Road Trippin' with a trailer over snowy passes...!
January 25, 2006 12:43 AM   Subscribe

What's the best path via roads between Portland, OR and Houston, TX this time of year, keeping potential winter driving conditions in mind?

Bonus information: Will be towing a U-haul trailer with a front wheel drive V-6 coupe, so I'd like to avoid snowy areas. Fastest route is desired; routing through southern california and then across is not a desirable option because it'd add like 2 days to the journey and like double the cost. My actual travel date would be Feb 6-10.

What I'd figured was 84 west to Boise, South in I-15 through Salt Lake, US-6 to I-70, US-191 to US-666 (because I couldn't miss -that-) to I-40, US-287 via Amarillo, Wichita Falls, and DFW, wiggle around in DFW to get on I-45. Where are the sticky points? Only ones I've identified are I-15 north of Salt Lake by the Idaho border, and 191 near Moab because it's almost 5,000 feet up. I don't know the area well, though, and the Utah DOT page says everything's clear and dry, but new storms are coming in this week.

I'm an experienced roadtripper, but I usually travel during warmer times of the year and I'm not used to dealing with a trailer and potentially snowy conditions.
posted by SpecialK to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
It seems like a reasonable route, but you never know what you might run into. I've driven across the country roundtrip during the winter twice and both times we've had to adjust our route because of the weather. Truck stops like Flying J have wireless internet, so we'd check the weather and road conditions whenever we stopped for fuel or food.

The route I would probably take would probably going down through southern California and then over to Phoenix and then stay on I-10 until getting to Houston. It seems a lot safer weather-wise and its only about 1/2 day longer than the most direct route.
posted by disaster77 at 1:09 AM on January 25, 2006

Yeah, you really need to go as south as you can, ASAP. While I've never done a drive to Texas, I have driven from Portland (Wilsonville to be exact) to Kansas and back once, and been a passenger on that route many times. It's not a good winter drive.

We did a southern Cali method once, and we've done a few others. But this time a year, go south to Cali, and Across. It's your best bet. It may be an additional 12 hours or so, but that won't seem like much if you get stuck somewhere for 3 days because they close the roads.

I was thinking about spouting off the route we found as safest/fastest, as you could technically use it to get to Texas if you simply kept going south. But I'd have to look up all the interstates, and it's also somewhat opposite of the South Cali Trip. IE, it's mostly straight east and then south, as opposed to straight south and then east. And I think you are looking for a direct route that includes SE.

Anyway, if you can switch drivers and sleep in the car, and can wait for weather to be clear, you can probably do the drive relatively fast enough that you'll beat any incliment weather that might appear. Not saying you'll need to speed. I was able to do the trip from Portland to the middle of Kansas in 25 hours, and I swear to this day I could have done it in 20 if the other driver wasn't slow to wake up (45 minutes of walking around a rest area) and drove the valuable 5-10mph over the speed limit (fast enough to make a difference, slow enough that no police care) instead of only the speed limit.

No offense or anything Mom.
posted by Phynix at 4:21 AM on January 25, 2006

I really think you should go down I5 to Bakersfield and then across state roads (bypassing LA) to I40, then down to I10 through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, to Houston.

Lots of cuts can be made (I'd probably take the 1604 loop around SA to I35 then cut from New Braunfels to Seguin and I10...), and I don't know the best way from Bakersfield to I40, but my point is that I really think the southern route is what you want. Just be damn sure to avoid LA.

I'm not seeing how the southern route will add 2 days and double the cost compared to the plan of cavorting along the Rockies, in winter, hauling a trailer.

Good luck with your trip.
posted by fleacircus at 4:30 AM on January 25, 2006

Stick to California until San Diego as prescribed above. Enjoy the sunshine to El Paso, once you've made it over that hump (which is snowy at occasional times, but not bad ever) you are home free. You won't see more than a few flakes in the high areas along that route, hopefully nothing to block a freeway.

No, it won't be as exciting as Moab, but when you have a U-Haul excitement is the last thing you want.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:56 AM on January 25, 2006

Another vote on California. I drove from Boise to SLC (using your route) last month, and it was very icy. The highway was actually closed for several hours at one point, so that crews could clean out all the wrecks.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:38 AM on January 25, 2006

I drove from Portland to Dallas a few years back. It was April or May. We tried to go across the mid path much like you're doing and bad weather kept us trapped for 2 days. The highway was closed down due to the snow and "fog".

Follow everyone else's advice, go south.
posted by nadawi at 9:04 AM on January 25, 2006

Well, I went from Bend to Austin and back a few times, so it's not exactly the same thing, but anyway... In the winter, with a trailer, the rockies are not your friends. Go south.
Shoot down I-5 until the roads are clean and dry enough that you forget it's winter. Then turn left. Go through Phoenix, not Flagstaff. If you go through Flagstaff, you might as well have gone through Colorado. Brace yourself for El Paso; it's not a pretty sight.
And bring some snacks; you're in for a long drive.
posted by willpie at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2006

Another vote for I-5 south and go east on I-10. I did the opposite (San Antonio to Seattle in December) and although it's kind of boring, this time of year it's the safest. It'll take you three days (give or take). Keep stocked up on snacks and keep your fuel tank topped up.
posted by deborah at 11:10 AM on January 25, 2006

In my experience, your proposed route could have multi-hundred mile bad patches all the way from Portland through most of Utah. You could easily loose a day or more due to slow driving and closed roads if you have the bad luck with storms. The less direct route could be much more predictable, even if it ends up taking longer.
posted by Good Brain at 1:17 PM on January 25, 2006

Your route looks to be about 2400* miles or so.
FYI: I don't think there is a US 666 now, I think was all renumbered to US 491.

Heading south down I-5 to LA (I wouldn't bother going all the way down to San Diego) and then over is around 2550* so it's not that much longer. It's also likely to be a lot quicker since you aren't on small roads, and only go over on pass that you really need to worry about closing (Siskiyou, highest point on I-5. heh).

However, if you are determined not to head that way:
Take I-84 out to SLC, I-80 to Cheyenne, I-25 south to Denver, I-70 out to Salina and then I-35 south to Dallas.
There are a couple of bits you'll need to worry about, mostly around SLC, but that route stays mostly away from the snow and steep passes and once you get out past Denver it's smooth sailing.
It is, however, one of the world's most boring drives so you'll enjoy everyone of the 2300 miles* or so. heh.
Alternately, in Denver, continue south on I-25 past Colorado Springs, then take US87 down to Amarillo. You'd probably be pretty safe from snow on I-25.

If you are really worried about weather, I think it's best to stick to Interstates, since they are cleared longer before closing, and cleared first after closing.

*(All mileage approximate, natch)
posted by madajb at 1:46 PM on January 25, 2006

Thanks madajb, that would be the route we figured out was the safest/fastest. Definatly boring. Wyoming is nothing impressive, and neither is the long stretch from Denver to Salina.
posted by Phynix at 2:25 PM on January 25, 2006

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