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Chicago to New Orleans

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May 19th, 2014, 02:24 PM
  #1
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Chicago to New Orleans

Please would you look over this itinerary and give me some feedback? There are two possibilities for the timing of this three week trip - March/April or July. I'm just at the beginning of planning.

A couple of useful bits of info - I will be going with my husband, we're both early thirties. We've travelled in the states before, but not this part. Budget - no hostels, but cheap and cheerful is fine, with one or two "splash out" places (4 or 5 stars). Interests are good food and wine, stunning views (happy to undertake moderately difficult hikes to achieve this) - so national park recommendations would be great! - also soaking up local culture which on this trip I think means music! Planning to hire a car for this trip, as we both like driving and longish distances are not a problem.

Day 1 - Arrive Chicago
Day 5 - Drive to Mammoth Cave National Park
Day 8 - Drive to Nashville
Day 12 - Drive to Memphis
Day 16 - Drive to New Orleans
Day 21 - Fly home

Main points I'd appreciate help on:

Is the above feasible time-wise? I had thought of extending the trip to Austin but I don't think it's doable?
March/April or July a better bet?
Did I miss anything glaring out? What other national parks/areas of natural beauty should we see?
Is North to South the best way to go? Any reason why I should "flip"?

Thanks everyone!
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May 19th, 2014, 02:48 PM
  #2
cd
 
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I believe July will be too hot to enjoy New Orleans. Four days in Chicago is good but we have never spent more than one day at Mammoth Cave, 2 days in Nashville and 3 days in Memphis. Of course, I don't know what you have planned to do, but if it were me, I would cut time off those cities and add Austin and fly home from there.
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May 19th, 2014, 04:05 PM
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If you have not been to New Orleans, I would not pass it up for Austin . . it will be hot everywhere in the South in July.

Agree one day is plenty for Mammoth Cave. We spent three days in Memphis and felt two would have been better use of time.
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May 19th, 2014, 04:57 PM
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Whatever happens, don't let anyone tell you that 3 weeks is not enough time for this trip. A friend and I took a spring break road trip years ago from Madison, WI to New Orleans, then along the Gulf Coast to Pensacola before heading up to Atlanta, over to Nashville with a stop at Mammoth Cave before heading back to Madison. So we hit most of the same destinations as you are planning to see but we did it in 10 days and had much more driving since we had to make a huge loop to get back home.

Point being you have plenty of time to do your trip, and with some tweaks you could probably add in Austin as well. Austin is another 500 miles of driving which would be about a day's worth, not counting any stops you might want to make along the way.

July is too hot. The later in April you can start the better...and if you have 3 weeks and start the first or 2nd week of April, then I'd definitely start in the south and end in Chicago. You're much more likely to have decent weather in late April than early April that far north, and yes 3 weeks can make a big difference at that time of year.

Since you're already going to Nashville, I'd cut 2-3 days somewhere and add a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's about 3.5 hours east of Nashville. April would be a better month than March for this park.

The one caveat is to try to avoid spring break crowds. Again, I think April is a little better than March in that aspect because most universities and schools have their spring breaks in March rather than April, but I'm not completely sure. If you can time it right, go to Great Smoky during the week instead of over a weekend to avoid some of the crowds.

Austin: Day 1 - 4
Day 5: Drive to New Orleans (8 hours), stay there through part of day 9
Day 9: Drive to Memphis (6 hours)
Day 12: Drive to Nashville (3 hours)
Day 14: Drive to Great Smoky Mountain NP (3.5 hours)
Day 16: Drive to Mammoth Caves (4 hours)
Day 17: Drive to Chicago (6 hours) and fly home on Day 21

Those are approximate driving times based on Google maps, obviously if you make a lot of stops or drive in rush hour traffic it will take longer. But I think overall it's fairly realistic and if you prefer to take more time to see things along the way, you could drop Austin or Great Smoky Mountains from your plans.
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May 19th, 2014, 08:29 PM
  #5
cd
 
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In my suggestion above I never meant to cut out New Orleans, I love New Orleans!
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May 19th, 2014, 08:59 PM
  #6
 
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If I may ask: how much per day are you paying for the rental car? Any extra charge for leaving it in a city far from where you picked it up?
How I would do it YMMV: Fly to Chicago. End of day 4 get on the City of New Orleans train at 8PM. Arrive in New Orleans late afternoon of Day 5. See New Orleans and rent the car in NOL on day 8. Rent for 12 days. You have plenty of time to see all you have listed ending in Memphis. Maybe stay at the Peabody hotel?
Drive back through Mississippi on US 61 with a stop in Clarksdale to see the Blues Museum on the to return the car to New Orleans on day 20. See anything you missed in New Orleans before flying home.
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May 20th, 2014, 09:37 AM
  #7
 
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Be sure to tour the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and get tickets for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I would agree about starting in New Orleans if possible in late April and ending up in Chicago mid-May or so.
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May 20th, 2014, 10:30 AM
  #8
 
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You've got plenty of time. Go in April or early May.

One full day (two nites) for Mammoth Cave.

I'd stop along the Mississippi--Clarksdale for Blues Museum, Vicksburg for Civil War, Natchez for stately old homes.
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May 20th, 2014, 12:16 PM
  #9
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Thanks so much for your replies, everyone - so helpful.

We are quite keen to do the driving rather than train, as we loved that aspect of it when we did a different trip in the US a couple of years ago. We know there can be a fee for out of state drop off.

