Looking to make the classic American road trip drive from Washington, DC to Chicago? As two of the nation’s most iconic cities, Washington and Chicago are linked by history, culture, and now – your road trip!
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The drive from Washington, DC to Chicago is around 775 miles and takes about 12 hours of non-stop driving time. The most direct route goes through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana before arriving in Chicago.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide everything you need to plan an epic DC to Chicago road trip. We’ll go over optimal routes, must-see stops along the way, where to stay, and tips for saving money on gas.
Choosing the Best Route from DC to Chicago
Planning a road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago? One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is which route to take. Here are some options to consider:
Most Direct Route
If you’re looking for the quickest way to get from DC to Chicago, the most direct route is to take Interstate 90, also known as the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. This route will take you west through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana before reaching Illinois.
It’s a well-maintained highway with plenty of rest stops along the way, making it a popular choice for travelers who want to get to their destination as quickly as possible.
For those who prefer a more scenic drive, there are a few alternative routes to consider. One option is to take US-50, also known as the Midland Trail. This route will take you through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, offering breathtaking views along the way.
Another option is to take US-30, also known as the Lincoln Highway. This historic route will take you through charming small towns and picturesque countryside. While these routes may take a bit longer than the most direct route, they offer the opportunity to see some of the country’s natural beauty.
Major Highways to Take
Regardless of which route you choose, you’ll likely be traveling on major highways for a significant portion of your journey. Along with Interstate 90, there are a few other major highways to consider.
Interstate 70 is another popular option, especially for those coming from the southern part of Washington, DC. This route will take you through Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio before connecting with Interstate 75, which will take you into Illinois.
Another option is to take Interstate 80, which will take you through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and finally Illinois. Whichever highway you choose, be sure to plan your rest stops and fuel stops ahead of time to ensure a smooth journey.
Key Road Trip Stops Between DC and Chicago
Great Appalachian Valley (West Virginia)
As you embark on your road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago, make sure to include a stop at the beautiful Great Appalachian Valley in West Virginia. This scenic region offers breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains, picturesque small towns, and opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and camping.
Take a moment to immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature and snap some Instagram-worthy photos of the stunning landscapes. Don’t miss the chance to visit the renowned New River Gorge Bridge, one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world, offering stunning views of the surrounding area.
Continuing your journey, the vibrant city of Columbus, Ohio awaits you with its rich history, diverse culture, and exciting attractions. Explore the charming German Village, known for its well-preserved brick houses and cobblestone streets.
Visit the world-class Columbus Museum of Art and immerse yourself in the impressive collection of artworks. For sports enthusiasts, catch a game at the Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium, affectionately known as “The Horseshoe,” and experience the electric atmosphere of college football.
Indulge in delicious cuisine at one of the city’s many renowned restaurants, offering a variety of international flavors.
As you approach the halfway point of your road trip, make a stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, and discover the exciting attractions this city has to offer. Visit the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the famous Indianapolis 500 race, and take a tour of the track or even experience the thrill of driving a race car yourself.
Explore the vibrant downtown area and stroll along the scenic Canal Walk, lined with restaurants, shops, and beautiful architecture. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art, one of the largest and oldest art museums in the country, showcasing an impressive collection of artworks spanning various periods and styles.
Throughout your journey, make sure to enjoy the scenic drives, stop at charming roadside diners for a taste of local cuisine, and create lasting memories. Remember to plan your trip ahead of time, considering the distance between each stop and the time you have available. Safe travels!
Lodging and Accommodations for the Drive
When embarking on a road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago, it is important to plan for lodging and accommodations along the way. Whether you prefer the comfort of hotels, the affordability of motels, or the adventure of camping, there are plenty of options to choose from.
If you are looking for a comfortable and luxurious stay, hotels are a great option. There are a number of well-known hotel chains along the route, such as Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt, that offer a range of amenities including spacious rooms, on-site restaurants, fitness centers, and swimming pools.
Booking a hotel room in advance can ensure that you have a place to rest and relax after a long day of driving.
If you are on a budget or prefer a simpler accommodation, motels are a convenient choice. Motels typically offer basic amenities such as clean rooms, parking facilities, and easy access to the highway.
They are often located near gas stations and restaurants, making them a convenient option for travelers. Popular motel chains such as Motel 6 and Super 8 can be found along the route.
