Choosing the most scenic route is essential if you plan a road trip from Chicago, IL to New Orleans, LA. Long journeys are more intriguing when they come with an incredible experience. There are a lot of exciting and glorious places and things to be seen and experienced along the way.
There might be endless routes, including detours and tempting trails to take. I have suggested one of the best without going off-route. This journey would take 37 hrs 47 min over 2, 143 miles and cost about $364.43 of fuel. That is approximately five days. You can travel in less time if there are multiple drivers involved.View the Full Route Map and Itinerary
Table Of Contents
438 mi — about 7 hours, 58 mins
Ohio River Scenic Byway – Indiana Section
Travel Overview: 4 hours 47 minutes — 285 mi
The Ohio River Scenic Byway spans Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. That scenic drive starts in Mount Vernon, near the border of Illinois, to Lawrenceburg, near the edge of Ohio. There are rock formations to the left. Before heading out, visit the Shawnee National Forest in neighboring Illinois (Exploratoryglory.com). The Garden of the Gods Recreation Area (H9), formed about 320 million years ago, shows toadstool-shaped rocks, spires, a sandstone staircase, caves, streams, and delicate waterfalls. Take caution near high cliffs.
There is a fee to enter all Indiana State Parks. Harmonie State Park (H1) offers hiking, bridling, mountain biking trails, and fishing. There is also an Olympic-sized swimming pool for a small day-use fee. The Evansville African American Museum (M1) highlights the contributions of African Americans in Evansville and the Tri-State area using permanent and rotating exhibits, lectures, workshops, and activities. A small entrance fee is paid, and operating hours vary, so please check the website
in time. Birders and nature lovers may love to detour across the Ohio River to Kentucky to visit the John James Audubon State Park (H2) and Museum. Explore the museum features artifacts, original furnishings, and a complete set of The Birds of America. At the park, enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, and golfing. Stay overnight camping or in a cottage rental.
Visit Indiana’s first National Park, The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (A19), and get a glimpse of Lincoln’s life from 1816 to 1830 when he lived here with his family through exhibits, artifacts, and film presentations at the Memorial Visitor Center. Walk around the homestead visiting the Lincoln Living Historical Farm with livestock and gardens, the Cabin Site Memorial, Lincoln Spring, and Pioneer Cemetery, where Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Lincoln’s mother, is buried.
Stop for photos of the giant Welcome to Santa Clause Indiana sign, and enjoy the Santa Claus Museum and Village, Santa’s Candy Castle, and the Santa Claus Christmas Store. The road continues through the rolling hills of Hoosier National Forest. The German Ridge Recreation Area has a 24-mile trail open to hikers, horseback, and mountain bike riders.
There are two different tour options, one easy and one that requires you to navigate stairs and steep terrain. Try the easy 1-mile Sharp Spring Trail loops around wetlands and the 1.5-mile hike to high bluffs overlooking the Ohio River. At the Wyandotte Caves (A2), admire unique flowstone and dripstone rock formations inside limestone caves.
Take a tour at the Squire Boone Caverns (A6), home to unique stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws, columns, draperies, and more. The other three sites are Bluespring Caverns (A18), Indiana Caverns (A3), and Marengo Cave (A5).
Hike, bike, or drive 1.5 miles to the George Rogers Clark Cabin Home Site to learn about the American Revolutionary War hero and to stand at the departure site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Enjoy a picnic, wildlife, and bird watching at the Lewis and Clark statue. Downtown Jeffersonville has shops, restaurants, Vintage Fire Museum, and more.
Tour around the wooded trails and boardwalks at Charlestown State. There are four waterfalls at Clifty Falls State Park (H8). Those are the 60-foot Clifty Falls, Little Clifty Falls, Hoffman Falls, and Tunnel Falls. Hikes for every level await, including a paved ADA-accessible path at Clifty Falls, and other trails have a lot of stairs. Observe unique rock formations like Cake Rock,
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge allows you to observe more than 200 species of birds, including 500 pairs of state-endangered Henslow’s sparrows. Enjoy hiking, mountain bike trails, fishing, on-site paddle-boat, canoe rentals, a playground, camping, and a 25-meter swimming pool and water slide at Versailles State Park. Swimming is prohibited in Versailles Lake. The scenic drive ends in Lawrenceburg.
Stop in Cannelton, IN.
