One of the most majestic drives in the US is one that goes from Chicago to Niagara Falls. Passing along two of the Great Lakes, you can’t beat the beautiful scenery and the ultimate bucket list destination.
There are a couple of routes to consider when planning your Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip. Do you want to head straight east, exploring the southern shore of Lake Erie?
Or could you consider first spending some time along the eastern shores of Lake Michigan before crossing into the land of our Canadian neighbors to the north?
If you’re not quite sure which route is best, you’re in luck. We’ve mapped out three different ways to road trip to Niagara Falls from Chicago and the best places to stop along each one.
- Distance from Chicago to Niagara Falls
- How Long Do I Need Driving Chicago to Niagara Falls?
- Best Time of Year to Drive Chicago to Niagara Falls
- Best Stops on a Chicago to Niagara Falls Road Trip
- More Tips for Road Tripping Chicago to Niagara Falls
Distance from Chicago to Niagara Falls
The most direct route to get from Chicago to Niagara Falls will take you through Kalamazoo and Detroit, over the Canadian border towards Hamilton, and on to Niagara Falls in just about 520 miles.
Staying Stateside, you could hug the southern edge of Lake Erie, passing through cities like Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, and Buffalo for a total of 580 miles to Niagara.
We will share with you in the Niagara Falls road trip guide three different routes you can take.
How Long Do I Need Driving Chicago to Niagara Falls?
The fastest route from Chicago to Niagara Falls can be done in about eight hours. But seriously, why rush?
There’s so much to see and do along the way that it’s a much better idea to take your time and spend two to three days on the road. Then, on your way back, you can change your route and see even more of this incredible landscape as you drive from Niagara Falls to Chicago.
Best Time of Year to Drive Chicago to Niagara Falls
Hands down, the best time of year to do a Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip is in the summer. The reason? It’s when you’ll have pleasant temps in the ‘80s. Making the time in the car easy to stop, stretching your legs, and enjoying everything along the way. It also means that the mist from the falls will be refreshing rather than bone-chilling like at other times of the year.
Best Stops on a Chicago to Niagara Falls Road Trip
Northern Route #1
The first of the two Northern Routes you can take on a Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip is gorgeous. You’ll hug the coast of Lake Michigan, stopping at quaint harbor towns like Saugatuck. Then it’s on to Grand Rapids and London, crossing the US/Canada border at the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron.
|Drive||Distance||Estimated Drive Time||Where to Stay|
|Chicago to Grand Rapids, MI||180 miles (289 kms)||2 hours 50 minutes||Grand Rapids|
|Grand Rapids to London, ON||245 miles (394 kms)||3 hours 50 minutes||London|
|London to Niagara Falls, ON||25 miles (201 kms)||2 hours||Niagara Falls|
Let’s take a closer look at each of these stops:
Saugatuck & Grand Rapids, MI
A great place to make a stop along this part of the trip is the beautiful beach town of Saugatuck. You’ll get there in just about three hours traveling along the shores of Lake Michigan on I-90 to I-94, then I-916.
Here, you can stretch your legs on the beach, climb the dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, or just enjoy the town’s shops and restaurants. This lovely place is definitely worth a stop on your road trip to Niagara Falls from Chicago – if not a standalone family lake vacation!
Once you’ve reached Grand Rapids, the kids will love to visit the John Ball Zoo. There are so many animals to see and even ones they can pet. You’ll see some really cool things at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, including a skeleton of a Blue Whale, an antique steam engine, a planetarium, and a good ol’ carousel, making it a must-visit when visiting the city.
If your family needs a bit of outdoor time, head to Millenium Park while you’re in Grand Rapids. This fabulous place is so much more than just a park. Everyone in the family will have fun hiking and biking on the park’s trails, boating on the lake, relaxing on the beach, and cooling off in the splash pad.
Leaving Grand Rapids, head east on I-69. This leg of the Chicago to Niagara Falls drive will take just about four hours and includes traveling over the US-Canada border so have your passports ready. You’ll get to see beautiful landscapes in both Michigan and Ontario on the way to your next destination, London.
For outdoor family fun in London, head to Boler Mountain. No matter the season, you’ll be in for a ton of fun, like hiking, mountain biking, tubing, rope courses, and skiing.
Everyone in the family will love experiencing the past at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village where the past comes to life. Hours of operation vary with the season so make sure to check before heading there.