For those seeking a more adventurous experience, camping can be a great option. There are numerous campgrounds and RV parks along the way, where you can pitch a tent or park your RV. Camping allows you to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the scenic beauty of the areas you pass through.
Some campgrounds offer facilities such as showers, restrooms, and picnic areas. It is recommended to check the availability and make reservations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.
Before finalizing your lodging and accommodation plans, it is advisable to research and read reviews from other travelers. Websites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com can provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions about where to stay.
Saving Money on Gas and Expenses
Budgeting for Fuel Costs
When planning a road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago, it is important to budget for fuel costs. Gas prices can vary along the route, so it’s a good idea to research current prices and calculate an estimate based on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
Websites like GasBuddy.com can help you find the cheapest gas stations along the way.
Another way to save on fuel costs is to drive efficiently. Avoid aggressive driving, such as rapid acceleration and braking, as these can decrease your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Maintaining a steady speed and using cruise control when possible can also help you save on gas.
Discounts & Rewards Programs
Before hitting the road, consider signing up for discounts and rewards programs that can help you save money on gas and other expenses. Many gas stations offer loyalty programs that provide discounts on fuel purchases.
It’s also worth checking if your existing memberships, such as AAA or warehouse club memberships, offer any fuel discounts or benefits. These programs can provide additional savings on gas and other travel-related expenses.
Packing Food for the Drive
One way to save money on your road trip is by packing food for the drive. Instead of relying on expensive highway restaurants or fast food chains, bring along a cooler with sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. This not only saves you money but also allows you to have healthier options during the journey.
Make a list of the foods you will need and consider any dietary restrictions or preferences of your travel companions. Non-perishable snacks like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruits are great options.
Don’t forget to pack utensils, napkins, and reusable water bottles to reduce waste and save money on bottled drinks.
By budgeting for fuel costs, taking advantage of discounts and rewards programs, and packing food for the drive, you can save money on gas and other expenses during your road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago. Happy travels!
Road Trip Itineraries and Schedules
Two Day Itinerary
For travelers looking to make the drive from Washington, DC to Chicago in just two days, it is important to plan an efficient and enjoyable route. The total driving distance between these two cities is approximately 700 miles, so it is crucial to allocate enough time for both driving and sightseeing.
One suggested route is to take Interstate 70 West from Washington, DC to Columbus, Ohio, and then switch to Interstate 65 North to reach Chicago. This route allows for a scenic drive through the beautiful countryside of Ohio and Indiana.
Here is a sample two-day itinerary:
- Day 1:
- Depart Washington, DC early in the morning.
- Make a stop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for breakfast and to explore the city’s famous attractions.
- Continue driving through the picturesque Ohio countryside and reach Columbus by mid-afternoon.
- Spend the evening exploring Columbus and enjoying its vibrant food and music scene.
- Day 2:
- Start the day early and drive from Columbus to Chicago.
- Arrive in Chicago by early afternoon and check into your hotel.
- Explore the famous sights of Chicago, such as Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
- End the day with a delicious deep-dish pizza dinner and take in the stunning views of the city skyline.
Three Day Itinerary
If you have a bit more time to spare, a three-day itinerary allows for a more relaxed and immersive road trip experience. This itinerary includes additional stops along the way, allowing you to explore more cities and attractions.
Here is a sample three-day itinerary:
- Day 1:
- Depart Washington, DC in the morning.
- Stop in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to visit the historic Gettysburg National Military Park.
- Continue driving to Pittsburgh and spend the evening exploring the city’s vibrant downtown area.
- Day 2:
- Start the day early and drive from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Ohio.
- Explore the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
- Continue driving to Toledo and spend the evening enjoying the city’s waterfront attractions.
- Day 3:
- Depart Toledo in the morning and drive to Chicago.
- Arrive in Chicago by mid-afternoon and check into your hotel.
- Spend the rest of the day exploring the city’s world-class museums, shopping districts, and iconic landmarks.
Remember, these itineraries are just suggestions, and you can customize them based on your own interests and preferences. Happy road tripping!
A road trip from Washington, DC to Chicago offers the classic American travel experience. With thorough planning using the tips in this guide, you’re ready to hit the open road and take in all the sights, sounds and attractions along the way.
Safe travels and enjoy the scenic landscapes and urban delights as you drive between these two amazing American cities!