In the dead of winter when Chicago is at its coldest, you can’t help but think of warmer climes. You’ve always wanted to take the children to Orlando, and you wonder how feasible this would be to do by car. When road-tripping from Chicago to Orlando, what do you need to know?
To drive from Chicago to Orlando, you’ll cross through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia before finally reaching Florida. The trip cuts straight south and takes about 17 hours to complete. You’ll travel 1,156 miles in all.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to have a successful road trip to Orlando, including a recommended driving route, tips on when to stop for the night, and attractions to enjoy along the way!
The recommended route from Chicago to Orlando
It’s quite the trek driving from Orlando to Chicago, but the family togetherness you’ll get to enjoy with everyone in the car as well as all the memories you’ll make along the way (not to mention once you reach Orlando), make it worth it.
My recommendation is to plan several nights of overnight stays so you don’t burn out. You need to be sharp-eyed and clear-headed to transport your kids safely to Orlando, after all!
Without further ado then, let’s hit the road and drive from Chicago to Orlando.
Chicago to Indianapolis
Chicago is your only Illinois stop. Once you’ve got everything packed up and the kids in the car, you’ll drive to Indiana from Illinois until you reach Indianapolis.
Already, this is a long stretch of your drive, taking three hours without traffic. The route is mostly south but cuts a little southeast-ish.
Indy is Indiana’s state capital and the most populated in the state.
Should you get out of the car for a bit and explore (which you should as a reward to yourself for driving so long), you’ll find plenty of family-friendly entertainment throughout Indiana.
This city is home to arts centers, parks, zoos, museums, and pieces of racing history!
Indianapolis to Louisville
If you wanted to call it a day and stay overnight in Indianapolis, that’s certainly one option.
For those who feel like they can drive for a bit longer, it’s a two-hour trek to your next destination, which is Louisville, Kentucky.
You’ll drive southeast again until you cross this beautiful city overlooking the Ohio River. Like Indianapolis, Louisville is the largest city in its respective state of Kentucky.
If you’re into sports, you’ll be in paradise here, as Louisville is a major ode to both baseball and horse racing.
With amusement parks, caverns, zoos, and parks, you can keep the kids occupied in so many memorable ways.
Do be sure that if you didn’t cut off your driving for the day in Indy that you do it here in Louisville. You’ve been on the road for upwards of six hours today and need the rest!
Louisville to Brownsville
A new day has dawned and you’re ready to continue your road trip to Orlando.
Get an early start to beat the rush hour traffic. You won’t quite say goodbye to Kentucky yet, as you’ll next drive to Brownsville.
It’ll take you about an hour and a half to reach Brownsville when driving south.
Brownsville in Edmonson County is a small city that is best known for the nearby Mammoth Cave National Park, which I’ve reviewed on the blog before.
A wealth of caverns is in the area as well if you feel like exploring underground.
Brownsville to Nashville
Kentucky will fade from view as you continue your road trip, as your next stop is Nashville.
To get there, you’ll drive slightly southwest for an hour and a half.
Nashville is one of the music capitals of the United States and is also the capital of Tennessee. This ode to country music is the only place to see the Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry House, and Centennial Park.
Nashville to Chattanooga
As you continue to drive south through Tennessee, you’ll hit one more stop on your route, Chattanooga.
It should take you about two hours to reach this southeastern town if you don’t run into too much traffic.
Chattanooga features Appalachian Mountain foothills and gorgeous views of the Tennessee River.
If you’re into natural wonders, you’ll find no shortage here. Point Park features Civil War monuments, Rock City has natural gardens and sandstone formations, and Ruby Falls is a stunning waterfall.
You’ll have time to see it all if you want, as you should take a rest in Chattanooga for the night before driving any further.
Chattanooga to Atlanta
The next morning, when you and the kids wake up feeling as fresh as daisies, you’ll continue the last chunk of your road trip to Orlando.
As you exit Tennessee southward, you’ll cross into Georgia. About two hours from Chattanooga is Atlanta, which is a wonderful place to stop and stay for a while.
The capital city of Georgia, Atlanta features amusement parks, children’s museums, aquariums, and a museum dedicated to all things Coca-Cola. The kids won’t be bored here one iota!
Atlanta to Valdosta
When you’re ready to say goodbye to Atlanta, you’ll continue your small tour of Georgia by driving south through most of the state until you get to Valdosta.
This is a bit of a trip, taking about three and a half hours without traffic.
Valdosta is a southern Georgia city that’s known for Valdosta State University.
