Seattle - Florida driving routes?
February 14, 2008 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving cross-country (again) and am feeling dubious about the Seattle-Florida route AAA mapped out on my behalf. I'd vaguely planned a southern route. I'd like avoid the really scary mountain passes and weather.

This is what they gave me instead:

Seattle (98119) to Missoula, MT
Missoula to Sheridan, WY
Sheridan to Wall, SD
Wall to Sioux Falls, SD
Sioux Falls to Kansas City, MO
KC to Mt. Vernon, IL
Mt. Vernon to Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga to Jasper, FL
Jasper to Palm Beach (33480)

AAA only mapped it out stop-by-stop at my request, and the woman helping me didn't seem very confident in her knowledge of these routes or where to stop, in contrast to the 90 year old man who helped me in New York and knew down to the minute where I'd be best off stopping. I'd prefer to drive 6-7 hours per day, negotiable. I'm not in any real rush.

Jessamyn, I've already got my duct tape.
posted by astruc to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
If you're not in any rush, why not just drive down south and then head through Arizona and New Mexico? Take I-5 or 99 south and then cut east on I-40. The route you describe does seem to spend a lot of time way up north. I've done this route before (in the summer) and it's quite pleasant. You will spend some time in the mountains but it should be a lot easier.

Personally, my preferred way to plan a cross-country trip is to start with a general idea of the route, and then update as you go along. If you get guidebooks in advance (or just stay at places with internet access) it's easy to figure out where to get to in your next 6-7 hour driving stretch.
posted by pombe at 4:57 PM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you head down I-5 to the LA area, then cut over on I-10, you'll probably avoid nasty snow. Your trouble spots will be the Mt. Shasta area and the Grapevine, and both of those are okay right now and should be for the next several days. (No big storms a-comin'.) You don't say when you're leaving, so YMMV. Literally.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:59 PM on February 14, 2008

No map in front of me, so on preview I-40 might be a straighter shot than 10. I think as a kid we always took I-20 from DFW to Florida.

Anyway, I-40 SUCKS RAZORBACK BALLS throughout the entirety of Arkansas. Avoid the Arkansas stretch of I-40 at all costs -- especially in weather.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:01 PM on February 14, 2008

What mudpuppie said. I moved to Texas from Oregon two years ago -- left Jan 28th from Portland, spent the first night in SFO, the 2nd night in LAX, the 3rd in Van Horne, TX and the 4th at my destination in Austin, TX. The leg from LAX to Van Horn was a 15 hour drive IIRC. I've got a lot of long-distance motorcycling touring experience so I know how to manage and maximize my daily mileage.

You'll probably want to spend the first night in Eugene or Roseburg, the 2nd night in SFO, the 3rd night in LAX, the fourth night in Tuscon, the fifth night in San Antonio, the sixth in Louisiana, and after that I get sketchy but you should be able to make northern Florida on the 7th.
posted by SpecialK at 5:06 PM on February 14, 2008

I've driven that exact route at least three times, maybe four. There are plenty of motels along the entire route, so you don't have to pre-plan your stops unless you want to. In the winter I would suggest not trying to make too much of a preset schedule, because you want to be free to make changes via bad weather as needed.

AAA does have a pretty good online map and routing system, where you can put in all kinds of crazy routes, with driving times and distances between stops. Playing around with that will give you a sense of how much extra time you might spend if you do the more southern routes people are suggesting.

The other problem with the southern option is that you can hit some really nasty weather coming across the southern midwestern states (or whatever you call those states like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas), and southern states don't have the fast-response snowplow and de-icing trucks that the northern states are usually well-supplied with. I guess what I'm really saying is that in the winter there are no guarantees, and at 7 hours of driving per day, routing your trip via Los Angeles means adding an extra three or four days, if not longer -- that is not a trivial addition to the trip.

Every state has a toll-free number for road and pass conditions; calling those a day ahead will let you adjust your route on the fly.

