The city in Illinois with the largest population (and the third most populated city in the United States), Chicago is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Known to be an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, telecommunications and more, the city has a thriving art and culture scene, along with a variety of professional sports, including the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball Team and the Chicago Bears, of the National Football League. During warmer months, there are plenty of ways to spend time outdoors, whether walking, hiking or paddling.
While there is no shortage of things to do in Chicago, it is also an excellent place from which to launch a road trip. For those coming from the city who are looking to experience something different, a journey south toward Albuquerque, New Mexico will offer a number of unique activities and landscapes as one works their way across multiple states. With a little over 1300 miles to travel between the two cities, the road trip can be taken at a leisurely pace that allows for making memories and having an adventure along the way.
Upon arriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, you will be treated to a city with a unique culture, deep history and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. With the Sandia Mountains rising to the east of the city, along with a bike trail that follows the Rio Grande, Albuquerque will keep you busy during your time in the city. Luckily, there are plenty of camping options in and around the city, ensuring you will have a place to relax after all of that fun!
After traveling about two hours and fifty minutes west, you will encounter an excellent opportunity to cool off as well as take in the beauty of clear, sapphire blue water surrounded by red mesas as you reach the Blue Hole.
Located east of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the Blue Hole is a bell-shaped pool that happens to be a popular destination in the United States for scuba diving. This artesian well has a consistent temperature of 62 degrees Fahrenheit and reaches a depth of 130 feet. The Blue Hole is open to the public; however, there are no lifeguards on duty, so swimming is at ones’ own risk.
Visibility within the Blue Hole is 100 feet as the water renews itself every six hours. Whether you take a dip or take in the scenery, the Blue Hole is an excellent place to stop on your road trip!
After spending some time outdoors and stretching your legs at Foss State Park, another two hours and forty minutes or so in your vehicle won’t seem so bad. And that is about how long it will take to get to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, home of the second-largest canyon in the United States.
The canyon is 800 feet deep and covers 30,000 acres. For those looking to spend time on the trails, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is perfect, with 15,000 acres of hiking and biking trails. Thrill-seekers will find the opportunity to zip line across the canyon appealing and of course, the views are spectacular.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a perfect place to stop and enjoy a meal or a snack while taking in the scenery; and being just 30 minutes from downtown Amarillo, the Park is easy to get to.
After spending a good amount of time indoors at museums and in your car, the time is perfect to get out and enjoy some fresh air at Foss State Park in Oklahoma. About an hour and a half from Oklahoma City, Foss State Park is located on Foss Lake and offers a myriad of activities, like hiking, biking, disc golf, swimming, fishing, boating and more.
The campgrounds at Foss State Park can accommodate RVs, trailers and tents, providing a place to relax and spend the night before or after you explore the area. There is also an equestrian camp for those who are traveling with horses. Boat rentals are available and comfort stations with showers ensure you can clean up after a day of outdoor adventure!
Continue traveling southwest on I44 to Oklahoma City (about 106 miles) and check out the 99s Museum of Women Pilots. As female pilots were not allowed to participate in the Cleveland Air Race, in 1929 female pilots chose to start their own; the Air Race Classic.
Though the race was met with criticism, 20 female pilots embarked on the 2700 mile race (including Amelia Earhart) and 14 finished. Later that year the women got back together and began the first women pilots organization. After sending a letter to the 117 known female pilots in the United States, they heard back from 99, which led to their name; the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. Their headquarters can be found in Oklahoma City, and on the second floor is a museum focused solely on female pilots.
During your visit, you can learn about female pilots from the last century, as well as view personal items of Amelia Earhart, who was the organization’s first president.
After visiting Fantastic Caverns, get back on the road and continue heading southwest for about three hours until arriving in Tulsa, where you can check out the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Opened in 2007 and located in Tulsa’s old Union Depot building in downtown Tulsa, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a music venue that offers regular jazz performances and special events, as well as a museum, featuring photos and memorabilia from popular jazz musicians like Chet Baker, Earl Bostic, Barney Kessel and more.
Celebrating the state of Oklahoma’s jazz, blues and gospel history, the Jazz Hall of Fame educated visitors on the state’s music heritage and its impact on music worldwide. With a motto of “Creating Unity Through Music”, the Jazz Hall of Fame has a lot to offer, whether you have an hour or a full day to visit.
