On your next vacation, take an extended road trip from Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains. Expand your journey to include other national parks exposing your family to many natural and technological wonders by traveling a great loop through six states—Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Whether these parks lie beside the Great Lakes, along major rivers, or underground, everyone is welcome to enjoy them. Even the modern national parks that include significant technological advances are rooted in the complex history of the land. Many state parks lie alongside the route between these parks, You can also stop in intricately planned cities that demonstrate America's talent for industry and enterprise, and you can sample food and shop in areas that highlight the social diversity of the country. To fully enjoy this journey, follow this road trip itinerary from Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 252 miles northeast of Cincinnati, is a unique park dedicated to the preservation of a river valley situated between two Ohio cities—Cleveland and Akron. While the main highway that connects the towns bridges the park in two places, it remains as pristine as possible with some views of the river and the waterfalls along the roadway. A train that runs on an old railway with its ties some feet above the river lets people with mobility issues, parents with toddlers, and the elderly get a close look at the wildlife living in the valley. Hikers enjoy 125 miles of trails that lead to over 100 waterfalls.
Indiana Sand Dunes National Park
To reach Indiana Sand Dunes National Park from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, travel 302 miles west to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The dunes result from thousands of years of buildup of sands dredged from the depths of Lake Michigan by a current that runs north to south along the deepest sections of the lake. Once deposited beneath the surface, storms roil the waters and deliver the sands to the shore by waves. Over time, nearly 20 square miles of dunes rose in this location, providing a beautiful area where wildlife and humans survived together over thousands of years. The park offers over 50 miles of hiking trails and 15 miles of shoreline from which to fish the lake, sunbathe, or swim.
Gateway Arch National Park
After experiencing the natural display provided at the Indiana Sand Dunes, travel 315 miles southwest to Saint Louis to visit Gateway Arch National Park. Constructed in 1964, it stands 640 feet above ground level. This incredible technical achievement celebrates the unification of the east and west coasts of the continent under one flag. Located at the spot from which the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805-1806 embarked on its legendary mission, the park includes the Arch and 91 acres of waterfront with museums depicting different eras of Saint Louis history.
Mammoth Cave National Park
The 285-mile journey from Saint Louis to Mammoth Cave National Park sends you directly toward the Great Smoky Mountains. Inside the caverns, you find the most extensive system of known caves worldwide. Each room is lit in different hues that stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone reflect onto a distant ceiling. While there are over 400 miles of caves already mapped, several openings remain untouched by human hands.
Alum Creek State Park
You pass through Columbus, OH, on your way to Cuyahoga Valley National Park during this Cincinnati to Smoky Mountains RV road trip. Take the opportunity in Columbus to detour directly north for 17 miles to stay overnight at Alum Creek State Park. While the park is located close to a large urban area, visitors enjoy a close encounter with nature. The park covers 4,630 acres of central Ohio, surrounded by housing developments and rolling farmlands. Set beside a reservoir, the park provides excellent access via several large boat ramps for boats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. The fishing in the lake is impressive, and trails are designated for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.
Beaver Dam State Park
You pass through Springfield, IL, on the leg of your Cincinnati to Great Smoky Mountains road trip that travels from the Indiana Sand Dunes to the Gateway Arch. In Springfield, detour 48 miles south to Beaver Dam State Park. The park provides a wonderful natural environment for campers to relax overnight. Equipped with a 59-acre lake within its 237-acre area, the park provides ample hiking trails, a safe swimming beach, and a boat ramp for easy access to the water. The lake is regularly stocked, and the fishing is excellent.
Nolin Lake State Park
Located on the northern edge of Mammoth Cave National Park, Nolin Lake State Park provides a campground where you can rest before tackling the final 258 miles of your Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains road trip. Staying in this campground lets you explore the caverns of Mammoth Cave National Park with ease. Sitting on the shores of a 5,795-acre lake, the park offers excellent water activities. Boat ramps allow easy access to the lake, and the campground provides all the modern amenities expected by experienced RV travelers. The lake offers excellent fishing for bass, walleye, crappie, and catfish. Over nine miles of trails let you stretch your legs after your long drive.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Begin your Cincinnati to Great Smoky Mountains RV road trip with a visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. At the center, you learn about the hardships of slavery and the courage of those who helped fellow humans escape their terrible grasp. Portraits, exhibits, and displays tell the underground railroad story and the people who risked everything to make it work.
Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials
While in Springfield, IL, stop by the Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials to pay respect to the President that ushered the United States through the Civil War and freed the slaves of the south. The site also holds war memorials for Illinois soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam War.
East Tennessee Veteran’s Memorial
When you pass through Knoxville, TN, you are on the last lap on your road trip from Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains. In Knoxville, you find the East Tennessee Veteran's Memorial, dedicated to the men from eastern Tennessee who lost their lives in every national conflict since WWI. Currently, there are 32 granite columns with 6,200 names carved into their surface. A granite bench sits opposite the names of each pylon for rest and contemplation.
You pass through Columbus, OH, on your way north from Cincinnati to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Columbus is a hub of activity with an incredible amount of traffic, including RV traffic. As a result of so many visitors, the city has developed numerous amenities for those passing through. While you are in the town, take the time to clean your tanks at one of the local dump stations. To stay a night or two and see the sights, register at one of the many campgrounds in the area.
Saint Louis, Missouri
When you visit Saint Louis on this road trip from Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains, take the time to sample some of the incredible restaurants you find there. Discover the amazing mix of cuisines by visiting restaurants like Ciao Ristorante for Italian food, Annie Gunn's for American cuisine, and The Crossing for an excellent French meal. While you are here, take advantage of its dump stations, or stay a night at one of the campgrounds in the area.
Now that you are finishing your Cincinnati to Great Smoky Mountains road trip, stop by the amazing mix of specialty and gift shops in Knoxville. If you have an eclectic passion for gifts, stop by Nostalgia to pick up something old, Nothing Too Fancy to find something new created by local artists, and the Pretentious Glass Company for something blue or whatever color you prefer. While you are here, take advantage of the dump stations and the numerous campgrounds that Knoxville offers.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Cincinnati to the Great Smoky Mountains, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Cincinnati or Great Smoky Mountains.