Road Trip Guide: Driving From Chicago To Denver

Pack your bags for an epic American road trip! The drive from Chicago to Denver traverses over 1,000 miles across the Heartland, serving up endless views of farms, prairies, and big open skies. You’ll wind through major cities like Omaha and slice through the Rocky Mountains before arriving in the Mile High City. If a Chicago to Denver road trip is on your bucket list, here’s everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable Midwest adventure on the open road.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick overview: The Chicago to Denver drive covers over 1,000 miles which takes about 16-17 hours of nonstop driving. The most direct route goes through Iowa and Nebraska along I-80, with scenic detours possible. Road trippers should plan for overnight stops, budget for gas/food, pack wisely, and build in time for sightseeing.

Chicago to Denver Road Trip Route and Timing

Most Direct Route on I-80

If you’re looking for the quickest way to get from Chicago to Denver, taking Interstate 80 is your best bet. This major highway runs east to west and will take you straight through the heartland of America.

The drive from Chicago to Denver along I-80 covers approximately 1,000 miles and can be completed in around 16 hours, depending on traffic and weather conditions. It’s a relatively straightforward route that will allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

Scenic Alternatives

If you prefer a more scenic drive and have some extra time to spare, there are a few alternative routes you can consider. One option is to take Interstate 90 west from Chicago, which will eventually connect with Interstate 25 in Wyoming.

This route will take you through the beautiful Badlands National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota, offering stunning views along the way.

Another scenic option is to take Route 6, also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. This road will take you through several charming small towns and picturesque landscapes, including the Mississippi River valley and the Great Plains.

While this route may add some extra time to your journey, it’s definitely worth considering if you’re in the mood for a more leisurely and scenic drive.

Length of Drive and Overnight Stop Options

The drive from Chicago to Denver can be quite long, so it’s a good idea to plan for some overnight stops along the way. One popular option is to spend the night in Omaha, Nebraska, which is roughly halfway between the two cities.

Omaha offers a variety of accommodations, restaurants, and attractions to make your overnight stay enjoyable.

If you prefer to break up the drive into smaller segments, you can also consider stopping in smaller towns along the route, such as Des Moines, Iowa or North Platte, Nebraska. These towns offer a more relaxed atmosphere and a chance to experience some local charm.

When planning your road trip, make sure to check for any road closures, construction, or weather conditions that may affect your journey. It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan and be prepared for any unexpected delays.

For more information on road conditions and travel tips, you can visit the Federal Highway Administration website. They provide up-to-date information on road conditions, traffic, and safety tips for travelers.

Chicago to Denver Road Trip Itinerary Ideas and Attractions

Major Attractions and Sightseeing Stops

Embarking on a road trip from Chicago to Denver offers an exciting adventure filled with stunning landscapes, charming towns, and fascinating attractions along the way. Here are some major attractions and sightseeing stops to consider including in your itinerary:

  1. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis: As you make your way west, a visit to the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a must. Take a ride to the top of the arch for breathtaking views of the city and the Mississippi River.
  2. The Ozark Mountains: As you continue your journey, the picturesque Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri offer a tranquil escape. Explore the scenic hiking trails, go fishing in the crystal-clear rivers, or simply enjoy the serenity of nature.
  3. Kansas City: Stopover in Kansas City and experience its vibrant arts scene and delicious barbecue. Visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, indulge in some mouthwatering Kansas City-style ribs, and catch a live jazz performance in one of the city’s renowned jazz clubs.
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park: As you approach Denver, make sure to set aside time to explore the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. Hike through alpine meadows, marvel at towering peaks, and spot wildlife such as elk and bighorn sheep.

These are just a few of the many attractions and sights you can encounter on your road trip from Chicago to Denver. Be sure to plan your itinerary according to your interests and allow for some flexibility to discover hidden gems along the way.

Where to Eat, Drink and Sleep Along the Way

While on your road trip from Chicago to Denver, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to savor delicious food, enjoy refreshing drinks, and find comfortable accommodations. Here are some recommendations for where to eat, drink, and sleep along the way:

  1. Chicago: Before starting your journey, indulge in Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s. Grab a craft beer at Revolution Brewing or Goose Island Brewery before hitting the road.
  2. Kansas City: Known for its barbecue, Kansas City offers a wide range of mouthwatering options. Try the burnt ends at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que or the ribs at Arthur Bryant’s. Wash it down with a local craft beer from Boulevard Brewing Company.
  3. Denver: As you reach your final destination, make sure to sample some of Denver’s culinary delights. Enjoy a meal at one of the city’s farm-to-table restaurants such as Root Down or Fruition. Quench your thirst with a craft beer from one of the many breweries in the RiNo district.

When it comes to accommodations, there are numerous options along the route. From boutique hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts, you’ll find a range of places to rest and rejuvenate. Websites like and Airbnb can help you find the perfect place to stay.