We're a bit tied to dates unfortunately, as I have to coincide with school holidays, but I do have a week's wiggle room as I have time owed to me. So with that in mind, the last 3 weeks in April seem like the best bet.

Here's an amended itinerary based on more research and your feedback - thanks again!

Day 1 - Arrive New Orleans
Day 5 - Drive to Vicksburg, stopping in Natchez for lunch
Day 6 - Drive to Memphis
Day 8 - Drive to Nashville
Day 10 - Drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Day 12 - Drive to Mammoth Cave National Park
Day 14 - Drive to Louisville, stop in Hodgenville for lunch
Day 16 - Drive to Chicago, stop in Indianapolis for lunch
Day 21 - Fly home

Any thoughts gratefully received!
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May 20th, 2014, 01:04 PM
  #10
cd
 
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Let me recommend driving to Vicksburg and visiting the civil war battlefield and then staying the night in Natchez at: http://www.monmouthhistoricinn.com/ making sure to have reservations for dinner at the Inn in the dining room. We loved this and still remember it fondly.
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May 20th, 2014, 01:09 PM
  #11
cd
 
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Sorry, you would have to spend the night in Natchez first and then drive thru Vicksburg on your way to Memphis.
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May 20th, 2014, 01:20 PM
  #12
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Ooh, thanks for the tip!
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May 20th, 2014, 04:04 PM
  #13
 
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<>

That's not a budget, that's a wishlist. Speak in $ not concepts. The US has innumerable chains that will fit most "budget" requirements.

You are correct in avoiding the train like plague. There is one person on this board who actually recommends trains in the US other than in the Northeast corridor (tomfuller) and there's a reason for that - intercity train service outside the DC-Boston line sucks. You don't see The Man in Seat 61 - a train geek of the highest order - post in the US forums.

March/April v. July is based on your tolerance. March is still winter in Chicago (h--l, on some days July could be winter in Chicago, or it could be a near approximation to Death Valley, can't tell). But Texas is outstanding in early April. In July, every place on your list south of Chicago will be hot.

From Memphis to New Orleans, see some of the old Southern plantations.

From Nashville to Memphis, drive fast, there's nothing in between of any real use.

I'd cut a day from Memphis and from the park. Memphis is a bit of a dump (#4 in the US in violent crime for cities > 250K residents). I wouldn't go, but it's your list and it has some attractions. I WOULD go to Kentucky and hit the bourbon trail.
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May 20th, 2014, 05:38 PM
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The last 3 weeks in April should be nice. Weather will be a bit unpredictable the further north you get but there's nothing you can do about that. The South is beautiful in spring. And Easter weekend is April 4-5 in 2015 so you should avoid any families on vacation due to a long weekend off from school.

I would say overall your itinerary is pretty reasonable and a good mix of big cities and smaller towns/parks. You might want to drop one day from Chicago and add it elsewhere - it looks like you'll probably have about 5 full days there which is fine, so long as you don't feel rushed in one of the other cities.

The only other thing to consider is that Great Smoky Mountains is much bigger and there's far more to see than at Mammoth Cave. I would urge you to leave Great Smoky late in the day, arrive at Mammoth in late evening and give yourself all of the next day to visit that park, then leave the following morning for Louisville. Perhaps that is already your plan...
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May 20th, 2014, 06:06 PM
  #15
 
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You could not PAY me to do this trip in July. New Orleans is a hellhole - incredibly hot and humid. I would do the trip in March and in reverse, starting in NO an heading north from there to get better weather.
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May 21st, 2014, 06:08 AM
  #16
 
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I agree that the south in July is a mistake. Not only is it miserably hot, it is miserably humid. And there are likely to be mosquitoes... And earlier in the year you should go south to north.

How important is Memphis? If you are going to Natchez (some lovely buildings) and Nashville, you can connect them on the Natchez Trace Parkway - http://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm While I prefer the Blue Ridge Parkway - http://www.nps.gov/blri/index.htm - there is plenty of history along the NTP and it is a pleasant drive.

It is not true that there is only one Amtrak fan on this board. Two years ago I did a cross-US train trip and thoroughly enjoyed it (start here: http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/...shore-limited/ ). It is true that I was in sleeper class, where the food was mostly good and the company was interesting, and I didn't expect the trains to be on time (but most were). (On the east coast day trains you need to board with your own food.) It is also not true that man-in-seat61 disses US trains. He is so much a fan of the California Zephyr there's a video of it on his website, which has plenty of info on US trains; http://www.seat61.com/UnitedStates.htm

There is a new, luxury, option on the Chicago-New Orleans route: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/tr...vel&_r=0route:
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May 21st, 2014, 09:00 AM
  #17
 
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mebanana--

Looking at your revised itinerary (that is, south to north, I would not cut a day from Memphis. Memphis has lots of interesting things to do and it will take two days.
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May 21st, 2014, 09:05 AM
  #18
 
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If you have any interest in Kentucky's Bourbon Trail, two great distilleries are not to far off the path of your Mammoth Cave to Louisville drive, Maker's Mark and Jim Beam. You might want to look at lunch in Bardstown as your choices might be better than in Hodgenville.
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May 21st, 2014, 10:24 AM
  #19
cd
 
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We did part of the Bourbon Trail and loved Maker's Mark!
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May 21st, 2014, 11:28 AM
  #20
 
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Chicago is usually pretty miserable through March and early April. If you can, start in the south and work your way north. Unless you only plan to be indoors in Chicago. And there is plenty to do, just not outdoor things.

July is great in Chicago, though, but more expensive and crowded every weekend.

Good luck!
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