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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Riverside, Illinois, United States

    Default Chicago to the Outer Banks, NC

    We're planning a trip to the Outer Banks of NC in mid-April 2015 from Chicago, IL. When I look up possible routes, there are two very different choices with a similar time spent driving (980 mi vs 993 mi, both about 15.5 hrs). One route goes through Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and DC and the other through Indianapolis and West Virginia. We plan to make the trip in two days (each time - there and back), and we'll have a 5 year old and 1 year old with us, so while we're planning to make many shorter stops to stretch our legs and play along the way, but we won't necessarily be looking to sightsee in ways that will take us off the route.

    Any advice? Should we stick to one of the above or plan to hit both for variety? Anyone done this drive before?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default "Normally" vs. This Trip

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Normally (all other things being equal) I would recommend that you take a different route on each leg of your journey, out and back. However, in this case all things are not equal and I can't really recommend that you take a route that entails lots of tolls and trying to negotiate several large cities, especially when your time is fairly limited and you've got young children along. The reason your mapping routines are suggesting the Cleveland/Pittsburgh/Washington route is that they don't care about tolls and they assume that if a road has a 65 mph speed limit you will be able to go 65 always and everywhere. I suspect that you do care about tolls and do care about the traffic (mostly around Washington) that will slow you down considerably, and add unnecessary stress to the driver's day.

    Instead, I-65 to Indianapolis, I-70 to Dayton, US-35 to West Virginia, I-64 (toll in part) to Beckley, I-77 into North Carolina, and I-40/US-64 to the northern end of the Outer Banks works just fine (with a few connecting roads). No major traffic headaches, only the West Virginia Turnpike for tolls after you clear Chicagoland, and a generally scenic and relaxed drive. You can make the drive 'different' in each direction by stopping at different local and state parks/wildlife refuges/forests for each leg. That's a better kind of 'different' than having one good route and one expensive, stressful route. Halfway would be somewhere in the Charleston/Beckley WV area in the midst of the Appalachian Mountains ("Almost Heaven, West Virginia"). To get an idea of what kinds of roadside stops you should be looking for as you plan your trip, have a look at some of the suggestions listed here for some of the major cross-country Interstates.

    Enjoy the planning, and enjoy the trip!


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default just last week!

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    As luck would have it, I actually just made that drive about a week ago - going as far as Virginia Beach. We actually took a few days, stopping to see some things along the way.

    First of all, it's a good thing you are taking 2 days. Despite what online mapping programs will tell you, there is no way you could complete the trip in anywhere close to 15 hours. Even over 2 days, you're going to be on the road for at least 9-10 hours each day.

    Heading there, we took a route very similar to what I suspect is the 2nd route you are looking at - I-65 to Indy, I-70 to Dayton, US-35 to West Virginia, and I-64 to the coast. (We made a stop in Roanoke, and Appomattax Courthouse, so we used US-460 across Virginia instead of I-64). If you go that way, Charleston would be about your halfway point. I'd recommend you try to squeeze in a little time around the New River Gorge. There is a great driving tour that goes under the New River Gorge Bridge, with a free CD available for an audio guide at the nearby visitor center. There are also several other great things to see and do around the National Recreation area (we actually spent most of a day here, and didn't even scratch the surface of the area).

    I will always look to take a different route back on a trip this long, and this trip was no exception. We went home across North Carolina, mostly using I-40 and US-421, then US-58 across the western tip of Virginia to the Cumberland Gap, before eventually continuing onto Louisville and on home. We took 3 days for this drive, but again, taking our time to stop and see a few things along the way.

    The only route I wouldn't really recommend would be the route through Cleveland/Pittsburgh/DC. That route would cost you a lot of money in tolls, and you can see some very heavy traffic around the DC area.

    Although noting that, make sure to bring your I-Pass, which you will still be able to use in EZ-Pass lanes in West Virginia and Virginia.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Riverside, Illinois, United States


    This is great advice - thank you both!

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