Family road trip loop ideas from Chicago


Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Stops: Indianapolis, Kentucky Derby Museum, Starved Rock

Drive time: 19 1/2 hours round trip


On The Way

About 3 1/2 hours down the road consider a road stop in Indianapolis, recently souped up for its first Super Bowl. You can check out the $12.5 million newly created Georgia Street, a now permanent pedestrian promenade built as a Super Bowl Village. We just love the Children's Museum. There's no wonder why it's ranked among the best places for family fun by Parents magazine, Woman's Day and Forbes Traveler. I've known power moms to make the drive from Chicago just to take to their children there.

This museum is not just for little tykes, five stories of interactive, educational fun await every age level. The Biotechnology Learning Center rocks-we made cheese the day we visited. If you go this spring, check out its three new exhibits-CSI: Flight Adventures, The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head and LEGO Travel Adventure.

A little further down the road, you'll find the Kentucky Derby Museum. It's a terrific little two-hour stop where kids get a chance to place bets, race interactive horses, learn about Derby fashion and horse care. The museum offers a free walking tour of the historic Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby has been held every May since 1875.


Are We There?

If you're going to hit a national park, the Smoky Mountains should top your list. It is simply breathtaking, with majestic forests, gorgeous vistas and rocky mountain streams.

With 800 miles of trails, the park is a hiker's paradise. There are short treks as well as strenuous hikes. On our visit, we made it to the top of Ole Smoky, Clingmans Dome. At 6,643 feet, it's the highest point in the Great Smoky National Park. While in the area, there are many great places to stay. We chose Nashville, about a half hour away.

You may want to check out the Grand Ole Opry and Belle Meade Plantation. And live music is a must. Only don't forget the boots. Boots and hats are always trending in Nashville.


On the Road Home

It's on most eighth-graders' field trip list, but I think any time is a great time to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. What makes the learning powerful is the way the museum combines multimedia and exhibits. When we visited, my youngest was just 5. She was awestruck by a life-size statue of a slave auctioneer pulling a young girl out of her mother's arms. Ava talked about it for weeks. And I believe it still defines slavery to her to this day.

Before you hit home, consider a quick hike at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, 94 miles south of Chicago. There's terrific Native American history here. Known for fascinating 400 million-year-old rock formations, beautiful St. Peter sandstone, canyons and sparkling waterfalls.


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