Help me choose a route East.
March 14, 2018 12:29 PM   Subscribe

I am in Astoria, Oregon and it's time to start heading slowly back to Asheville, NC. Which is the best way to go with these criteria in mind: towing a camper, staying in state parks, avoiding bad weather, seeing fabulous scenery and quirky offbeat things, including Yellowstone (or not?) and Chicago on the itinerary and taking back roads as much as possible?

I left Asheville last October 10 in my truck and tiny (16') camper and it has been an amazing journey. I drove all the Pacific Coast Highway from, basically, San Diego to Astoria. I was going to go further up and visit some islands, Vancouver, Seattle, etc., but unfortunately budget is going to make that impossible. So it's time to head back to Asheville, but I don't need to be there until May. I like to travel about 100 miles a day although I'm not opposed to the occasional 200 mile day. Yeah, I know, but I go slowly. Even more slowly if there are mountains, which is another thing to take into consideration - I know there are going to be mountains, but the less mountains, the better. I also need to worry about where to stay at night: I prefer state parks but RV Parks are also fine - my worry is mainly that they are open and not all closed for the winter.

I want to avoid snow and ice and extended periods of sub 32 degrees. I can handle the occasional night drop into the 20s but more than that or days that don't go above freezing and I start worrying about frozen pipes and tanks and all that unfun stuff. My initial plan was to take 90 East from around Seattle (not planning to go to Seattle, just to skirt around it as best I can) and thence to Yellowstone. I was then going to go on sort of straight - Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and see Minneapolis and then on to Chicago. I'm worried that this is unrealistic even in mid to late March.

I would really, really like to go to Yellowstone but not if it means driving through 8 feet of snow only to be eaten by a bear. I've been googling but I can't really find much information on what it's like in Yellowstone in late March. It would be about ten days to two weeks before I got there on this route.

The other option from here would be to go back to Portland and then take 84 through Boise and Salt Lake City. There's a way to go back up north from Pocatello to Yellowstone from there but is this route worth the extra time and miles? Or, skipping Yellowstone and taking this route straight to Chicago means Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa which frankly sounds less interesting. On the other hand, maybe I would love it and there is tons to see?

Any and all thoughts are welcome as I try to figure this out! I am also super interested in suggestions for fun and peculiar things to see and alternate routes to the interstates. I generally try to stay off those unless there are mountains: I have learned the hard way the towing a trailer on small mountain roads is most emphatically to be avoided.

Thanks in advance for all your thoughts!
posted by mygothlaundry to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yellowstone average temperatures according to NOAA won't be above freezing at night until June. I have gone in late June and the snow was just melting and providing excellent habitat for clouds of mosquitoes. I think any Rocky Mountain route will be iffy until then. Check average temperatures at towns in the mountains along your planned route.
posted by Botanizer at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2018

Oof. I wouldn't go through the Rockies in March with a camper. And I'm fine with snow and freezing weather. I can't suggest a southerly route but I wouldn't suggest anything north of Denver. I was in Wyoming and Colorado, including Yellowstone, in mid September and it was near-freezing at night with occasional snow. Most roads in Yellowstone aren't even open until April anyway. The one that is (Beartooth Highway) is well-known for having feet of snow along the roadside.

I wish I could tell you differently because that area of the country is definitely worth seeing. But I - an experienced camper and winter-lover - would wait until at least late April, which doesn't sound like an option for you.
posted by AFABulous at 1:36 PM on March 14, 2018

When I lived in Denver it snowed on the last day of summer.

When I drove from LA to IA city I was concerned about driving in the mountains too(though a later trip on I-70 proved it was nbd), so I took I-10-I-15- I-40 - I-35.

For a camper in Chicago I would find a spot in the suburbs and take public transport in.
posted by brujita at 1:46 PM on March 14, 2018

Yellowstone. Alert 1, Severity, caution, Most park roads closed to automobiles for the season
Most park roads closed to automobiles November 6 and will begin reopening April 20th.

I think it's dicey. If you have a propane heater, like a small Mr. Buddy or even your camper stove, you can get the camper pretty warm, but it may not be the experience you want.

You have to cross the Rockies and there are a limited number of passes. I90, I80, I70. I kept getting ask.mes when googling.

I have come across part of I-70 in sketchy weather with a camper, and several times in a minivan. When it's clear, it's fine. I-70, as an interstate highway, is engineered to limit extreme grades and is well-maintained and monitored. Make sure the safety chain on the camper is well-secured. If it's bad weather, there are places to pull off. Colorado winter weather is very different to the East Coast. It snows, stuff shuts down. The next day the sun comes out, and eastern Colo. is very dry, and the snow just goes away. It's not the ice and slush of Maine, for sure. Passes across the Rockies will be at fairly high elevation, cold and often snowy, so you can be stuck pulled off the road for a day or 2 at most, but it clears fast. Vail Pass on I70 is at 2 miles elevation.

If you come across I-70, there's Bryce and Arches NPs, and gorgeous country. There was frost on the ground when I went to Arches NP; had the place pretty much to myself and enjoyed it so much. Then you can go back up to I80 on I86 out of Denver. I70 goes across Kansas, and I'm sure the sprouting wheat fields are lovely in April, but Kansas never ends. Neither does Nebraska, but you'd miss part of it.
posted by theora55 at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2018

oh, and even east of the Rockies is sketchy this time of year. I live on your Minneapolis to Chicago route and yesterday we had a Surprise! snowstorm and people had to pull over on the side of the road til it stopped. The Dakotas are going to be windy as all heck.

According to Google maps, if you go from Portland > SLC > ABQ > Chicago via interstate, it's 2700 miles vs. ~2100 for any of the northern routes. 600 miles is not insignificant but it's a lot safer, winter-wise, and there's lots to see between Portland and Albuquerque (I can't really comment on the rest, but St. Louis to Chicago is a snoozefest.)
posted by AFABulous at 2:29 PM on March 14, 2018

350 miles south of Denver, here in Santa Fe, we had snow as recently as this past weekend. It wasn't much and it didn't stick around long, but it could give you an idea of how far is still "occasional snow" country. Oh, and it's also getting into high wind season in the New Mexico northern and central region.

Good luck and safe travels!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:57 PM on March 14, 2018

US route 20 is a fabulous road trip road , as is US route 50 from Austin Nevada to Kansas City.
The area between Burns Oregon and Austin Nevada is scenic sagebrush , Oregon highway 205 Nevada 140 recommended either way have fun, is very helpful for traveling inexpensively .
posted by hortense at 9:51 PM on March 14, 2018

I'd get into the dry country between the Cascades and the Rockies and turn south. Go across Nevada and then east across southern Utah, taking in the parks. Go right down the middle of Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, exploring the parks and little towns. Then across to Asheville however you like. There are some mountains on this route but it will be warmer and incredibly scenic. I made a rough Google Map.
posted by LarryC at 11:18 PM on March 14, 2018

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