Remember, part of the joy of a road trip is discovering local eateries and unique accommodations, so don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and try something new!

Planning and Packing Tips for a Chicago to Denver Drive

Budgeting for Expenses

Before embarking on your road trip from Chicago to Denver, it’s essential to create a budget to ensure you have enough funds to cover all your expenses. Start by estimating the cost of fuel for the entire trip.

You can use online calculators or apps to get a rough estimate based on the distance between the two cities and your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Don’t forget to account for tolls and parking fees along the way.

Additionally, consider your accommodation expenses. Depending on your preferences, you can choose to stay in budget-friendly motels or splurge on more luxurious hotels. Research the average prices in the cities you plan to stop at and allocate a suitable amount for each night.

Lastly, don’t overlook food expenses. While it’s tempting to indulge in tasty roadside treats, dining out at every meal can quickly add up. To save money, pack some snacks and drinks for the journey, and plan to have a few meals at affordable restaurants or picnics in scenic spots along the way.

Vehicle Preparation

Preparing your vehicle for a long road trip is crucial to ensure a smooth and safe journey. Start by checking the condition of your tires, including the tread depth and inflation levels. Properly inflated tires can improve fuel efficiency and reduce the risk of a blowout.

If necessary, consider investing in a set of all-season or winter tires, depending on the weather conditions during your trip.

Next, check your car’s fluids, including the engine oil, coolant, and brake fluid. Top them up if needed and make sure your windshield wiper fluid is also filled. It’s also a good idea to have your car inspected by a mechanic to address any potential issues before hitting the road.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack an emergency kit in your car. This should include items like a spare tire, jumper cables, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and a roadside assistance contact number. It’s always better to be prepared for unexpected situations.

Road Trip Packing Essentials

When it comes to packing for a road trip, it’s important to strike a balance between being prepared and not overpacking. Here are some essential items to include:

  • Maps or a GPS device to navigate your way
  • Snacks and drinks for the journey
  • Entertainment options such as music, audiobooks, or podcasts
  • Comfortable clothing and shoes
  • Blankets and pillows for added comfort during rest stops
  • Toiletries and personal hygiene products
  • Chargers for your electronic devices
  • Reusable water bottles to stay hydrated
  • A camera to capture memorable moments

Remember to pack efficiently, utilizing the available space in your vehicle wisely. Keep essential items within easy reach, and make sure the weight is evenly distributed to maintain stability while driving.

By following these planning and packing tips, you’ll be well-prepared for your road trip from Chicago to Denver, ensuring a memorable and enjoyable adventure.

Driving Tips and Safety for Chicago to Denver

Obeying Speed Limits

When embarking on a road trip from Chicago to Denver, it’s crucial to adhere to the speed limits along the way. Not only is it the law, but it also ensures your safety and the safety of others on the road.

Speeding reduces your ability to react to unexpected situations and increases the risk of accidents. Remember, it’s better to arrive a little later than to risk your life by rushing. Stay within the posted speed limits and enjoy the journey at a safe pace.

Cautious Winter Driving

Winter weather conditions can pose a challenge when driving from Chicago to Denver, especially through areas like the Rocky Mountains. Before setting off, check the weather forecast and road conditions. If snow or ice is expected, it’s essential to take precautions.

Equip your vehicle with snow tires or chains, and ensure you have a functioning defrosting system. Drive at a speed appropriate for the conditions and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. If the weather becomes too severe, consider delaying your trip or seeking alternative routes.

Avoiding Fatigue

Long drives can be tiring, so it’s important to prioritize rest and avoid fatigue. Start your journey well-rested and take regular breaks along the way. Plan stops at scenic viewpoints or interesting attractions to break up the monotony of the drive.

Share driving responsibilities with a companion if possible, and use caffeine in moderation to stay alert. Remember, drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. Stay safe by staying awake and attentive throughout your road trip.

Vehicle Maintenance

Before embarking on your road trip, make sure your vehicle is in good condition. Check the oil, tire pressure, and fluid levels. Ensure that your brakes, lights, and wipers are functioning properly. It’s also a good idea to have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic to address any potential issues.

Being proactive about maintenance can help prevent breakdowns and ensure a smooth journey. Additionally, pack an emergency kit containing essentials such as a flashlight, jumper cables, and a spare tire in case of unforeseen circumstances.


A Chicago to Denver road trip takes you through the Heartland’s sprawling prairies, history-filled cities, and the majestic Rocky Mountains. With thoughtful planning and preparation, you’re ready to hit the open road for an unforgettable Midwest adventure. Drive safely, take time to cherish the journey, and enjoy the freedom of the wind in your hair. Your epic trip awaits – it’s time to point your wheels toward the Mile High City and soak up everything in between!

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