455 mi — about 7 hours, 59 mins
Ohio River Scenic Byway – Indiana Section2
Travel Overview: 2 hours 25 minutes — 116 mi
Red River Gorge Scenic Byway
Travel Overview: 4 hours 8 minutes — 267 mi
This drive travels through the Red River Gorge National Geological Area from Stanton to Zachariah, Kentucky. There are sandstone bluffs, rock shelters, and waterfalls. Hence the Red River Gorge is a designated National Natural Landmark. You will find types of trails for every level, and some hikes are easy. Exercise caution as there are exposed high cliffs and other rock hazards.
Your drive begins in Stanton, heading west on KY-11 as you pass through Nada Tunnel (B1)—Gateway to the Red River Gorge. After crossing the steel bridge, the byway follows the twists and turns of Red River, the first National Wild and Scenic River in Kentucky. After the tunnel, turn left to access the Auxier Ridge Parking Area (H1). All trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest are numbered, making them user-friendly.
You can hike for hours or take a short stroll and enjoy a vibrant forest of ferns, rhododendrons, beech, sugar maple, hemlock, and hickory trees. Birders can observe over 100 species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Learn about the cultural heritage and the surrounding geology through interpretive exhibits at the Gladie Cultural Environmental Learning Center (A2). You get information on hiking, camping, and free ranger-led activities.
The road continues on KY-715, skirting the Clifty Wilderness. Stop at Tower Rock trail #229 to explore or climb the massive rocky outcrop. Consider a detour from the byway to Rock Bridge Recreation Area (H4) to explore Rock Bridge Arch, trail #207, the only arch that spans the water. Nearby is the graceful Creation Falls. The Sky Bridge Recreation Area (H5) features picnic tables, accessible services, and trails.
The byway continues to Natural Bridge State Resort Park with many other rock features and trails. This park has an impressive array of amenities, making it a great overnight base. You can stay in Hemlock Lodge, a cottage rental, or camp at Whittleton Campground or Middle Fork Campground. Enjoy fishing for bass, sunfish, rainbow trout, and channel catfish in Mill Creek Lake.
The byway officially ends in ends in Zacharia. Consider a visit to Beattyville. Paddle along the Kentucky River, then stroll Main Street shopping for antiques and savor delicious. Visit Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Stay overnight in a cottage or cabin rental, in the beautiful DuPont Lodge, or camping
Driving towards Old Frankfort Pike. Stop in Clay City, KY.
424 mi — about 7 hours, 59 mins
Old Frankfort Pike
Travel Overview: 38 minutes — 38 mi
The 18-mile scenic drive meanders through the Kentucky Bluegrass Region from Lexington to Frankfort. Learn about different breeds and riding disciplines as you explore the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum, the Show Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Hall of Champions. There is an entrance fee.
The scenic drive begins in downtown Lexington on Manchester St., heading west, which becomes Old Frankfort Pike, KY-1681. At the intersection of KY-62, consider a detour from the byway. Head left brings you shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Turn left, and you head to the town of Versailles. Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World. Take a tour to observe how their small-batch bourbon is crafted, grab a bite, and splurge on bourbon chocolates. Another stop on the Bourbon Tail is just a short drive north to Lawrenceburg. At Wild Turkey Distillery (A6), please take a tour, taste, and savor the complex flavors of their different blends.
Continue on KY-1681 through rural countryside to Frankfort, where the Old Frankfort Pike ends. From Frankfort, Louisville is just an hour away. The Kentucky Derby Museum (M3) is at Gate 1 of Churchill Downs. Visit the factory on a guided tour to learn the story from its early beginnings making roller skids and swinging butter churns. On Highlands Row between Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue, there is a culinary scene and the highest density of restaurants and bars in Louisville.
Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway
Travel Overview: 53 minutes — 44 mi
This scenic drive from Hodgenville to Danville, Kentucky, explores the landscape of Abraham Lincoln’s early years and significant Civil War sites. Discover friendly small towns, a devoted religious heritage, and a bourbon country. This drive is an easy getaway, just one hour from Louisville, Lexington, Kentucky, or Nashville , Tennessee.
The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail provides information, maps, passport, bus tours, and bike routes to visit nine distilleries in the surrounding area (Kybourbontrail.com). The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park (A1) begins this journey. In Hodgenville, the Lincoln Museum (M1) features historically accurate dioramas of Lincoln’s life, wax figures, artifacts, and memorabilia. Consider a 30-minute detour from the byway to visit Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse (A9), where guided tours take you through the mashing, distilling, barreling, storing, and bottling of bourbon.
Visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and Bardstown Historical Museum (M3) in Spalding Hall. Discover a collection of whiskey artifacts from pre-colonial to post-Prohibition days. Just 1.5 miles from downtown is My Old Kentucky Home State Park (H1). Relax in nature, picnic, do some bird watching, peruse hand-made crafts such as quilts, pottery, and woodwork in the gift shop,
Continue on the byway. In Springfield, there are two other Lincoln attractions. Lincoln Homestead State Park (H2) features the original home of Lincoln’s mother and his uncle Mordecai Lincoln. Pick up a tour booklet in Perryville and walk a self-guided route downtown to see 35 historic homes. The byway continues to Danville, located in the Kentucky Bluegrass Region. Your drive ends here in Danville.
Duncan Hines Scenic Byway
Travel Overview: 1 hour 15 minutes — 75 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, the world’s longest-known cave system. It begins and ends in the vibrant town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Do not miss a trip to the Paducah National Quilt Museum (M4). Peruse exquisite antique and contemporary quilts, and fiber art, observe local quilters at work on Wednesdays, and participate in the museum’s renowned workshops and educational programs. There is a fee to enter.
Tour the Lost River Cave (A3) via an underground boat cruise to learn the history and science behind the interesting geologic rock formations. There is a fee for tours. Your drive officially begins on US-31W, heading north at Duncan Hines’ original home. The roads reveal rolling hills with grazing cattle and family farms, many selling picnic-perfect seasonal produce, flowers, art, and crafts.
Check the park website for tour options, schedule, and pricing. With over 52,000 acres, Mammoth Cave National Park offers many other recreational activities (Nps.gov). There are 84 miles of hiking trails, biking, and horseback riding. The Green River and Nolin River meander through the park, perfect for a canoe, kayak excursion or fishing for bluegill, bass, and perch. To continue our drive, you take the Green River Ferry, which fits only three cars. The short ride across is free.
Continuing on KY-728, you arrive at Nolin Lake, which has three recreation areas. You’ll find miles of challenging trails for all levels of biking and hiking. South of Nolin Dam Road is an easy hike to the top of Dismal Rock which rewards with views of Nolin Dam and the surrounding landscape. The rock is a popular 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.
Driving towards Louisiana Bayou Byway. Stop in Brentwood, TN.
527 mi — about 8 hours, 6 mins
Louisiana Bayou Byway
Travel Overview: 8 hours 6 minutes — 528 mi
Your scenic drive begins in Lafayette and travels to Lafitte, near New Orleans. Before heading out on this scenic drive, learn about Acadian, Cajun, Creole, and Native American culture at Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park (M3). Experience the Museum exhibits, artifacts, films, and ranger-led programs that tell the story of the Acadians who came to Louisiana primarily from Eastern Canada and became the Cajuns. Stroll through the Healers Garden surrounding La Maison Acadienne to see medicinal plants used in Southern Louisiana. Admission is free.
Louisiana is lively and warm. Warm people, warm weather, and a deep spirit flow through this region. Many festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Take the 2.5-mile walking trail that skirts one side of Lake Martin to observe birds, alligators, and amphibians.
In Martinville, visit the Longfellow Evangeline State Historic Site. Tour the interpretive center, Maison Oliver, an original Creole plantation built in 1850, and a reconstruction of an Acadian farmstead. Stretching from Lafayette to New Orleans,
If time allows, consider a side trip to explore the bayous. In Patterson, visit the Louisiana State Museum. Cross the bridge into Morgan City, the midpoint of the drive. Nearby is the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge, explored with a boat tour, a walking trail, and an observation deck near the refuge office for a chance to spot cranes, egrets, bald eagles, and alligators.
Continue on LA-90 East. Another section of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is the Barataria Preserve. The Barataria Museum reveals the history and lore of this notorious pirate and the story of this fishing village. The drive officially ends here.
Stop in Jefferson, LA.
300 mi — about 5 hours, 48 mins
Louisiana Bayou Byway
Travel Overview: 3 hours 34 minutes — 172 mi
New Orleans, LA
Travel Overview: 2 hours 13 minutes — 128 mi
You can continue to New Orleans or visit Venice on LA-23 for more adventure to the beautiful and vulnerable coastline. Venice is 30 minutes from New Orleans, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Amongst the activities to do in New Orleans are City tours, walking tours, museums, cultural tours, airboat tours, historic sites, half-day tours, and plantation tours.
Stop in New Orleans, LA.
2,143 miles — about 37 hours 47 minutes of driving — 5-day trip — about $363.36 of fuel
In conclusion, the given route in this article is filled with adventure, fun, and more exciting activities worth the journey. Take your time to enjoy this road trip and the beautiful scenery along the way. There are plenty of scenic roads along the way. Drive cautiously, take loads of photos, and enjoy every moment.