Plenty of fun and history is ready to behold here, from the Splash Island water park to the Wild Adventures Theme Park, the Dedo Maranville Fine Arts Gallery, and the Lowndes County Historical Society and Museum.
While I know it’s tempting to want to continue driving, please refrain. Staying in Valdosta will be your last overnight trip before you get to Orlando, so you and the kids have that to look forward to!
Valdosta to Gainesville
On yet another new day, you’ll gas up the car and drive from Georgia into Florida, stopping at Gainesville.
By the way, there’s a city named Gainesville in Georgia as well, so make sure you program your GPS accordingly!
This part of your drive will take an hour and a half without traffic. You’ll continue your trek south.
Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida but has so much more to offer than that.
How about checking out the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Matheson History Museum, the Harn Museum of Art, or the Butterfly Rainforest?
Gainesville to Orlando
You and the family are probably itching to reach Orlando by now. It’s an hour and a half south of Gainesville and you’re finally there!
How long does it take to reach Orlando from Chicago?
You don’t mind a good road trip, but you know the kids can get impatient. If you drive to Orlando, how long is it going to take you to reach your destination?
Driving from Chicago to Orlando takes approximately 16 hours and 51 minutes.
That’s if you drove nonstop, which is impossible. You’ll hit traffic for one, and you’re human, so you need to take breaks.
You’re driving 1,156 miles in all, so take your time and don’t rush it. Drive for four to six hours a day, find a hotel to lodge at, and then get back at it the next day.
If you fill the time in between with fun attractions on the way to Orlando, your kids will come to love road trips as well!
Attractions and destinations for the whole family on the way to Orlando
Are you wondering how to make the best road trip for your kids? Try these attractions at the destinations on your route to Orlando. Experience some or even all of them for an unforgettable time!
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
If you and your family have the need for speed, then don’t miss the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This nearby attraction in Speedway has a rotating slew of exhibits, so if you and the family ever get to go again, you’ll have something new to see.
The permanent exhibits will delight, guaranteed!
In the Photo Car, you and the kids can pose as a family in a real race car.
You can also see a collection of fine art with a racing theme in the Gallery, watch a video of the museum’s history at the Tony Hulman Theatre, or check out the Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 exhibit.
Some of the vehicles available in that exhibit are a 1960 Watson, 1948 Blue Crown, 1938 Maserati, 1922 Duesenberg, and 1911 Marmon Wasp.
- White River State Park
In downtown Indianapolis, you’ll find a bustling hub known as White River State Park.
Named after the adjoining White River, the 267-acre park features a historic pumphouse from the 1870s, the Indianapolis Zoo, a visitors’ center, the White River Gardens, and the historic Washington Street Pedestrian Bridge.
This park also houses the NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Champions Museum, the National Federation of State High School Associations Headquarters, the Indiana State Museum, an IMAX 3D theater, the Medal of Honor Memorial, and Military Park.
- The Waterpark
Quite aptly named, The Waterpark in nearby Carmel is a seasonal water park that offers an assortment of fun water rides and attractions that are perfect for the whole family.
Adventure slides, a lazy river, a kiddy pool, the tall AquaClimb ride, and the waves of the FlowRider await families.
To find some peace and quiet, you and the kiddos can rent a cabana for the afternoon.
Concessions such as soft pretzels, candy, chips, popcorn, tacos, and nachos are also available for snacking or mealtime.
- Speed Art Museum
Once called the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum, the Speed Art Museum–or Speed, as the locals call it–is the biggest art museum in all of Kentucky, not to mention the oldest.
The artworks on display here are rotating in and out all the time, so make sure to schedule a visit before an exhibit changes over!
- Waterfront Park
Known as “the waterfront for everyone,” Waterfront Park is a public, non-profit Louisville park with an expansive variety of amenities.
Rent a bike with the children at Wheel Fun Rentals and pedal through the park on bike pathways, let the kids have a blast at the playgrounds, enjoy a picnic lunch, or go rowing through River City Paddlesports.
You can even buy food at Waterfront Park at Moe’s BBQ, Big Four Concessions, or AMiracle-Ade Stand.
- Berties Ice Cream
All this road-tripping can leave you and the kids quite hungry! Treat them to something yummy at Berties Ice Cream.
The kids should love the expansive menu, which includes shakes, floats, snow cones, banana boats, sundaes, and banana splits.
- Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo
In nearby Hart County is the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo and Mammoth Onyx Cave.
The expansive variety of animals here is super-fun to witness, and kids will get to learn about these creatures’ native habitats as well.
