Transit times between Vancouver, Seattle, and Los Angeles
August 11, 2007 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Quickie road trip! How long does it take to drive from L.A. to Seattle? And how long to drive from downtown Seattle to downtown Vancouver, BC? And how long from Seattle to L.A.? How would you budget your time in each city? We're leaving on Sunday evening and we have to get back by Friday night. We might skip Vancouver if the timetable gets too tight.

There are two drivers and we'll only stop for gas, meals, potty. We're not going to risk getting a speeding ticket, so we'll be driving (roughly) the speed limit. No time for scenic routes.

1) How many driving hours to get to Seattle from L.A.?
2) How long to get from Seattle to Vancouver, BC (taking ferries and all that stuff into account)?
3) After we leave Seattle, how many hours to get to San Francisco?
posted by oldlies to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: OK, I just Googled the distances and Seattle is way far. It's 382 miles and it's another 808 miles to Seattle. Yikes. I think doing all of it in 5 days might be too ambitious.
posted by oldlies at 8:26 PM on August 11, 2007

You can do LA-Seattle if you're willing to tag-team an overnight drive... this is about 20 hours of driving, which is long but is not an ass-breaker. That effectively gives you Tuesday morning until Thursday lunchtime to bum around. I think the key question here is how much rest you all are used to and how easily you all get worn out.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:40 PM on August 11, 2007

The Seattle-Vancouver trip can be 2.5 hours or so or it can be 4 or 5 hours depending on how the border crossing is doing.
posted by proj at 8:49 PM on August 11, 2007

If you do end up going to Vancouver, I'd budget ~3 hours each way. The drive usually goes a little quicker than that, but it's pretty easy to get stuck up at customs, waiting for the cars in front of you.
posted by timelord at 8:50 PM on August 11, 2007

5 days is DEFINITELY too ambitious, especially if you aren't used to driving that distance. I find driving from Portland to L.A. pretty taxing let alone adding all of that extra distance.

I think if you had 8 days it'd be a lot more reasonable. If you can't make that work, I'd suggest driving somewhere closer.
posted by nonmerci at 9:01 PM on August 11, 2007

As has been mentioned, the border crossing is the biggest unknown in your planning. I've had everything from a 30 second crossing (early morning, no cars backed up in front of me, a cursory glance from the customs official) to a 3.5 hour traffic jam at the tail end of a 3 day Canadian holiday. If there is some sort of terrorism alert or whatever, expect much longer delays. (Also, the normal Seattle -- Vancouver route is all on roads, no ferries involved. Taking a water route, especially via Victoria, is far more beautiful, but takes longer.)
posted by Forktine at 9:10 PM on August 11, 2007

And if you're doing this trip before the end of August, there's some pretty major construction on I-5 just south of downtown Seattle that could wreak havoc on a tightly-timed trip.
posted by pdb at 9:34 PM on August 11, 2007

skip vancouver, you have not adequate time to cross the border and view this beautiful city in your frame. what you gonna do, drive the whole fucking time?
posted by bruce at 10:22 PM on August 11, 2007

If you need to get out of the car for a few minutes, the Sundial Bridge in Redding is good for about a half an hour's worth of free leg-stretching entertainment.
(Also, Redding is the northernmost limit of In-N-Out, if that's your thing.)
posted by janell at 10:24 PM on August 11, 2007

pay attention to what pdb said about the road construction around Seattle. It may just be overexaggeration by our TV news, but it sounds like it is going to screw up traffic in the region in a big way. The partial closure on I5 is going to put a lot of pressure on the already overcrowded alternate routes.
posted by Good Brain at 10:32 PM on August 11, 2007

Coming from Seattle to Vancouver there are two border crossings from the I-5. Sometimes the line up at the truck crossing is significantly shorter than the Peach Arch crossing. You can take either. As you approach the border tune into Vancouver's traffic radio station at AM 730 and you'll get frequent border crossing reports. Also be aware that there is a tunnel under the Fraser River, and if you are travelling north in the afternoon rush hour, there is only one lane heading your way under that tunnel and the waits can be interminable. Again, AM 730 will give you all the details, annoyingly often.
posted by salishsea at 11:13 PM on August 11, 2007

why are you undertaking this adventure? are you excited about a marathon drive (I love these as well - I just spent the day in my car driving from Vancouver BC to Anarchist Hill - just outside of Osooyos, BC - and back, to find a sunny patch of sky) or do you want to see something different?

I have driven the I-5 continuously from Vancouver to Eugene OR, and continuously from San Diego up to San Francisco. The I-5 is ugly, can be congested, and really doesn't reflect much on the towns and cities that it traverses. It's a speedy way through places, not a way to quickly see these places.

Here's a wild thought - why not drive Highway 97 instead? This is North America's longest North-South highway, and it begins in the high desert plains of Northern California and ends on the rugged Northern border of BC/Yukon. You will drive much, and see much.