London is a great area for camping and RVing. There are tons of parks to choose from, including Prospect Hill Campground and Dalewood Conservation Area.
Northern Route #2
The second northern route option for your Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip is slightly further to the south than the first. Instead, you’ll stop in the lovely town of St. Joseph before heading on to Ann Arbor. Crossing the border in Detroit and heading on to Hamilton before reaching Niagara Falls.
|Drive||Distance||Estimated Drive Time||Where to Stay|
|Chicago to St Joseph MI||96 miles (154 kms)||1 hour 40 minutes||St Joseph|
|St Joseph to Ann Arbor, MI||148 miles (238 kms)||2 hours 20 minutes||Ann Arbor|
|Ann Arbor to Hamilton, ON||234 miles(376 kms)||3 hours 45 minutes||Hamilton|
|Hamilton to Niagara Falls, ON||45 miles (73 kms)||50 minutes||Niagara Falls|
St. Joseph, MI
Just over an hour and a half from Chicago, you’ll arrive in St. Joseph. Yes, it is relatively early on the road trip to Niagara Falls from Chicago. But, as one of the best beach towns in Michigan, it’s a must-stop town. Set on the banks of Lake Michigan, it’s the perfect place to spend some time before heading west toward Niagara Falls.
Here you can enjoy the lake with the many sandy beaches like Silver Beach. With lifeguards on duty, everyone can have fun in the water.
Definitely check out Warren Dunes State Park. Hiking up and surfing down the dunes is the best way to release energy before getting back in the car for the rest of the road trip ahead. Or, simply swim in the freshwater. If it’s a hot summer day, let the kids cool off at the Whirlpool Campus Fountain.
Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor is a great stop on the road trip from Chicago to Niagara Falls and just about a 2.5-hour drive from St. Joseph on I-94E.
You’ll love exploring the beautiful campus of the University of Michigan. As a town of intellectuals, there are a bunch of great places to visit in Ann Arbor, like the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. Kids will also love going to the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum where they’re encouraged to touch everything!
If you’re taking this trip in the summer, check out the Ann Arbor Summer Art Festival (A2SAF). There are fun things for everyone in the family. You can also paddle the Huron River or in Gallup Park for some outdoor water fun.
If you’re doing this road trip in an RV, you’ll find a bunch of nice places to park. Although they won’t be in the center of town, you’ll find great places just a short drive away, like Sun Outdoor Kensington Valley and Hell Creek Ranch Campground.
In less than four hours of a drive from Ann Arbor on this Niagara Falls road trip, you’ll reach Hamilton. During this leg of the trip, you’ll be passing over the border into Canada so, have the proper ID ready. In Canada, you’ll travel on Highway 401, then the 403.
Within the city limits, Hamilton has a bunch of its own waterfalls, like Albion Falls, Tews Falls, and Great Falls.
Families that love a good hike can hit the Bruce Trail– The oldest and longest in Canada. You’ll absolutely love exploring the beautiful landscape and waterfalls like Canterbury Falls. For a more relaxing stroll, head to Hamilton’s Bayfront Park.
Other awesome things to do in Hamilton include touring Dundurn Castle, the Battlefield House Museum, and Park National Historic Site. Or check out the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Museum of Steam and Technology.
Hamilton is only a short drive from Niagara Falls (about 40 mins), but it’s such a great place that it should be a major stop for your Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip.
To take the southern route on this Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip, you’ll head east on I-90 out of Chi-town nearly all the way to the Falls. This route will keep you in the States for the entire trip. So, you don’t need your passport. You’ll follow I-90 East nearly the entire way–Super easy!
|Drive||Distance||Estimated Drive Time||Where to Stay|
|Chicago to Toledo, OH||(393 kms)||3 hours 50 minutes||Toledo|
|Toledo to Cleveland, OH||(186 kms)||1 hour 50 minutes||Cleveland|
|Cleveland to Erie, PA||(166 kms)||1 hour 40 minutes||Erie|
|Erie to Buffalo, NY||97 miles (156 kms)||1 hour 35 minutes||Buffalo|
|Buffalo to Niagara Falls, NY||20 miles (32 kms)||25 minutes||Niagara Falls|
Keeping it state-side, you’ll be passing through Indiana and into Ohio. This leg of the trip will take you just about four hours to get to Toledo.
