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  1. Default my v-dub wants least mountainous route x-country

    Hi All - I'm driving from NY to SF in a 1990 VW Vanagon, and she doesn't like climbing mountains. Can anyone confirm what is the least steep route from one coast to the other -- I am thinking about visiting friends in LA and Portland, so I have a wide latitude. This will be October so I'd really rather not hit steep-graded hills.


  2. #2

    Default Tough assignment

    Hello szegedin,

    You pose an interesting question and it comes up often. The short answer, in my experience, is there is no way to cross the country without some mountains. Perhaps a few comments would help in your overall understanding:

    The lowest Continental Divide crossing is in Montana, fairly close to the Canadian border, at some 3,900'. Access is by a long series of 2-lane highways and you end up well outside of your intended destinations.

    The highest Interstate crossing is I-70 in Colorado, at Eisenhower Tunnel, at some 11,000'

    In Wyoming, I-80 crests at around 8,000' west of Laramie.

    I-40 crosses the Divide at around 7,700', near Gallup, NM. Other locations along I-40 in NM and AZ are in excess of 7,000' elevation.

    There are few ways to avoid elevation, so perhaps looking at grades is useful:

    I-80 in WY has a single very long high-elevation grade, the one which tops out at 8,000'. The remainder of the state is high, running between 5,000' and 6,500', but no big ranges to cross. Oh, if you run I-80, you'd need to jog west on I-84 to Ogden then down I-15 to Salt Lake City in order to avoid Parley's Summit along I-80. There are passes in Nevada but they generally only pick up 1,000' to 2,000'. Crossing the Sierra Nevada is the single biggest obstacle and that occupies tens of miles west of Reno.

    I-90 crosses 3 passes and one additional long grade in MT.

    I-70 crosses 2 major passes and one additional long grade in CO.

    Be aware of many long grades along I-5 in CA, noted here since you should be aware of such as you contemplate your West Coast travels.

    All in all, I'd be far less concerned about grades than distance. The Interstate system is built to exacting standards concerning steepness, and you will encounter maximum steepness in some places pretty much anywhere within or west of the Rockies. Just be sure to keep to the right and turn on your flashers as you climb slowly up the grades.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default the facts

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    The reality is that there simply is no way to drive across country without dealing with some degree of mountains.

    The other reality is that all interstate highways are built to handle long haul trucks, and as such have limits on grades and curves when going over mountain passes.

    If your car is not capable of making it over a mountain pass on any interstate highway, that is built with those standards in mind, then you really need to think about if your car is capable of dealing with all of the other stresses that come with a cross country trip.

    The best bet would be to take I-80 all the way across, which is relatively flat across the rockies. However, you still have to gain elevation even there, and you'll have to deal with crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

    The absolute flattest route would involve going all the way down to I-10, which again, even that isn't completely immune to elevation changes. That gets you do LA, and then you'd either have go over the Grapevine, or follow the coast which takes more time. You'll be looking at at least 2 extra days of driving to go this route, and if mountains are that much of a problem, I'd have to think that being on the road for 2 extra days could also be quite problematic.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO



    If you don't care how long it takes, take I-95 to I-20 to I-10 to LA. However, standards for *ALL* Interstate highways limit them to 6% grades. To get from LA to SF, you would have to take 101 to avoid the Grapevine.

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