There is no better way to see the country like travelling by car. In this post, we will hop into our four door and drive from the urban metropolis of Chicago to the jewel of the Smoky Mountains: Knoxville, Tennessee. In between, we will stop in two historic Chicago neighborhoods on opposite sides of the city, Indianapolis, Lexington, and even make an ill advised detour through Gatlinburg.
Our road trip starts on the north side of Chicago in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The area is one of the city and nation’s most diverse, with residents from all ethnic backgrounds and income levels. Million dollar lakefront mansions stand alongside vintage walkup apartment buildings, independent book stores, and corner pubs serving up locally brewed craft beers. The neighborhood has recently seen a mini resurgence, as young professionals have flocked to the area for its lakefront location and commuter rail accessibility to downtown Chicago.
Our trip continues down Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive to the south side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. Home to the academically acclaimed University of Chicago, Hyde Park boasts tree lined streets with turn of the century mansions, quaint coffee shops, and the award winning Museum of Science and Industry. Though the area once had a reputation amongst locals for its insular culture and ivory tower vibe, it has recently undergone a development boom, including a new 15 story apartment complex designed by famed architect Jeanne Gang that will house a Whole Foods on the first floor.
We continue our journey into Indiana and its capital city of Indianapolis. No trip to the city is complete without a visit to the central canal. For too long, the canal was a secret known to few outsiders. However, word has spread. Now, on a sunny weekend afternoon, the canal and the area around it is teeming with visitors.
Next, we journey into Kentucky and the horse racing capital of the world, Lexington. The city is home to historic architecture and an urban core worthy of an afternoon stroll. Stop at one of the local coffee shops or if you are in the mood as I was, a bar serving up some delicious Kentucky bourbon.
Finally, we reach our destination of Knoxville. For too long, Knoxville has been a hidden gem tucked away in an Appalachian valley. The remarkably walkable and bikeable riverfront is home to nearly a dozen coffee shops, restaurants serving up southern cuisine with a modern twist, and a one of a kind market square.
No trip to Knoxville is complete without a bike tour of the city’s extensive greenway system. Be sure to save enough time to visit the Ijams Nature Center, home to an elaborate network of biking and hiking trails surrounding several quarries. There is even a little beach!
The Smoky Mountain National Park is only an hour or so from Knoxville. It is one of the nation’s most visited national parks, so avoid the weekends. In addition, the city of Gatlinburg sits immediately next to the northern entry point, and it is to be avoided. Gatlinburg is in many ways the polar opposite of Knoxville, a tourist trap stopover where the most noteworthy attraction is a location of the steakhouse restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse. The Smokys are worth a visit, so if you do decide to go, see the park by taking the Gatlinburg bypass.