Fastest NYC to Vegas Route Avoiding Snow
January 4, 2008 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who has to move from New York City to Vegas next week. They are renting a U-Haul 14' truck, and are comfortable driving that, but want to stay off snowy mountain roads where their confidence is not as strong. At the same time, they are under a time crunch, and have to make the drive as fast as possible.

Can someone please recommend the best New York City to Vegas driving route that keeps them on major fast roads, and would avoid snowy mountains (and snow in general)

Mapquest says it's about a 37 hour drive assuming fast conditions and a straight shot, hopefully someone can recommend a route that wouldn't add more than 8-10 hours but keep them on dry road surface.

posted by extrabox to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take interstate 81 south; hook up with interstate 40 west in eastern Tennessee, and then with US Highway 93 north in Kingman, AZ. I did this when I drove across the country a couple of Januaries ago. Easy as pie.

(And speaking of pie, your friend will be passing this place. Stop there. Eat some pie.)
posted by dersins at 9:57 AM on January 4, 2008

NY to OK city over to LV?

~38 hours
posted by edgeways at 10:00 AM on January 4, 2008

Slightly off topic, but I rent a lot of trucks, and I find that for long distance, Uhaul is the worst deal all around. Companies like Budget, Penske and Ryder have cheaper mileage and much better equipment. The commercial rates are always cheaper, and I don't think they pry into the "commercial" end of things too much.
posted by pantsonfire at 10:04 AM on January 4, 2008

The most direct route is probably I-80 through most of the upper Midwest, dropping down I-76 to Denver, then taking I-70 over the mountains into Utah and down to Nevada.

Don't do this.

Crossing the continental divide on I-70 is freakin' gorgeous, but I wouldn't do this time of year in a truck (or any car, really) unless you were really, really comfortable driving in icy and snowy conditions, and had a really good set of chains. I was up in the Colorado mountains over Christmas, and driving I-70 during or immediately after snowstorms was white-knuckle for me, despite having learned to drive in those conditions.

Crossing on I-80 can give you a beautiful view as you come down out of the mountains into Salt Lake City, but I-80 also has *a lot* of semis on it that go very fast, even when the roads are quite icy. One of them almost took me out when I hit a patch of ice a few years ago in Iowa on I-80. I'd avoid that crossing too, although it's probably a better option than I-70 if you're stuck.

If it were me, I'd try to drop south earlier in the trip. Google Maps claims it would only add 2 hours (for a total of 39 hours) to hook on to I-70 in Pennsylvania and stay on it to St. Louis, then drop down 44 to Oklahoma City, and take I-40 through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, heading north to Las Vegas only once you cross the Nevada border. However, I've never actually driven this; maybe someone who has can speak to how bad it is in the winter.

But don't do I-70 from Denver to Utah unless you really, really feel comfortable in the snow. The weather might not show a storm forecast for next week, but if there's one thing to know about weather in the mountains, it's that storms can whip up with little warning.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:17 AM on January 4, 2008

I agree with dersins; I've driven cross-country twice, once in the winter, and we took the southern route both times. The whole "when will I ever get out of Texas?" thing is a little daunting, because that is one helluva wide state, but if you are not comfortable driving in snow, crossing the country via I-40 is the best option.

As a bonus, if you head up to Vegas through route 93 in AZ you get to drive over the Hoover dam; the road leading up to it a little scary (narrow, twisty, mountainous) but not usually snowy if I recall correctly. (However, the Hoover Dam Wikipedia page says that some vehicle traffic is inspected or diverted due to post-9/11 security concerns, so your U-Haulin' friend might want to keep that in mind. I don't think the diversion would eat more than an hour or so out of the trip, though.)
posted by bedhead at 10:29 AM on January 4, 2008

I agree with iminurmefi that I-80 / I- 76 / I-70 is not a good idea in the winter, especially in a UHaul.

I've done the I-40 workaround in the winter (on a trip from L.A. to Iowa City) and it worked like a charm.
posted by dontoine at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: I've crossed the country on I-40 on several occasions (and a couple more on 70, 80 and 90). As far as avoiding the Rockies, I-40 probably your best bet. It's also the fastest, straightest, most tollroad-free of the routes I've taken.

As mentioned upthread, from NYC you can either take:

- I-80 out of town, hooking up with I-270 in Akron, OH, then I-70 in Columbus, I-55 outside of St. Louis, and I-44 in St. Louis. Take I-44 into Oklahoma City, where you'll meet I-40. Mappoint says NYC to Vegas this way is 2590 miles.

You'll want a map of the St. Louis interchanges. They're well-marked, but a little strange.


- Take I-78 out of town, it'll become I-81 as you're passing through Amish country. I-81 will become I-40 just before Nashville. Mappoint says this is 2678 Miles to Vegas.


- Take I-95 South out of town, to I-495 West, to I-66, to I-81 South, to I-40 near Nashville. Mappoint says this is 2685 miles.