After your time at Maramec Spring Park, continue for another two hours to Springfield Missouri and stop at the Fantastic Caverns for a little adventure. The caverns are the only caves in North America that can be explored by a riding tour, which helps to preserve the natural features of the caves.
The tour lasts for 55 minutes and sitting in a tram that is pulled by a Jeep will allow your focus to be on the scenery of the caves. Expect to travel along a path that was carved by an ancient river as you learn about the caves and their previous purposes; a speakeasy during prohibition and a place for music events in the 50’s for example.
The temperature within the caves remains consistent at 60 degrees year-round. Trams have pull-out ramps, ensuring that they are accessible for all looking to explore!
About an hour and a half away is St. James, Missouri, which is the location of your next stop; Maramec Spring Park. Considered one of the most beautiful locations in Missouri, the Park is home to the state’s fifth-largest spring (pumping 1,000,000 gallons of freshwater daily).
The Park includes 1860 acres of forest and fields. A public use area offers amenities and activities for those who are visiting the Park, including a café, playgrounds, a store, wildlife viewing, and fishing. The Meramec River, which is a serene, clear stream of the Ozarks, flows through the park and provides an excellent opportunity for fishing; the stream is restocked daily during the fishing season. A walkway that runs around the spring offers an excellent view of the emerald water.
While in St. Louis, make sure to take the time to check out the Gateway Arch, which is located at the site where St. Louis was founded. Completed in 1965, the monument is 630 feet tall and made of stainless steel. The tallest arch in the world, the Arch is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. The Arch was built as a monument to the United States’ westward expansion and was dedicated to the “American people”. The Arch is often called “The Gateway to the West” and is the main feature of the Gateway Arch National Park.
During your visit to the Arch, you can take a tour, which begins at interactive exhibits and continues with a four-minute tram tour to the top of the Arch. Before or after your tour, be sure to allow time to check out the museum and its exhibits.
Just an hour and a half from Springfield, Illinois is St. Louis, Missouri, where you will find the City Museum and its unique 10-story spiral slide. City Museum is located in downtown St. Louis in a warehouse that is 100 plus years old.
Within the museum are architectural and industrial items that have been repurposed and that are both educational and fun. Visitors will encounter unique bridges, tunnels, and opportunities to climb. Perhaps the most popular is the 10-story spiral slide; while the walk to the top can be an effort, you will be rewarded by an exciting ride down the slide.
This unique museum opened in 1997 and has been named as one of the “great public spaces” by the Project for Public Spaces. Also within the museum is a circus ring that has live acts on a daily basis and The Shoelace Factory, which creates shoelaces.
As you begin your road trip from Chicago, an excellent choice for your first stop is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is just three hours away in Springfield. The largest Presidential Museum, the complex is 200,000 square feet that are split between two buildings that are connected by a skywalk.
The Library is a public research facility that features books, Civil War materials, manuscripts, newspapers from Illinois, pictures, and maps. Included in the Lincoln collection are over 1500 original documents that were signed by Lincoln. More than 50,000 of the museum’s square feet are utilized for full-immersion exhibits, theaters with special effects and original artifacts. When visiting the museum portion, for example, you can explore the full-size replica of a log cabin. A visit to the museum will take you back in time to the President’s early days through his presidency.
After swimming in the Blue Hole, it is time for the home stretch to Albuquerque. As you head west, enjoy the desert landscape as you proceed for about two hours. Before you enter the city, you will encounter the Sandia Mountains that are located at the eastern part of the city. Not only can you enjoy their beauty, but consider stopping for a hike or a mountain bike ride before you enter the city.
As you enter Albuquerque, you can choose to head north on Tramway Blvd, which is at the eastern edge of the city and will take you to numerous trails as well as the Sandia Peak Tramway, which you can ride to the crest of the Sandia Mountains at 10,378 feet. Riding the tram will allow you to access hiking trails, as well as gorgeous views of the city and surrounding areas. Continuing west on I40 will take you to other parts of the city, where you can explore and enjoy a number of other things to do; explore the culture and history of Old Town, for example, go shopping at Uptown, visit the Petroglyph National Monument and enjoy traditional New Mexican cuisine, which includes red and green chile.
Whether you choose to stay in the city of Albuquerque or outside of it, you will find plenty of options, from campgrounds and RV parks to a myriad of hotels.