The route on your Chicago to Memphis road trip is packed with great sights, good eats, and beautiful national and state parks. You could start with a relaxing stop at Indiana Sand Dunes National Park before your adventure leads you to Gateway Arch National Park and the historic Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis. Farther along the way, you can enjoy a respite at the Krannert Art Museum on the University of Illinois campus, take in some history at the visitors center at the Trail of Tears State Park and become a part of some eerie local folklore at the Glenn House.
You'll pass a few national parks on your road trip from Chicago to Memphis. In the Midwest, some of the most unique national parks are found within major urban areas.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park is a quick one-hour drive from Chicago. The park, which sits on the south shore of Lake Michigan, has beautiful beach areas where you can swim and sunbathe. If you're looking for a little solitude, there's 15 miles of shoreline to stroll and numerous trails that take you through prairies, forests, wetlands, and dunes. The enchanting rivers that run within the park are great places for photography and fishing. Camping is available overnight so that you can continue your exploration of this park.
Gateway Arch National Park
Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis is a magnificent sight to see. The prominent arch stands 630 feet tall, is equally as wide, and is also called "The Gateway to the West." The Tram Ride to the Top is a major highlight that takes you to the apex of the arch with unique elevator features that keep you upright even as the arch curves. On the ground, a walk from the North Leg to the South Leg is a fun way to enjoy the scenery of this 91-acre park, which was built as a tribute to Thomas Jefferson's expansion of the West. Visit the Old Courthouse for a lesson in U.S. history, and stop by the Museum at the Gateway Arch to learn about the construction of the site that recently gained national park status in 2018. A riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River is the perfect way to wrap up the day and catch amazing views of the Gateway Arch and the city of St. Louis at sunset.
If you enjoy the peace and quiet of less populated state parks, consider including a few on your Chicago to Memphis RV road trip.
Horseshoe Lake State Park
Horseshoe Lake State Park is located in Madison County, Illinois, near the Missouri state line off Route 111. The park is known for its horseshoe-shaped lake that's great for boating, fishing, and swimming. Avid or novice anglers can wet their hooks on the lake with bass, crappie, carp, bluegill, and channel catfish to catch. Four miles of trails are yours to explore in beautiful wooded areas that are excellent for bird-watching. Picnic areas and camping are available for short or longer stays.
Trail of Tears State Park
Trail of Tears State Park in Jackson, Missouri, combines history with serene views of the Mississippi River at the park's designated overlook. You can explore the on-site interpretive center that features exhibits about the history of the Trail of Tears and a nearby archaeological site. In the park, there are four hiking trails to choose from, with shorter treks following the Lake, Sheppard Point and nature trails to the 9-mile Peewah Trail. Fishing on Lake Boutin gets you close to the wildlife in the area, and horseback riding is available within the park if you prefer to stay on land.
General Watkins State Park
General Watkins State Park is a short distance from your route off I-55. Located in Benton, Missouri, it has a unique conservation area worth checking out. Notice that the trees in the forest are more reminiscent of the Appalachian wilderness rather than the rest of Missouri. You'll also see steep canyons formed by natural erosion up to 50-feet deep, but be sure to use caution if you choose to walk along the canyons. An unusual point of interest in the park is the small cemetery in the forest where Civil War general and Missouri statesman Nathaniel Watkins is buried. Fishing, camping, and hunting are also welcome activities.
Krannert Art Museum
The Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois in Champaign houses a vast collection of ancient to present-day art. It's the second-largest fine art museum in the state. The museum's architecture is its own work of art designed by Ambrose Richardson. This university has been displaying art since 1895 with revolving exhibitions that include both sight and sound. Many of the works can be seen illuminating the evening sky from the exterior of the building. There are nine collection galleries to explore with certain highlighted works, such as The Blue Gable, No. 49, Lady in the Park, and many more.
The Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis is a must-see on your Chicago to Memphis road trip. Open since 1852, the Missouri location is the oldest and largest Anheuser-Busch site. There are three National Historic Landmarks on its grounds. Furthermore, you can enjoy a guided tour that ends with a complimentary beer tasting or soda for those under 21. Before your tour starts, hang at the Biergarten where you can watch live performances and dig into some old-fashioned comfort food. Check out the brewery's calendar for a list of annual and monthly events for more interactive experiences.
The Glenn House
Enjoy a spine-tingling tour at the Glenn House as you pass through Cape Girardeau. The historic late-Victorian house was built in 1833 for a prominent member of the community, and it has since been fully restored. Inside the house, you'll see early 19th-century photos and personal artifacts of the previous owners. Local ghost stories center around certain rooms, and it is said to be the most haunted publicly accessible house in town.
While you're en route, you'll pass through some pretty interesting cities. Many of them are home to some excellent campgrounds and dump stations that help keep your RV sanitary for the duration of your trip.
In Champaign, you can relax and enjoy many of the sights located right on the University of Illinois campus. The Arboretum is a great place to start as it features several gardens representing local flora, All-America Selections, ornamentals, and more. The Astronomical Observatory, a historical site built in 1896, can also be found on campus. More great sights to check out include a trip to Alto Vineyards, Crystal Lake Park, and Busey Woods. Beautiful campgrounds close to town give you an opportunity to keep exploring the sights of this city. Stop at Prairie Pines Campground a few miles north of town if you need dumping services.
A stop in St. Louis should definitely be on your road trip itinerary from Chicago to Memphis. This city is chock-full of historical sites and endless places to explore. Great walking destinations to visit include the 105-acre Laumeier Sculpture Park, the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly House. A trip to the National Blues Museum includes interactive exhibits, live performances, and a history of the impact of blues music. Plan to stay in the area for at least two days and check out some of the local campgrounds so that you can see the sights at your own pace. For a dump station, head to Love’s Travel Stop just off the I-55 in Bloomsdale.
Cape Girardeau is a small Missouri city with over 250 years of history and several historical landmarks to visit. The Fort D Historic Site is the last of the four earthen forts standing where living history demonstrations are held throughout the year. Not to be missed is the St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway adventure complete with treasure hunts, train robberies, and the Ghost Train walking tour. While you're in town, you should also check out Marquette Island, Lake Tywappity, Thebes Courthouse and Cape Lacroix Bluffs Conservation Area. Surrounding campgrounds offer great accommodations and are perfect for extending your stay in this quaint town.