Bring a blanket, window scraper, water, food, etc. Chains are good to have (and chains and/or traction tires are usually required for western passes in the winter, unless you have 4wd).
posted by Forktine at 5:20 PM on February 14, 2008

Forktine, when you say you've driven that exact route, do you mean the one that AAA mapped out for me? Is the weather really worse in Kansas than say, Montana? I have no clue, I've only ever lived on the coasts.
posted by astruc at 5:47 PM on February 14, 2008

Yeah. That's the standard route (it's the same one that Google maps produces, for example) that is probably the fastest and/or the shortest. (It is always worth plugging a route into a number of the standard online map sites (google, mapquest, AAA) because sometimes they will route you in really weird ways that become apparent when you compare one to the next.)

Weather: I think you'd say that on average the weather in Montana is worse than the weather in Kansas. But a bad storm in Kansas is much worse than a glorious winter day in Montana, you know? And a storm in Montana will probably get a much faster and more competent response by the DOT than will the same storm in a souther state where they just don't have the same capacity to respond. So it just depends on what the weather is like the week you will be driving, not what the weather is like on average, or on the worst days of the year that get put on the TV news.

Really, what I'm saying is that you shouldn't stress about it, and you shouldn't drive the 600-700 miles extra it will take to go via LA unless there is a really compelling reason to do so. Treat it as a series of decisions that only need to be made one or two days in advance: For example, is Snoqualmie pass open? If not, get onto 1-84 at Portland and head east from there, connecting onto your previous route near Omaha. Each evening, take a glance at the weather channel or check the weather online; maybe call the upcoming states' road conditions number, and keep a road atlas handy in case you need to make a southern deviation or two.

There are lots of interconnecting routes, so if there is really bad weather ahead that will close the interstate, just deviate to an alternate route. Basically you are driving east until just after the midpoint of the country, and then you diagonal southeast -- there are lots of options, the whole way, as long as you are looking one to two days in front of your trip.

The biggest key to safe winter driving is knowing when not to press on -- when it is better to just get a motel room, let the snowplows do their work, and drive the next day after a nice leisurely breakfast. Keeping the roads open is a really big deal, because so many goods are transported by truck, so any delay will likely be temporary.
posted by Forktine at 6:31 PM on February 14, 2008

Whatever you choose route-wise, this is really useful too:

1. Go to and get an account.
2. Go to and get an account (note: I work at Jott)
3. Hook the two up in the "jott links" section.

Mosio is a service like AskMe for cell phones. Ask a question that has a solid answer ("what's the weather forecast for Salt Lake City tomorrow morning?" what's the nearest hotel to exit 54 on I-5") and a real person will respond within a few minutes. It's sort of amazing.

And Jott converts your voice into text, so you can call a number, ask Mosio a question, and get an SMS response. I've been using it around town for a few weeks, and it's my best advice for a trip where you might need info in a pinch.
posted by jragon at 9:06 PM on February 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've driven most of that route too (Seattle to Omaha) and I think at this time of year it's wise to avoid the plains. I'm not sure that the weather is really *worse* in Montana than it is in Kansas, but I'm pretty sure the driving conditions will be worse -- I'm under the impression snow sticks to things in Montana, in Kansas/Nebraska it just sort of drifts away.....the roads are clear, it's usually just !@#$@#$% cold.

The other thing....if you're not in a hurry (or even if you are)....a majority of that route is REALLY freakin' boring.

I think driving south you'll probably have a more interesting trip.
posted by lastyearsfad at 7:43 AM on February 15, 2008

I second a more southerly route, however it works out. I find driving through Texas to be kind of refreshing in a big-sky kind of way. (yeah, I know I'm asking for it). I've driven from Denver - Tampa a few times and we always take a route through Texas, south through Louisiana, stop in New Orleans for Beignets and a million cups of cafe olait, and stumble on toward Florida on I-10. Worst roads I've ever driven in winter time was in North Texas, and ended up totaling a van in the middle of it looks slippery, it is. Get off and find an all-you-can eat restaurant and settle in for a few hours.
posted by johngalt at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2008

Yeah, some other friends of mine are moving from Miami to Seattle next week, and they are taking I-10 to I-5. I used to live in NC and would be very wary of I-40.
posted by herbaliser at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2008

I moved from Spokane to Orlando in 1996, and just drove from Orlando back to Spokane a couple weeks ago (previously).