For some post-strolling activities, you can see a live animal show featuring exotic creatures or let the kids get up close and personal with sheep, horses, and goats at the petting zoo.
The Mammoth Onyx Cave is a cool 58 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the outdoor temperatures and is a fun walk-through.
You can also feed lorikeets, roam with kangaroos, or mine for gems. These attractions cost extra besides the admission fee.
- Beech Bend
Part racetrack, part campground, and part amusement park, Beech Bend in nearby Warren County has a little something for everyone.
The amusement park includes thrill rides, family rides, children’s rides, and a splash lagoon for those especially hot days.
The Beech Bend Raceway dragstrip hosts live racing events often but do check the calendar ahead of your visit to ensure you can catch a show!
If you’re looking for more entertainment still, Beech Bend regularly hosts Wild West shows, game shows with participation from the crowd, and magic shows.
Since I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a bite to eat at Tiki Grill, DJ’s Diner, The Rumbler Café, or Good Times Grill.
- Diamond Caverns
You’ll have to venture about an hour out of your way to reach Diamond Caverns in Barren County, but if you have the time, you’ll be glad you went.
Diamond Caverns is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Mammoth Cave National Park, another sight worth seeing if you get the chance.
For more than 150 years, the cave has welcomed residents and tourists alike who want to experience the wonders of this beautiful cave. You’ll see drape-like calcite deposits at every turn.
Diamond Caverns is open all year from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Schedule a tour early, as once they’re booked, they’re booked!
- Centennial Park
The only way to see the Parthenon without traveling to Greece is to visit Centennial Park.
The life-sized replica of the Greek structure also features an Athena statue replica built to scale (it’s 42 feet).
Inside is an art museum with more Greek art as well as some American pieces completed between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Besides the Parthenon, Centennial Park also features the Performing Arts Studio, Centennial Arts Center, Lake Watauga, Musicians Corner, a playground, Sunken Gardens, a dog park, a sportsplex, Cockrill Spring, and volleyball courts.
- K1 Speed Indoor Go-Karts
The California-based K1 Speed Indoor Go-Karts has more than 60 locations across the United States, with a new one just opening up in Nashville.
No matter the weather, you and the kids always have a reliable way to spend the day at K1. You’ll put the pedal to the mettle in themed races such as the juniors’ league, the teen cup, and more.
- Tennessee State Museum
Before you leave Nashville, don’t miss the Tennessee State Museum, a museum dedicated to the illustrious history of this southern state.
A series of permanent exhibits ensure there’s always something good to see here. The exhibits include:
- Forging a Nation
- Natural History
- The Civil War and Reconstruction
- Tennessee Time Tunnel
- Tennessee Transformations
- First Peoples
- Change & Challenge
- Creative Discovery Museum
Allow the kids to discover all the possibilities of learning at the Creative Discovery Museum, a children’s museum.
The list of permanent exhibits is already pretty impressive, with more coming soon. Here are the exhibits that are available as of this writing.
- Excavation Station: The oversized sand pit at the Excavation Station allows kids to become paleontologists for a day as they search for dinosaur bones.
- Buzz Alley: How do bees make honey? Your kiddos will be able to answer that question after learning about the process at Buzz Alley.
- Corner Clinic: Playing doctor just became a whole lot more fun at the Corner Clinic!
- Barsamian Sculpture: A unique combination of art and science will ignite your children’s curiosity at the Barsamian Sculpture.
- Discovery Library: A quiet hub for reading, the Discovery Library is also an excellent part of the museum to take a load off.
- The Tower: A stately observation deck, the Lookout Tower affords gorgeous views of Chattanooga.
- ArtSpace: The latest addition to the Creative Discovery Museum, ArtSpace is just the spot for your children to find their inner artists.
- STEM Zone: The Robotics and Energy galleries, Build and Test, and Make It exhibits are all housed in the STEM Zone.
- Tennessee Aquarium
What’s deep in the ocean’s blue? At the Tennessee Aquarium, you and the kids can learn about the many creatures that live in our worldwide waters.
From sharks to snapping turtles, penguins, river otters, jellyfish, and more, they’re all on display at the aquarium and a wonder to witness.
The Tennessee Aquarium also features an IMAX theater with 3D shows such as Sea Lions: Life by a Whisker 3D and Wings Over Water 3D.
- The Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park
In Warner Park is the 13-acre Chattanooga Zoo, which has over 650 animals belonging to over 160 unique species.