There are tons to do in Toledo for the whole family. Get everyone out of the car and go for a hike in Maumee Bay State Park or enjoy any of the city’s Metroparks, like the brand-new Glass City Metropark.
Kids of all ages will love seeing the animals at the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium. For a real hands-on experience, consider going to the Imagination Station, where they will learn by doing (closed on Mondays). To learn why Toledo is called Glass City, check out the art at the Toledo Museum of Art and see a glass-blowing demonstration (open Wednesday through Sunday).
On this road trip to Niagara Falls from Chicago, one of the best places to stay in Toledo is Maumee Bay State Park, especially if you’re RVing.
From Toledo you’ll travel just over three hours on I-90E to reach Cleveland, the next stop on this road trip from Chicago to Niagara Falls.
One of the best things to do in Cleveland, no matter your age or ability, is to visit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here you can go for a hike, take a stroll, enjoy a ride on the scenic railroad, kayak the Cuyahoga River, and bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The best part of it all is: entrance to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is free for everyone!
Back in the energetic city, there’s something for everyone. Kids will love the Children’s Museum of Cleveland (closed Thursdays), Great Lakes Science Museum, and Cleveland Museum of Natural History (closed Mondays).
Make sure to spend some time on the waterfront for sports, dining, or even just a simple stroll along the water. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must-do
Pro-Tip: Make Cleveland your major stop on the way back to Chicago from Niagara Falls. It’s a longer drive (3.5 hours from Niagara Falls and five hours to Chicago) but totally worth it to spend a full day or two in the city.
During this epic Chicago to Niagara Falls drive, Erie is a great place to get out and experience the beauty of the Great Lakes. You’ll love relaxing on the beach, like Sands Beach in nearby Harborcreek. Or, head to Presque Isle State Park, where there are great beaches, hiking, and a lighthouse to explore.
Other things not to miss in Erie are the Zoo (open daily), Hagen History Center (closed Mondays), ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum (open Wednesday-Sunday), and the Erie Maritime Museum (open Wednesday-Sunday).
For one of the best views of the lake, you’ll want to hike the Erie Bluffs State Park.
If you’re looking for a super unique experience the entire family will love, head out on the waters for Scallywags Pirate Adventure. It’s one you’ll never forget!
Now, Buffalo is literally just down the road from Niagara Falls, but it’s just a great place to spend some time that we just had to put on this itinerary as its own stop.
There’s so much for families to do in Buffalo. Make sure to put both the Buffalo Zoo and Buffalo Museum of Science on the itinerary. The Buffalo Waterfront is the perfect place to spend some time, especially in the summer. Everyone in the family will get into the fun with things like water bikes, kayaking, roller skating and playgrounds.
When you’re ready to continue on your Niagara Falls road trip, you can opt to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada or stay stateside and head up to the falls. Either way, the drive will take about half an hour. Remember to have your documents ready for the border crossing at the Peace Bridge.
Niagara Falls, NY & ON
No matter which route you take to get here. Your final destination is the great Niagara Falls. On The US or Canadian side, this spectacular place has been a favorite destination for centuries. And it continues to be one of the best vacation spots for the entire family.
There are so many ways to experience the falls. Check it out from observation decks on boat tours like the Maid of the Mist, which will get you up close to the base of the falls.
For insane views, you can ride a zipline over the Canadian side of the falls. Or even consider going on a journey behind the falls! Everyone in the family will absolutely love this road trip from Chicago to Niagara Falls. Making it a family trip with memories to last a lifetime.
Pro Tip: To fully experience the falls, you’ll want to travel to see it from both the US and Canadian sides. So, remember to bring your passports to cross the Rainbow Bridge in a car or on the pedestrian walkway.
More Tips for Road Tripping Chicago to Niagara Falls
- Remember your passport! You’ll be crossing the border into Canada, eh? Even if you’re planning to drive south along Lake Erie for this Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip, definitely plan to take your passport with you. You can easily walk across to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for incredible views.
- Stay up to date on border crossing requirements. Here are a few websites that can help:
- Time Zone Change – Pretty much as soon as you leave Chicago, you’ll be crossing into a new time zone (from Central to Eastern) on this Niagara Falls road trip. So make sure to change your clocks!
- To get the most out of your itinerary, plan a different route for the return trip from Niagara Falls to Chicago.
© Family Road Trip