All three of these put you on I-40. Take I-40 to Kingman, AZ, then US Route 93 past Lake Mead, switching to I-515 to Vegas.

Now... they're sorted by likelihood of snow-related hassle. If the storms that are currently hitting California come barreling across the mid-west, paralyzing Ohio, Indiana or Illinois, then you're going to want to avoid the first route. If the storms also affect the eastern seaboard, then you're probably going to want to consider the third one (because while normally you'd want to avoid the 95 corridor and the DC Beltway, these roads are going to be more likely to be clear during a snowstorm than I-81 through Pennsylvania).
posted by toxic at 10:40 AM on January 4, 2008

I just drove I-40 through California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma and back. New Mexico can fool you. There are some large high altitude plateaus that I-40 goes over, and it can get quite snowy. To add to this, the state is bad about keeping it off of the roads. It was snowing as we were going between Moriarty and Tucumcari, and the road conditions were horrible. We saw five or more rental trucks and trailers that had run off of the road, most overturned.

I saw several signs on I-40 notifying trucks and trailers about restrictions on going over the Hoover Dam on US 93. I wish I could find a picture of them, as I don't remember exactly what they said. They may let you cross with an inspection, but I'd make extra sure that that is the case before you start going up that way. If US 93 does not work, you could take US 95 up instead.
posted by zsazsa at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: Also, let me second pantsonfire about staying away from U-Haul. Penske is your best bet in my opinion. You'll also save on fuel since their trucks are diesel.
posted by zsazsa at 10:58 AM on January 4, 2008

Crossing Hoover Dam - A Guide for Motorists [pdf] says: Recreational vehicles, motor homes, camper trailers in tow, personal watercraft or boats, 5th wheel trailers, non-commercial livestock trailers, small trailers and rental trucks (such as U-Haul Type) may cross Hoover Dam, if they can be inspected easily and completely.

Looks like you'll be able to cross, so long as you make it easy for them to inspect you.
posted by zsazsa at 11:04 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: I agree with everyone on this too. I've crossed the continental divide on the I-40, I-70, and I-80 with my partner as a reluctant mountain driver and while the latter two are amazingly beautiful, the I-40 was the easiest (as in the flattest) of them all.

That said, it is also very open in spots between Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ, and when we encountered a severe thunderstorm (in our rental car) along the I-40 there (in summer), it was pretty intense and frightening. I imagine it could be similar with winter storms, but at least you have places to easily pull over or exit the highway if you have to, which is not as possible in the mountains. I really enjoyed the harsh open landscape there just as much as the mountain landscape.

Just a small aside that might be helpful: We did the two other interstates on road trips with rental cars, but we did the I-80 between Denver, CO and Ogden, UT in a Penske rental moving truck a bit bigger than your friends' truck. (Wouldn't touch the I-70 in a truck as fellow inexperienced truck drivers - esp in winter, and esp with a Uhaul. We've done across-the-continent moves in the US with Penske trucks and we felt much better about them, even though it meant crossing the Can-US border to pick them up.) It takes some time to get used to driving a fully-packed truck with all its momentum! From our own experience of inexperience, I can say, if your friends do encounter steep slopes, don't ride the brakes! - downshift instead.

What a move/road trip! Good luck to them.
posted by onoclea at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2008

Let me chime in thrice about staying away from U-Haul. I have been personally burned twice by them. never again! Read here for more info: uhaulsux
posted by Wezzlee at 11:56 AM on January 4, 2008

zsazsa and onoclea are right about 1-40 through NM in the winter. If a bad storm comes up, the highway may be shut down around either Moriarty and again near Grants. However, when they do shut the highway down, it is usually only for a day or so. We're not talking about road closures that last for weeks on end. Just be prepared to pull over and get a room for the night and pay attention to the weather reports on the radio.

Also, I rented a truck from Ryder to drive furniture from NM to VA this summer. I've rented U-Hauls many times and will never go back. Some of the trucks we've been given have honestly scared the crap out of me. The Ryder truck was in much better condition and more comfortable. When I told Ryder the quote I had from U-Haul, they actually lowered their quote to below U-Haul. It was a positive experience from start to finish.
posted by onhazier at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2008

Best answer: Avoid U-Haul.

Avoid NM and some parts of AZ. I got stuck in a snowstorm in NM (west of Albuquerque) and later that day in AZ (near Flagstaff). In March...

Also, when they get to Vegas - unload the truck that day. Don't let it sit overnight. Especially don't let it sit overnight in a parking lot. It's relatively common for loaded moving trucks to get stolen around here.
posted by krisak at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, Thanks everyone, all the route info and advice is super, and I told them to avoid the UHaul (Penske did have a better rate but the diesel fuel was only on bigger trucks so they won't get to take advantage of that, but they will use Penske anyway...Ryder was way more than everyone else.)
posted by extrabox at 6:55 PM on January 4, 2008

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