Help us plan a Southern road trip from Chicago!
December 28, 2013 9:17 AM   Subscribe

We have 7-10 days for a road trip (leaving from Chicago in a couple days) and are thinking of exploring the South by car. Where should we stop, and what should we see? Thoughts we've had include driving towards Florida or Savannah and hitting Cattanooga, Asheville, Bowling Green, and/or Nashville. We will have one dog with us, so bonus points for State Parks or Forests where we can hike with her, but we'd like to see some towns or cities, too. Thank you, hive mind!
posted by walla to Travel & Transportation around United States (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Hm. The most obvious route that takes in all of those would be a straight drop down Kentucky from Louisville towards Nashville, then down and across to Chattanooga and Asheville, then head towards the coast, perhaps taking in Charleston along the way. I've done the Louisville-Asheville section, and the interstate is pretty much... interstate, as is I-26 south of Spartanburg once you clear the mountains, apart from a brief stretch through the Sumter National Forest.

For the Chattanooga-Asheville leg, you might try US 64/74 rather than I-40 through Knoxville. It's a winding, slightly challenging drive at times, and can either be very quiet or backed up, but the landscape is beautiful and puts you right in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests. Alternatively, if you were to go through Knoxville, which is not a bad option, that opens up the Smoky Mountains National Park more easily, and I'm sure Gatlinburg is at its kitschiest right now.

That gives you a certain kind of South.
posted by holgate at 9:41 AM on December 28, 2013

If you like food and music, there's a lot to be said for the historic trek from New Orleans to Memphis, and Memphis to Chicago. Reversed, in your case.
posted by Houstonian at 10:09 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mammoth Cave National Park -- easily accessible via I-65 and lots of fun exploring with or without dog. Should be warmish this time of year, but who knows these days? Close to Bowling Green, so you could hit up the Corvette Museum, the Kentucky Museum, and ... well, honestly, I'm not sure what else is there anymore. I grew up there but it's not a terribly exciting place. I'd do Mammoth Cave over BG if there are time constraints.
posted by mrfuga0 at 11:23 AM on December 28, 2013

It's not the most direct route to Florida, but you might want to do a loop where you're hitting the coast either on the way down or on your way home. Charleston and Savannah are some of the best places to explore and are within an easy drive of each other. Otherwise, southern Georgia is not the most interesting drive.

In Kentucky, the horse farms are pretty and the bourbon trail can be fun, but I'm not sure what that area is like in January. Also in KY, just outside of Cincinnati are some very, um, interesting museums: the Creation Museum and the Vent-Haven (ventriloquism museum).

Check out the route that holgate mentions. We drove up to Asheville (from Atlanta) in the fall and did the Pisgah forest route. It definitely took time to drive the windy roads, but it was really beautiful.

If you haven't been to New Orleans, you might consider it for this trip, but it'd be a stretch to do the East coast cities and get all the way over to N.O.
posted by pourtant at 1:49 PM on December 28, 2013

Please ignore the quackery of the rest of Kentucky and visit Louisville, if you plan to stop in Kentucky at all. We're something of an oasis. What's more, National Geographic Traveler magazine recently deemed the city as one of its “Best of the World” destinations.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:29 PM on December 28, 2013

I would head east first then down the coast. My major suggestion is once in Fl take I 10 to New Orleans and then take I 55 up through Memphis back to Chicago.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:45 PM on December 28, 2013

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