Tire chains needed between Sacramento and Spokane?
February 1, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Should I carry tire chains on a late-February drive from Sacramento to Spokane?

We don't yet have tire chains for our 2011 Subaru Outback, and I realize that AWD does not make me invincible in the snow. I would absolutely carry them if I were taking I-80 through the Sierras, but I've never driven I-5 and US 97 in the winter before. Are there points on that route where chains may be required?

Bonus question: When I do get chains, are these decent ones? They were recommended on subaruoutback.org with remarks about the low clearance in the wheel well of our model Outback. Any thoughts on those or other chains are appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Arthur Vandelay to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I-5 north of Redding can require chains or even close down completely. If your travel dates aren't flexible, then watch the weather and carry chains if it looks like snow.
posted by muddgirl at 10:11 AM on February 1, 2013

(There might be high elevations further north through Oregon, too, but I haven't made this drive in the winter before.)
posted by muddgirl at 10:14 AM on February 1, 2013

Definitely chains. Snoqualmie Pass (basically between Weed, CA and just north of the OR border) is a steep route on both sides, and can get snowy/icy. Since you're familiar with the sierras, think of driving down 80 west to Sacramento. Snoqualmie Pass is comparable to driving from Truckee up that first steep/dangerous stretch of Donner Pass, except you have to then drive down a similarly steep slope. It's a short segment of the trip, but the main one to watch out for, IMO.
posted by homodachi at 10:24 AM on February 1, 2013

Response by poster: Chains it is. Thanks, all!
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2013

Response by poster: homodachi: Snoqualmie looks to be in Washington off I-90, not on our route. Did you mean another pass in OR?
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2013

Oops, yes. I meant Siskiyou Pass. Traffic cams here.
posted by homodachi at 10:40 AM on February 1, 2013

Response by poster: Looks like we'll be missing that one; we're getting off I-5 and onto US 97 at Weed. Thanks, though!
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: I've driven that route in the winter and have had to buy chains, so yes, nthing getting chains, just in case. For what it's worth, we bought chains at a Les Schwab store (I think the one in Weed), and there's a thing where if we didn't use them, we could return them to any other Les Schwab store. They might still have that deal.
posted by rtha at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2013

If you're going US 97 chains are even more important. There are some long, cold and lonely stretches going that way.
posted by uncaken at 12:21 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

It may be a greater distance in miles but I would bet that the trip would be faster taking I-5 all the way north to its junction with I-90 on the east side of Seattle, and then I-90 all the way to Spokane. Whatever highway that is which runs through eastern Oregon is going to have 55 mph max speed limits while you can average 65-75 on I-5. Additionally I-5 is a much higher traffic route and kept clear of snow.
posted by thewalrus at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another route which will have much clearer roads would be taking I-5 to the I-84 junction at the Portland, OR area, following the Columbia river on I-84, then go through the tri-cities area to reach Spokane. I-84 is also much more likely to be in good driving condition for chainless cars than US-97. Google Maps says it is about 920 miles which is 100 more than your route, but I also predict will be faster due to the higher overall average speeds on I-5 through Oregon.
posted by thewalrus at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2013

Response by poster: thewalrus: I like the looks of the I-84 route. We've done US 97 in the summer up to Bend in the middle of the night. Definitely not my favorite part of the drive.
posted by Arthur Vandelay at 2:05 PM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: You should buy the chains. Not because you'll need to use them, but because the chain control guys might check for them. There are a bunch of stretches of I-5 in Oregon there where chains are required if the weather gets bad enough, but generally if the weather gets so bad that you *actually* need to chain up your Subaru you will probably not want to be driving (Sidenote: as far as I recall, the 2011 Outback is not supposed to be operated with chains according to Subaru, no?). Also, the rule in Oregon states that AWD cars, not towing anything, with M+S tires, etc., are exempt from the requirement to chain up *so long as you are carrying the chains just in case*.

I also think there are some stretches of 97 where you are supposed to carry chains regardless of the weather.

I agree that I-84 is way more likely to be in good driving shape than 97. I-84 through the Gorge has also gotta be one of the most beautiful drives in the country.
posted by jeb at 7:27 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in eastern Washington.
Avoid 97 in winter unless you're very well prepared and equipped. It might be clear all the way, but if it isn't and you get stuck things can turn nasty quickly and there's some long empty stretches. The interstates have much more regular patrols, so use them this time of year.
Take I-5 then I-84 from Portland to Hermiston, then I-82/395 north. It's better than I-90 because you avoid Snoqualmie pass east of Seattle. Take chains regardless of your route. Even the best roads can get nasty if the weather is bad enough, and it can occasionally get bad enough in February.
posted by normy at 1:27 PM on February 4, 2013

« Older Information on an Italian Folk Song   |   The most fabulous albums Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.