Interstate 85 begins as a fork off Interstate 65 in Montgomery. From here, I-85 parallels U.S. Route 80 until the highway nears Tuskegee. At Tuskegee, I-85 leaves U.S. 80 and starts to parallel U.S. Route 29, which the highway parallels for much of its length.
I-85 also passes near Auburn, Opelika and Lanett before crossing the Chattahoochee River into Georgia.
Alabama state line to LaGrange
In Georgia, Interstate 85 bypasses West Point before coming into the LaGrange area. East of LaGrange, I-85 intersects Interstate 185. Travelers can take I-185 to Columbus and Fort Benning.
I-85 in Georgia is secretly designated - but not signed as - State Route 403.
LaGrange to Atlanta
From LaGrange, I-85 heads northeastward towards Atlanta. Before reaching Atlanta, the highway passes the suburbs Newnan, College Park and East Point as well as intersecting Interstate 285 and providing access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. On the south side of the city, I-85 merges with Interstate 75 to form the Downtown Connector. Just before downtown, the highway goes through a pile-up intersection with I-20. Afterward, the two highways go through the heart of the city until they split just north of Georgia Tech. I-75 heads northwest while I-85 heads northeast. However, at the exit, I-75 drivers must take the right three lanes while I-85 motorists must use the left three lanes.
Atlanta to South Carolina state line
Continuing northeast of Atlanta, Interstate 85 continues through the northeastern suburbs, bypassing Chamblee and Doraville, where there is another intersection with I-285 (nicknamed Spaghetti Junction).
Continuing northbound, drivers will see another interstate spur - Interstate 985, which provides a link to Gainesville - before heading through northeastern Georgia. At Lake Hartwell - which was formed by the damming of the Savannah River - I-85 crosses into South Carolina.
Just northeast of the I-75/I-85 northern split, I-85 was rerouted just north of its original route in the 1990s from just northeast of the interchange to near the State Route 400 interchange. The original route is now signed State Route 13.
Interstate 85 provides the major transportation route for the Upstate of South Carolina, linking together the major centers of Greenville and Spartanburg with regional centers of importance.
Georgia state line to Greenville
In South Carolina, Interstate 85 bypasses Clemson and Anderson on the way to Greenville. Beginning at Anderson, I-85 widens from four to six lanes. Near Powdersville, U.S. 29 joins I-85 and they run concurrently until they cross the Saluda River.
Greenville to Spartanburg
Interstate 85 bypasses just south of Greenville, but provides two links into the city via spur routes Interstates 185 and 385. U.S. 29 splits from I-85 and joins I-185 toward downtown Greenville. I-185 recently saw a major expansion south of the city as the Southern Connector was completed. In this section, the roadway is six to eight lanes wide, depending on the location.
Much of the Upstate's industrial, institutional, and commercial base is located along I-85, especially with regards to the growing automotive industry. The North American headquarters for Michelin, along with a major BMW assembly plant, and the new Clemson University International Center for Automobile Research are all visible from the road. Additional companies have major operations along this corridor, including Hubbell Lighting, Sara Lee, Hitachi, and General Electric. I-85 also bypasses Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, which serves the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area.
Spartanburg to North Carolina state line
Instead of going into Spartanburg, I-85 bypasses the city to the north. Its original route is now signed Business Loop 85 and was approved by AASHTO on April 22, 1995.
North of Spartanburg, I-85 narrows from six lanes back to four lanes and bypasses Gaffney. At Gaffney, motorists can see The Peachoid, a large water tower with its top shaped like a peach, which is one of the state's most important crops.
Much of the terrain between Spartanburg and the North Carolina border is rural in nature.
In North Carolina, I-85 merges with I-40 from Greensboro to Hillsborough, just west of Durham. In Alamance County, the highway is also known as the Sam Hunt Freeway.
South Carolina state line to Charlotte
Immediately upon coming into North Carolina, drivers will realize that Charlotte, North Carolina is still 45 minutes away. This is because Interstate 85 takes a more west to east routing along with U.S. Route 29 and U.S. Route 74, nears Kings Mountain.
Drivers will go through Gastonia and will eventually reach Charlotte with the option to bypass using Interstate 485.
Charlotte to Greensboro
In Charlotte, I-85 bypasses Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and turns northeastward just before reaching downtown Charlotte; thus I-85 just bypasses downtown to the north.
The junction between I-85 and Interstate 77 north of downtown Charlotte is a strange configuration. While I-85 passes under I-77, the northbound lanes of I-77 are to the west of I-77's southbound lanes. The travel lanes on I-77 return to their proper positions north and south of this interchange.
North of Charlotte, the highway passes near Concord, where one can see the Lowes Motor Speedway. There is much dedication to the Earnhardt family as there are many roads named using his name, such as Dale Earnhardt Boulevard and North Carolina Highway 3.
At milepost 98, the northbound lanes of I-85 cross under the southbound lanes, and cross back to the correct configuration near milepost 102. This results in motorists driving to the left of opposing traffic for approximately three miles (5 km). The switch is not very noticeable, because the roadways are separated by up to 400 feet (123 m) of woods in this area. A rest area and Vietnam Veterans memorial are located in the median of this section, so the crossover allows for all exits into the rest area to be normal right-hand exits.
Greensboro to Durham
Continuing northbound, I-85 passes though or near Salisbury, Lexington and High Point before reaching Greensboro. At Greensboro, I-85 shifts to its new bypass routing, away from downtown. On the eastern side of the city, I-85 joins Interstate 40. The former I-85 routing nearest downtown Greensboro (now Business I-85/Interstate 40) is also notorious for many traffic accidents and is nicknamed "Death Valley".
The two highways are cosigned as they pass through Burlington and and Mebane then separate near Hillsborough. Interstate 85 continues to Durham while Interstate 40 turns toward Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Around this area, one can visit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University in Durham.
Durham to Virginia state line
From Durham, I-85 turns northeastward and heads toward Virginia. Until replaced during a recent upgrade, signs for Richmond used to exist in this part of North Carolina even though the end of the road is in Petersburg, Virginia.
Starting from the Virginia border, drivers will pass South Hill and McKenney before heading into a large forest of trees. After the forest, Interstate 85 reaches Petersburg and ends at Interstate 95. The highway is briefly cosigned with U.S. Route 460 from a few miles west of Petersburg in Dinwiddie County to I-95.
The last four miles of I-85 near Petersburg once formed the southern end of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, which was completed in 1958. The tolls were removed in 1992 after Interstate 295 was completed.
Virginia's portion of I-85 also the only Interstate highway in the state with a posted speed limit greater than 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour). It was raised from 65 mph to 70 mph (113 km/her) on July 1, 2006 by the state legislature.