If you get the timing right, avoiding traffic between both cities, Austin's drive to Chicago takes less than 17 hours. However, road trips are about the ride, not the destination, and the picturesque route from Austin to Chicago is one of the most breathtaking in the Midwest. The route includes many towns and cities, like Texarkana, where you'll want to stop and explore the 1894 City Market, and Little Rock with its iconic museums. Memphis is a great destination for history aficionados and is home to the National Civil Rights Museum. As you can imagine, with so many attractions to visit, it could easily take you two weeks to fully enjoy the trip from Austin to Chicago.
If you love checking out national parks, you'll have plenty of side trips during your Austin to Chicago RV road trip. Some of America's most beautiful national reserves can be found in Texas, Arkansas, and Illinois.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Before you embark on your road trip from Austin to Chicago, take a detour to San Antonio and stop at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Explore the missions along River Walk, a 12-mile stretch with pavilions, recreational trails, pedestrian bridges, and portals to four Spanish colonial missions: Espada, Concepcion, San Jose, and San Juan. You'll also want to take time to see the Alamo cenotaph nearby.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is located around 110 miles from Texarkana via I-30E. If you take a side excursion to this wonderful protected area in Arkansas, you'll see many hot springs. You can choose to drink the hot springs water or sip beer made with it. In addition to admiring the spigots, you can also hike the sunset trails or get acquainted with the Gangster Museum's local tradition.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
If you're a nature lover, make sure that Indiana Sand Dunes National Park is on your itinerary for your Austin to Chicago RV road trip. This park is comprised of towering dunes with heights of up to 200 feet. Since they continually change in shape because of strong winds blowing off Lake Michigan, the dunes present visitors with unique spectacles every time they visit. Plant lovers will want to stop here as over 1,100 native species await discovery along the Heron Rookery Trail. Still, others will enjoy beach walks in this park and hikes through prairies, wetlands, and forests.
Texas, Arkansas, and Illinois are also home to many gorgeous state parks. If you enjoy checking out some intimate recreation spots, add a few of these destinations to your Austin to Chicago RV road trip.
Cedar Hill State Park
Cedar Hill State Park is the first pit stop you want to take after you begin your road trip. This state park is 13.5 miles off I-35E on your way to Dallas. You can learn more about the park's history at Penn Farm Agricultural History Center when you arrive. Visitors can also hike around Dogwood Canyon, go fishing at Joe Pool Lake, or enjoy the fascinating geocache.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Located a few miles west of Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain State Park is another great stop for your road trip. This day-use park offers plenty of outdoor adventures in the Arkansas Arboretum, on the Big and Little Maumelle rivers, and on 7 miles of strenuous bike trails. You can explore the rivers, hike to the top, or enjoy a picnic with your family.
Trails of Tears State Park
Trails of Tears State Park is an excellent place to camp midway through your road trip from Austin to Chicago. Situated just 11.3 miles north of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, this park is a popular stop for picnic lovers. It is every camper's dream with various outdoor activities, including backpacking, swimming, and fishing, and you can go horseback riding on one of the scenic trails.
Chain O'Lakes State Park
Situated 66 miles north of Chicago, Chain O'Lakes State Park is another recreation joint on your trip. You can boat your way through nine interlinked lakes, fish, surf at the beach, or hike on one of the sprawling nature trails. If you're yearning for a weekend away, there's even a massive campsite with over 80 grounds.
Starved Rock State Park
Consider stopping at Starved Rock State Park if you like to explore hidden gems. Hunt for gorgeous limestone rock formations or enjoy the majestic views of the nearby canyons and waterfalls. One of the most-visited state parks near Urbana, Starved Rock features jaw-droppingly attractive vistas, including the famous Lover's Leap Overlook. It's also a popular destination from Chicago, so we'd recommend touring during the shoulder months, if possible, to dodge the crowds.
Dallas Museum and Botanical Gardens
You'll reach Dallas just under three hours after leaving Austin. This unique city is home to the Dallas Museum and Botanical Gardens, which was founded in 1984. It is one of the most scenic outdoor attractions in Texas and features over 66 acres of display gardens showcasing beautiful plant species. You can also visit the nearby White Rock Lake or dine at the DeGoyler Garden Café.
Often called "a true jewel of Cape Girardeau," Glenn House should be on the road trip itinerary from Austin to Chicago. This historical house was built in 1883 by David A. Glenn, a Cape Girardeau banker and merchant. When you start touring the home, you'll immediately feel acquainted with the Victorian lifestyle that includes unique architecture, ornate clothing, and stunning furnishings. Take time to interact with the friendly docents on-site.
William J. Clinton Library and Museum
The William J. Clinton Library and Museum is a historic landmark located in Little Rock. This spectacular building on the southern banks of Arkansas River compiles the political history of former president Bill Clinton. Explore a treasure trove of iconic artifacts from Clinton's two terms as head of state. Before you enter the center, admire the structure's gorgeous ultramodern facade. Discover the presidential limousine and fully equipped replicas of the Clinton-era cabinet room at the nearby museum. If you're hungry, grab your favorite meal at Forty-Two, which is open during lunch breaks.
Another point of interest on your road trip is Millennium Park, Chicago's heart and soul. There are a million things to see and do here, and there's also something for everyone—art lovers, nature aficionados, kids and families, and more. You can take a dip in Crown Fountain, take a picture with the Bean, admire outdoor art at the Boeing Galleries, or go rock climbing at Maggie Daley.
End your Austin to Chicago road trip in style by visiting Chicago's Navy Pier, one of the most famous tourist spots in the Midwest. There are plenty of sites to visit here from amusement park rides to restaurants and museums. Get inspired by the eclectic fireworks, colorful buildings, and bright lights. For those who can't wait to sail the open seas in a traditional ship, Navy Pier's Tall Ship Windy offers the perfect opportunity. Stop at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and enjoy your favorite Shakespearean classics. On your tour, you'll also spot the popular Architecture River Cruise.
While driving from Austin to Chicago along route I-30E through I-57N may add several hours to your road trip, it's worth it. There are plenty of stunning towns along the way, and most travelers find the routes far more scenic than I-30 or I-75. What's more, the Midwest is home to many beautiful campsites with dump stations where you can keep your RV sanitary.
Home to the famous Dallas Cowboys and the Metroplex's largest city, Dallas is a lush metropolis with fascinating things to see and do. Spend some time enjoying this city by staying in one of the adjacent campgrounds. You can also make sure that your rig is ready for the trip ahead by visiting a dump station.
Little Rock is known as the origin of American civil rights history. After making a tour to the Old State House Museum, you'll understand why this city got that name. Of course, you can spend the night at one of the nearby campgrounds or use one of the many dump stations.
Known for the award-winning Urbana Park District and a thriving arts culture, Urbana is an exciting place to stop. Consider spending a day or two at one of the roadside campgrounds. You'll also want to get your RV ready for the return trip at one of the nearby dump stations.
When planning a road trip from Austin to Chicago, it's best to develop a comprehensive itinerary. If you don't own a recreational vehicle, consider renting an RV in Austin on RVshare. You can always do this road trip backward and rent an RV in Chicago on RVshare. With your rental, you'll be able to travel in comfort and style.