Driving is fun, for a while.
January 20, 2008 4:24 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to drive from Chicago to Seattle in February?

What are some interesting things to see and do along the way?

Any advice on driving through the mountain passes?
posted by 517 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Given the weather, and the likely reasonably efficient routes, you're better off postponing until spring to avoid being disabled or stranded in snow and/or subzero temperatures. Also, some major routes (I-80 for instance) close for long stretches when there's snow on the ground and/or during certain date ranges.

However, if you must drive, you must. Stick to major interstates that will be open year-round, have the requisite safety stuff, including food and blankets, and have enough cash on hand that you can check into any two-bit motel nearby when the road turns to ice.

I'll leave it to others to describe intersting things to see and do, as I'm used to the Chicago/SoCal route myself.
posted by davejay at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2008

Honestly? 57 to Memphis, 40 to Bakersfield, and up 5 through California and Oregon.

It will add a thousand miles to your trip, but it's by far the safest and sanest way to go.

40 cuts right through the Southwest -- Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, etc. --- and California has lots of interesting places, although none of them are actually along 5. You're on your own for 57 :-)
posted by tkolar at 4:43 PM on January 20, 2008

I've driven one way through South Dakota and the other through North Dakota. They are about the same amount of time.

Both are sufficiently boring, but I found the billboards through South Dakota to be more annoying than the long stretches of nothing.

I do not recall any mountain passes until some rather tame ones in Idaho.
posted by aetg at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2008

I've driven through Montana in February and lived there for four years. There are a few major mountain passes between Bozeman and Missoula on I-90. You need a 4WD vehicle and/or snow chains. It is not unusual for them to close the Interstate so you will want to know all the applicable state highway phone numbers before you go. Don't get low on gas - the West is DESOLATE if you're used to the midwest. Have food and blankets and other emergency stuff in your car. Don't take side roads, stay on the interstate.

Note that snow chains are often REQUIRED in national parks - at least Yellowstone and Mt Rainier in my personal experience. Don't assume national/state parks will be open; check ahead of time.
posted by desjardins at 5:00 PM on January 20, 2008

really? if you are moving: sell car - fly to Seattle - buy new car. If you are taking a road trip: I'm with tkolar and desjardins on this one. I did a reverse trip like this a year or so ago, but that was in august. there are some pretty cool things to see along the way, especially if you are into geology.

If you're REALLY, REALLY set on taking a northern route, you will need to buy chains and practice putting them on. Chains are mandatory on some of the passes, and you never know when a storm is going to come through. Make sure you have a good Winter Survival Kit in your car. Bring a gas can Just In Case; There are stretches along I-90 with 300 miles between gas stations (IIRC).

I-90 is pretty damn boring after eastern Minnesota until you get into Wyoming (note: this is like 2 days worth of driving...). then it gets boring again at Spokane until you get to the Cascades.

Most places are going to be fully/partially closed due to the weather. Badlands Nat'l park is along I-90 and Yellowstone/Grand Teton parks aren't too far away, but getting there will be anywhere from Difficult to Impossible.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2008

do auto driveaway. it's like a free rental car, and you aren't putting the miles on your own vehicle.
posted by buka at 5:28 PM on January 20, 2008

Here is a map with links to webcams on roads in MT - click on "Bozeman Hill" for a view of 90 just east of Bozeman.

I found this by googling "driving conditions montana winter" - it brought up all kinds of .state sites with road condition info.
posted by rtha at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2008

Take the 80 all the way to Ogden Ut. The 84 to Portland Ore.The 5 to Seattle. All interstate all the way.
posted by hortense at 6:34 PM on January 20, 2008

I drove from CT to Seattle with a toyota matrix and a uhaul trailer in February of 06, with my father.

I drove south to i-70, went to denver (actually the scariest part, the roads iced up as we were trying to find a hotel to stay out). Took I-80 through wyoming (and got to stop in the same weird ass town in the middle of nowhere I've managed to stop at every time i drive cross country, and I only recognize it from the geography) The wyoming run had some fun white outs, even though it wasn't snowing, it could whip up the powder over the plains and cause huge plumes of it. Then got through utah up to southern idaho within a day. Then did 84 to 82 to 90 to Seattle.

It took 5 days, and we didn't stop or do anything fun. Just drove during the day, and found places to sleep as soon as it was practical. Having a TomTom made this easy, because we could figure out where we would be in about 4 hours, and say "find a hotel near there" it even had its phone number so we could setup a reservation for us. Also you can get real time weather.

The key was staying ahead of the weather, and keeping up to date with the road conditions. Also my mother would not let us leave without a full day and half of emergency rations and candles, cat litter, de icer, road flares, spare batteries, etc. I also had my camping gear and cooking stove in the trailer, if things got bad.

To be honest, if I had to do it again, and time was not a factor (I had a job interview the day after I got into the city), I would have done to Memphis to Dallas, across the southwest, through vegas, drank and gambled, skipped LA, and going to san fran, then up 101 / I5 (probably just I5 if there is freezing on the 101) to portland, gotten a big donut and drink some more, spent the night, and then go to seattle.
posted by mrzarquon at 7:18 PM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should tell us how slow you want to take it. If you have two weeks to kill, that could considerably change your route.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 PM on January 20, 2008

Take the 80 all the way to Ogden Ut. The 84 to Portland Ore.The 5 to Seattle. All interstate all the way.

Unless you have a need to go to Portland, this takes longer than the more direct route up from Utah, where you take 84 until just after Pendleton, then diagonal to Seattle through Yakima, over Snoqualmie pass. If the pass is closed by snow, then you will have to through the gorge on 84, as suggested.

(And if you are north of California, it is not "the 84," it's just "84" or "I-84.")

The fastest way is to head west on I-90 through South Dakota, but sometimes the weather is worse on that route, so cutting a but more south on I-80/84 will sometimes make more sense. Just watch the weather a few days ahead, and choose your route at the last minute. Either way it is an easy drive once you are out of Illinois -- big, well-paved interstates, lots of rest areas, not too much traffic. Both 80/84 and 90/94 are major truck corridors, so keeping the roads open through the winter is a high priority. Bring chains, bring some water and food, and have a blanket or sleeping bag in the car. Keep your washer fluid topped up (you have to use it a lot to cut the road spray) and have cash or a credit card in case there is bad weather and you get stuck in a motel for three days waiting for the roads to be cleared.
posted by Forktine at 8:23 PM on January 20, 2008

The route I suggested has minimal mountain driving and what there is is mostly down hill westbound, plenty to see in Portland and you skip crossing the Cascade Range in Feb. to get to Seattle.
posted by hortense at 1:39 AM on January 21, 2008

This question is actually for my brother, so I am not sure just how much time he wants to spend on the trip.

Thanks everyone for the good answers.
posted by 517 at 8:20 AM on January 21, 2008

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