. Mammoth cave is the world’s longest cave system. 

Mammoth Cave came out of the natural process of limestone erosion, known as karst topography ( During this process, rain and rivers slowly dissolve and shape soft limestone, creating a system of caves. Mammoth Cave is a limestone labyrinth with more than 400 miles, and the park estimates a potential for another 600 miles in its system (

The drive begins and ends in the town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. You may have been wondering why spending a day in this town. There are so many activities depending on your schedule that you can visit before heading out or completing your journey. 

Duncan Hines is well-known for the cake mix. Duncan Hines is a name that emerged from one of the first travel reviewers Mr. Hines. The guy traveled the U.S. frequently and kept a journal compiling a list of the best restaurants, hotels, and motels. 

Kentucky is home to yet another recognizable brand name. The Fruit of the Loom Headquarters (A1) is in Bowling. Stock up at the Brand Shop that showcases Fruit of The Loom and its family of products.

You will enjoy the rain buffs if you love the Historic RailPark and Train Museum, which explores train travel’s social and cultural history. Climb aboard five restored railcars; the 1921 Railroad Post Office Car, the Duncan Hines Diner, the Towering Pine Sleeper, the Presidential Office Car, and the Little Red Caboose.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

The drive begins on US-31W, heading north at Duncan Hines’ original home, which is now a funeral home. There is a historical marker on the Hines. Throughout the drive, the road trip features country roads revealing rolling hills with grazing cattle and family farms. That is a picnic-perfect seasonal produce filled with flowers, art, and crafts.

The quaint town of Smiths Grove is a treasure hunter’s dream. Discover endless antique and vintage collectible shops. Mammoth Cave National Park is in the Green River Valley (H1). Over 400 miles of passages are explored, and there’s still more to discover. 

It descends into a magical labyrinth of rock spires, dripping formations, waterfalls, and a subterranean river. There are multiple creatures, such as eyeless freshwater cave shrimp, crayfish, beetles, and bats, but you are unlikely to meet any. 

The tours are different with a range of length and difficulty, from the easy 1/4-mile Frozen Niagara Tour has only 12 stairs, to the 3/4 mile Domes and Dripstones tour, including 500 stairs, to the strenuous 5-mile Wild Cave Tour, traveling through passageways and require climbing and crawling. If you are up for an adventure, go for the latter.

All tours are ranger-guided. Make a reservation since they cannot be on the same day. Check the park website for tour options, schedule, and pricing. With over 52,000 acres, Mammoth Cave National Park offers many other recreational activities. There are 84 miles of hiking trails, biking, and horseback riding. 

The Green River and Nolin River meander through the park and you can have a canoe or kayak excursion or fish for bluegill, bass, and perch. Mammoth Cave Campground offers sites for tents, trailers, and RVs which can be reserved. Houchin Ferry Campground gives you 12 primitive sites, although not for large trailers or RVs, and Maple Springs Campground is geared for equestrian groups. The park is free to enter and there is a fee for cave tours.

To continue your drive, take the Green River Ferry and fit only three cars. The short ride across is free. Continuing on KY-728, you arrive at Nolin Lake and have three recreation areas. Nolin Lake State Paros offers swimming, boating, fishing for bass, walleye, catfish, and camping. There are campsites for tents, RV’s, and three for the disabled. The Brier Recreation Area (H2) features the Creek Mountain Bike Trail System designed by the Southwest Kentucky Mountain Bike Association. 

It has miles of challenging trails for all levels of biking and hiking. In April, you get a warm welcome from spring wildflowers such as Spring Beauty, Bluets, or Quaker Ladies. Take a cruise in a canoe, kayak, or on paddle-board. The vantage point reveals rock formations along the shore. The Brier Recreation Area (H2) and Moutardier Recreation Area (H4) further sit along the shore of Nolin River Lake. They offer fishing, boating, and camping. Check out some boat rentals, supplies, restaurants, and cabin rentals.

South of Nolin Dam Road is an easy hike to the top of Dismal Rock with views of Nolin Dam and the surrounding landscape. The rock is an interesting destination for rock climbers. The road continues through Bee Spring, Brownsville, and loops back to Smiths Grove before heading back to Bowling Green where your drive ends.

  • Duncan Hines Scenic Byway

Travel Overview: — 0 mi

  • Chattanooga, TN

Travel Overview: 3 hours 15 minutes — 191 mi

Stop in Chattanooga, TN.

810 miles — about 14 hours 13 minutes of driving — 2-day trip — about 137.15

After a long drive of three hours and 15 mins, you have finally arrived at your destination. You get to leave the caves and enter the cities as you approach Chattanooga, TN. Chattanooga is a great place to stop. There are lots of things to do here including shows, visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, Lookout Mountain, Raccoon Mountain,  Caverns, Walnut Street Bridge, Ruby Falls, and many more. 

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of scenic roads along the way, but this is one of the best routes. Take your time to enjoy this road trip and the beautiful scenery that comes with it. Take the 5-mile Wild Cave Tour, traveling through passageways, climbing, and crawling, be cautious. Enjoy every moment and take photos.

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