Safest path to haul a trailer through the Rockies?
March 3, 2012 1:28 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice crossing the Rockies.

Special snowflake details:

We're coming up from Fort Collins, headed toward Washington State. The wrinkle here is that we've got a pickup truck towing a two ton trailer behind it. I'm looking for the safest route possible, avoiding sharp corners and steep hills.

We're looking to do this on Sunday or Monday, depending on weather.

Thanks in advance.
posted by mordax to Travel & Transportation around Rocky Mountains, ID (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I-80 or I-84 to I-5 and then north seems like the logical route? The interstates are graded, kept clear of snow, etc.
posted by hattifattener at 1:54 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Three points:

One, the interstate system, pretty much by definition, is designed for large trucks towing trailers. Obviously you'll need to drive more conservatively than someone in a zippy little car, but corners and grades are set for trucks. The long descents from the mountain passes are where people get into trouble, overheating their brakes and driving too fast for the conditions.

Two, assuming you are headed for coastal Washington (eg Seattle, Olympia, etc), you actually have three sets of mountain passes to deal with: the Rockies (dropping you into Salt Lake City), the Wallowas/Blue Mountains (dropping you into Pendleton), and then the Cascades. Along the way there are some smaller passes (eg between SLC and Twin Falls, and between Yakima and Ellensburg), too. So you'll want to check the pass conditions for each state (all happily online now, and with toll-free numbers) the day before, and make contingency plans -- if the conditions are bad and passes are closing, it can make more sense to swing way around, even if it adds hundreds of miles to your trip.

Three, each state's Department of Transportation sets rules for winter pass travel, including requiring "traction tires" and chains. Read those rules now, and make sure you are either carrying the required supplies or are prepared with an alternate route. The rules go by vehicle weight, and with the trailer you are probably going to be in a more restrictive category.
posted by Forktine at 6:23 AM on March 3, 2012

My suggestion would be to pretty much follow the old oregon trail. Go north up i25 to i 80 at cheyenne than to i 84 in boise than down the gorge to portland and up i-5 to where ever. If you are headed to eastern washington just turn off i 84 wherever you need to. This will avoid the worst of the passes, you will be traveling along the interstate so services will be available (although don't mess around it can still be a long way to the next little town until you hit i-5. Either time the trip to avoid the weather or be prepared to just park for a day or two until the storm is done. The worst of the weather is usually done this time of year but it can still get nasty. Stay in the slow lane and just accept you will be going slow and plan for a slow average trip time, say 50 mph average speed or maybe even 45. Check your tires every time you stop with a good pressure gauge and feel them also. If they are too hot to rest your hand on for a long time they are too hot and either need more air or you need to slow down. The two biggest mistakes people make with towing is not adjusting the air pressure correctly (I would read the sidewall and just inflate them to whatever they say the max is for this trip) or overheating the brakes by riding them down the hills-downshift instead and never built up too much speed. From my days working in a tire store trailer tires tend to get neglected so check yours thouroughly before leaving. If they are worn out, cracked or damaged just replace them with tires that can carry that two tons. A new set of tires is much, much cheaper than a blowout and tow truck and unbelievably cheaper than a blowout and crash that totals the trailer (all too common when a heavy trailer loses a tire). The same goes for your tow vehicle tires and if you can have at least a spare for the pickup and the trailer would be a really good idea.

Good luck.
posted by bartonlong at 9:03 AM on March 4, 2012

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