During the 1996 move, I went almost exactly the route you're describing. During the summer months, that's really the best one to take. Just make sure the Sturgis motorcycle rally isn't going on at the time if you're planning on staying near Rapid City, and watch for tornado weather.

This time, I avoided the midwest entirely. I can't remember the exact route, but I know a good portion of it was Interstate 10, 25, and then 90. There were some smaller highways in between 10 and 25 that I don't remember, and actually I took a side-trip here so it probably wasn't the most efficient route. My stops were, in order: Houston, Carlsbad NM, Las Vegas NM (NOT NV), Bilings, and finally Spokane.

The snow was bad and visibility was awful at night on the NM->Billings leg, but the only part I had real difficulty with was the mountain passes on I-90. Taking those in all-weather tires and not studs was like downhill skiing in a car, but I did make it without incident. I also waited two hours for Fourth of July Pass to reopen. I think you'd have a much easier time of this now than I did two weeks ago.

Feel free to email me (address in profile) for more info. I plan on making the trip three more times (total 2 roundtrips) over the next year and a half.
posted by tkolstee at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2008

I'm really frightened of the mountain passes in Idaho. Really, really frightened. I've driven them once before in perfect, dry weather and it was white-knuckle all the way. I don't drive at night and I don't drive in inclement weather (for the purposes of these x-country trips). I am still torn about what to do, but I am leaning toward's forktine's answer. Gah.
posted by astruc at 3:19 PM on February 15, 2008

Here is the Idaho DOT pass information page. All western states have these (googling state name + pass condition usually gets it); they have live camera feeds, descriptive reports, and forecasts. In your case, just check Snoqualmie Pass and the two in Idaho, plus get a general sense of the weather in Montana, about 36 hours before leaving. That will tell you what to do much more accurately than our guesses and "I did it last year and it was ok/scary/boring" remembrances.

Alternately: get a cheap flight on a budget airline (c.f. the MeTa thread about children kicking your seat) and ship the car -- the total cost will be only slightly higher than driving, and might be cheaper if you really only drive a few hours each day (those hotels can add up). If you genuinely aren't comfortable with the drive, don't force yourself to do it. Listen to what your gut is telling you. Just because some perfect stranger on the internet is fine with driving cross-country in winter doesn't mean that it is a good idea for you.
posted by Forktine at 8:06 PM on February 15, 2008

When I drove a Ryder truck from San Francisco to Buffalo in March of 2002, I had the same worries about mountains and weather. Since time was rather open, I went down the West Coast (avoiding LA--we went towards Needles, CA as soon as was feasible) and then across on 40 through AZ and NM, TX and OK, as has been suggested above. I really enjoyed this route, and there are lovely relaxing things to do like stop in Santa Fe and go to Ten Thousand Waves for a good long soak in the hot baths for part of the day. On such a long drive, good time-outs like these are especially needed.
posted by Riverine at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2008

I've done the Southern route from Tulsa to Seattle. One thing no one has mentioned is the Siskiyou Pass on the Oregon-California border. I had to stop and buy chains just to get over the top, and it was slick and nasty all the way down.

The way around it is to take 101 and then cut back over. But there's really not a lot of anywhere to cut back over on, and they're long, crooked mountain roads that also get snow. So you might end up in the Bay Area before you can start heading back east towards I-5.

If you do risk the Siskiyou, though, after that there's not a lot of snow possibilities until Flagstaff on I-40. After that, the Texas Panhandle still gets some snow this time of year, while Oklahoma gets snow and ice as late as March some years. If you really, really, really want to avoid snow/ice, you want I-10.

101 is pretty, though. If you're really wanting to go slow, I'd get off I-5 and drive 101.
posted by dw at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2008

Ok. After a lot of internal debate I've decided to go ahead and do the route that AAA mapped out for me. Mainly because I've driven the Bitterroot (Idaho) passes before, and if I did it once, I can do it again, even gripped by terror. I plan to stay off the road in the event of snowfall. Thank you everyone, especially Forktine. I'll come back after the trip and update for reference purposes.
posted by astruc at 12:57 PM on February 17, 2008

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