The animals are housed in various themed exhibits such as:
- Makazi Ya Twiga with giraffes
- Himalayan Passage featuring red pandas
- Walkin’ the Tracks with peacocks
- Gombe Forest with monkeys
- Corcovado Jungle featuring big cats
- Warner Park Ranch with camels and more
- Deserts & Forests of the World featuring fennec foxes
- World of Coca-Cola
I hope you’re thirsty! The World of Coca-Cola is a museum dedicated to all things Coke.
You can sample soda, learn the origins of the Coca-Cola polar bear, or check out a show at the Coca-Cola Theater.
Attached to the museum is the Coca-Cola Store where you and the family can stock up on all the Coke merch you can ever hope to want.
- Zoo Atlanta
As part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoo Atlanta is a 40-acre zoo that first opened in 1889.
From reptiles to mammals, birds, and amphibians, Zoo Atlanta has them all.
You can even see some endangered species like crowned lemurs, giant otters, Komodo dragons, grey parrots, golden lion tamarins, and red pandas.
- Six Flags Over Georgia
As the Thrill Capital of the South, Six Flags Over Georgia is a must-see for families passing through Atlanta.
The park offers plenty of family rides that will entertain the young’uns but not scare them. Tweens and teens won’t be bored when Six Flags Over Georgia has so many thrill rides.
The adjoining water park Hurricane Harbor is a great way to stay cool when the Georgia weather gets too hot. Keep in mind the park is only open seasonally.
As you’d expect at a Six Flags park, Six Flags Over Georgia has plenty of events that you can enjoy between rides, food, arcades, live shows, and shopping.
- Georgia Aquarium
If you had to skip the other aquariums that I’ve recommended on this list, then make it a point to take the kids to Georgia Aquarium since you’re not too far from Orlando now!
So many animal species are on display here, including whale sharks, tiger sharks, beluga whales, California sea lions, common bottlenose dolphins, and African penguins.
In between exhibits, set some time aside to see everything else at the aquarium, including live shows and animal encounters.
The kids can have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with sharks and rays, sea lions, penguins, and dolphins.
If you really want to make this vacation memorable, Georgia Aquarium offers swims and dives. Experiences such as sleepovers and behind-the-scenes tours are also incredible.
- Wild Adventures
Wild Adventures in nearby Clyattville is sure to be quite the rip-roarin’ time!
This amusement park is the home of thrilling experiences like the Aviator, the Century Wheel, Boomerang, Go Bananas!, and the coaster Swamp Thing.
Worry not if your children are young, as the kiddy rides are plentiful and offer just the right amount of excitement.
Wild Adventures is also part zoo, showcasing an impressive assortment of species in a separate area of the park.
As if all that wasn’t great enough, the family can also enjoy an arcade, animal feedings, a petting zoo, and a botanical garden all on the grounds.
- Valdosta Mall
You need some souvenirs of an amazing trip, right? Well, why not plan some time at the Valdosta Mall?
This enclosed mall is more than 560,000 square feet and has 70+ stores so that no matter your tastes and budget, you can find something wonderful to purchase.
Fuel up at restaurants such as Chick-Fil-A, Bossa Novas, Pei Wei Asian Diner, and American Deli.
- Florida Museum of Natural History
Before you reach Orlando, explore the depths of Florida’s history at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Through a rich collection of indoor and outdoor exhibits, some of which are permanent and many of which change out frequently, the museum promises fun and excitement around every corner.
The permanent indoor exhibits include:
- Butterfly Rainforest
- Discovery Zone
- Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land
- Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife
- South Florida People & Environments
- Exploring Our World
- Our Energy Future
Outside, the kids should be thrilled to check out the Natural Area Teaching Lab Trails, Florida Wildflower Garden Path, and especially the Fossil Plant Garden.
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park
With swimming holes, canopies, and spring-fed rivers, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a little slice of paradise in Florida.
The state park is 2,669 acres and features plenty of natural wildlife such as limpkins, wood ducks, wild turkeys, softshell turtles, gar, otters, and beavers.
Ichetucknee is the ideal spot for birding, geo-seeking at the geocache, hiking (with three trails available), kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, and tubing.
- Lubee Bat Conservancy
Lubee Bat Conservancy is all about preserving the most precious of nocturnal creatures, the bat!
Sign the kiddos up for a tour where you can see bats do all sorts of things, painting among them. Yes, that’s right, I said painting! Bats are quite talented, you know.
A road trip from Chicago to Orlando could be just what the doctor ordered if you’re craving more family togetherness. I hope that the information in this guide helps you plan an exceptional vacation experience!