Have only five days? Then break up the project into chunks, and return to complete more every year. You won't regret it.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:45 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

The US/Canada border crossing is completely unpredictable. One time it took me 5 minutes. Another time it took me 5 hours of bumper-to-bumper lineups for several miles. No exaggeration.
posted by randomstriker at 11:50 PM on August 11, 2007

The Seattle construction is going to be a beast. The state Department of Transportation openly stated that they need half the people who would be traversing that road not to. The University of Washington has offered to rent its dorm rooms to people who work in Seattle for $40 a night. I suspect the duration of the twice-daily traffic jams of I-405 (the main alternate) will more than double. Consensus among the people I've talked to is that if they worked in Seattle, they'd take all their vacation days now.

As much as I adore our fair city and praise her name ... at present, you should consider (a) Amtrak (I know they run Seattle-Vancouver, dunno if you can start that line further south); (b) checking out the camping and hiking around Mt. Rainier (no need to go through town—just don't forget any gear because there is no way you are getting to REI this month; or (c) stopping at San Francisco or Portland (depending on which version of Seattle you were hoping to see).
posted by eritain at 11:51 PM on August 11, 2007

Response by poster: Sure glad I checked with the MeFi community before making the trip. The Seattle traffic situation sounds like a deal breaker. I love driving on the open road, but gridlock is drudgery.

Seawallrunner: we love to drive just about anywhere. I wanted to give him a whirlwind tour of a few beautiful cities before he goes away to college. Just spending some time together. I agree with your assessment of the characterlessness of the I-5 in California. Boooring. But I love the Hwy 97 idea, BTW.

Please keep posting comments. Even if I don't go to Seattle and Vancouver this week, I want to go in the very near future (i.e. next couple of months).
posted by oldlies at 12:09 AM on August 12, 2007

Last weekend I drove from Vancouver to Seattle and back. At 7:45 a.m., as we were approaching the border, the radio advised that the customs line at peace Arch was 2.5 hours and at the truck crossing was 2 hours. So we took the truck crossing, and were there for three hours and forty-five minutes. We were in the line so long that we didn't even bother to keep the car running -- we just pushed it most of the way as the line moved.

On the way back, there were only four cars in front of us at the border in the wee small hours

So, it's unpredictable, and the radio (AM 730) is not necessarily accurate.

Oh: and even after midnight, the construction heading north out of Seattle slowed traffic to a crawl. It was faster to get off the highway, drive through Everett, and then get back on the I-5.

To ping off what eritain was saying, Amtrak runs from Los Angeles to Seattle via the Coast Starlight train and from Portland to Vancouver BC via the Amtrak Cascades train. You can transfer at any point. However, the train only runs out of Vancouver once a day, at 5:30 a.m.; people that I know who take that train usually drive to Bellingham and catch the train from there, if I recall correctly.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:49 AM on August 12, 2007

Three years ago, I did Vancouver-LA in about 28 hours. I stopped for gas, washroom and the occasional nap. Nothing else.

Just this summer I did a coast-to-coast trip from Prince Rupert, BC to North Sydney, NS in 4.5 days.

So you can definitely do the marathon driving thing, especially if you have a spare driver.

My advice for long distance marathon driving is to never drive sleepy. Don't drink coffee to keep awake. If you find that you're feeling a bit sleepy or tired, just pull over and take a power nap.
posted by MiG at 6:38 AM on August 12, 2007

The real variable is that the Truck Crossing @ the Peace Arch only has one lane for cars to cross - so if there are too many people trying to be saavy and get around the traffic, it backs up just as badly.

If you want a faster border crossing, exit the freeway at the Guide Meridian in Bellingham, and head north to the Lynden/Aldergrove crossing. That one *can* backup on US/Canadian holidays, but it is almost always faster than the Peace Arch/Truck Crossing.

Plus, it gets you right onto Candian Highway 1.

(Or if you really want an adventure, there's Sumas/Abbotsford too...)
posted by lastyearsfad at 10:12 AM on August 12, 2007

Oh, the Amrtrak Cascades runs from Eugene, OR to Vancouver, BC according to their website, but if you look at the train schedule, the run trains from:

Eugene, OR to Seattle, WA
Portland, OR to Bellingham, WA
Portland, OR to Vancouver, BC

So to go the whole way, you have to change trains with a ~3 hour layover. Plus, the trains have the lowest priority on the rail line, so they have to yield to every freight/whatever train they meet on the way - it's a pretty and pleasant way to travel - but *definitely not time efficient.*
posted by lastyearsfad at 10:17 AM on August 12, 2007

If you want to make the long drive, but avoid the Seattle traffic mess, you could turn right in Oregon and check out Crater Lake. It's a wonderful drive, the traffic is light, the roads are in good shape, and the views once you get there are worth driving up from L.A. for.
posted by nomisxid at 10:47 AM on August 13, 2007

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