Driving from Chicago to Gatlinburg, Tennessee takes roughly 9.5 hours. The shortest roadway distance between the two cities is approximately 582 miles. This is a perfectly doable one-day car trip. Or, you might consider stopping for the night and enjoying visits to a few famous attractions along the way.
Finding Your Route
When driving from Chicago to Gatlinburg, you have two main route options, both of which take approximately the same amount of time: 9 hours and 15-30 minutes (without stops).
Route 1: Through Cincinnati, OH
Starting out from Chicago on I-94 E and I-65, this route will then take you through the outskirts of Indianapolis before heading east through the outskirts of Cincinnati and back through Lexington, finally arriving in Gatlinburg.
Route #2: Through Louisville, KY
This route begins the same as the route through Cincinnati (I-94 E to I-65 S), but does not divert to Cincinnati and instead heads south through Indianapolis and Louisville before reuniting with Lexington on the way to Gatlinburg.
Places to Stop Between Chicago and Gatlinburg
While it’s possible to make your trip in one day, you also might consider stopping for the night halfway between Chicago and Gatlinburg. Depending on your route, either Cincinnati, OH or Louisville, KY will be your best halfway-point options.
Cincinnati is roughly 4.5 hours from Chicago by car. If you stop here, you might consider spending a few hours at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden or the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for a bit of American history.
Louisville is also approximately 4.5 hours from Chicago by car. Here, you can visit Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, or the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory downtown.
Other Attractions Between Chicago and Gatlinburg
If you decide to stop for the night, breaking up your journey will also allow you to stop by a few of the other famous sites along the way:
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Auto racing enthusiasts won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana — home to the Indianapolis 500.
- Mammoth Cave National Park
Choosing the route through Louisville and going slightly west will allow you to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. The Mammoth Cave System is the longest-known in the world, stretching for more than 400 miles.
- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Within the Appalachian Mountains is a peaceful passageway, key to the American western expansion of early colonists and settlers: The Cumberland Gap. Explore the park and learn at the visitor center, or just enjoy a picnic on the beautiful grounds of this historic land.
Drive Straight Through — Enjoy More Time in the Mountains
We’ve noticed that many of our guests who arrive from Chicago prefer to drive straight through. Their reasoning? More time to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Smoky Mountains — the true reason you’re taking this trip.
After all, the sooner you get here, the sooner you can start your real vacation. As soon as you arrive, fall into your cabin, fully pre-stocked with all the groceries you’ll need for the duration of your stay, and hit the hot tub or crawl into bed for a luxurious sleep after a long day in the car.
The next morning, you’ll wake up rested and ready to take in the greatness and splendor of the Smoky Mountains. Spend your time exploring the area by foot, by local trolley, or by car. Lounge at your cabin. Head to town for some shopping or the attractions. Wherever you choose is within a few miles at most of all of our over 400 Gatlinburg cabin rentals and Pigeon Forge cabins. It’s your vacation to do with as you please.
In 2017, it is estimated that more than 11 million visitors from around the country and the world came to the Eastern United States to visit the Smoky Mountains. As John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
Start planning your visit to the Great Smoky Mountains today, and Happy Trails!