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  1. Default Portland, OR -> St. Louis, MO Winter Trip

    Greetings, I've browsed through a few of the threads on this forum that deal with a similar route but figured I'd make my own thread as my trip has some specifics. As a preclaim, I already have a plane ticket back that I may or may not take.

    The trip would be by van with 2 other people. We don't have snow tires but we'd have chains and the owner is making sure the radiator and other important components of the vehicle are prepared. We've considered a couple possible routes, initially the southern route due to concerns about safety, however after reading some of these reads I realize this is an outdated and incorrect notion and so are looking at northern routes instead. The Google maps default suggestion is to take 80 through Wyoming and while this is our fall-back plan, one of my friends who's made the trip from LA to St. Louis many times has suggested that we consider taking 70 through Denver. He thinks that 80 will most likely be closed (since it's closed once already this winter, though I read on here that it opened up pretty quickly). He also said that 70 is only a viable route if there hasn't been a huge storm in the last couple of days.

    The issues concerned with our trip is that we have a limited time to make the trip. We're hoping to arrive by the 1st or 2nd of January (both are perfectly acceptable) but can only leave on the 29th at the earliest. As far as I can tell this is a good amount of time to include stops for sleeping. I've made a spring time roadtrip from St. Louis to LA and it was a bad idea and very dangerous. We had 3 drivers and the owner of the car didn't want to stop so we drove through day and night and tried to sleep in the car. I had a couple really bad experiences at the wheel that have dissuaded me from driving in that sort of condition.

    We're also on a budget. We won't shirk on forking money out to provide safety for ourselves but we'd like to cut as much cost as we can. We've discovered that the gas usage for the trip will be far cheaper between the three of us than plane tickets but we're also hoping to either avoid motels/hotels and sleep in the car or find a place to sleep/stay that isn't terribly expensive. We're all campers and hikers so we can fall asleep anywhere provided we aren't in a moving object, so I'm not too worried about that aside from staying warm.

    Which route would you guys suggest and how should we approach the matter of hotels/motels? Do you guys know of any good and cheap places to stay on the way that won't empty our wallets? Thanks in advance for your help.

    Edit: Here's the proposed route
    Route 1 if there is a lot of snow
    And this route if the roads are clear to save time. Main difference is near Salt Lake City
    Last edited by robotunicr0n; 11-27-2010 at 11:25 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Misconceptions and Minimizations

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    There is nothing intrinsically better about I-70 rather than I-80. Any road can be snowbound when a major storm rolls through, and as you noted, I-80 was opened back up relatively soon after the recent bad weather. This is going to be true of most, if not all, Interstates in the northern states where such highways serve as their lifeblood and they have the equipment and experienced crews to deal with winter weather. By contrast, many southern states may see snow less often but when they do (and they inevitably do) they are not as well equipped and the roads may stay closed and/or unsafe for days. Going 'south' is no guarantee of finding better conditions. Indeed by adding miles, you are adding to the time you are on the road, and thus both increasing your chances of hitting an untoward event and of having less time to deal with it or sit it out. Your best bet is to simply plan on taking the shortest route possible. In your case this is I-84/I-80/I-29/I-70. Such a route can be driven in 4 days in good weather, leaving you a day to spare if worse comes to worst and still be in St. Louis on the 2nd. You might also want to have a backup route ready if the weather is forecast to be bad along your primary route. But note that the alternate route you propose follows exactly the same roads as far as Salt Lake City and adds 250 miles or a half day of driving, thus cutting into your margin considerably for not much gain.

    Besides minimizing your miles you can minimize your costs by figuring out beforehand where you should be stopping each night and shopping around for the best deal on a motel from the warmth and comfort of your home rather than having to take what you can late on a cold and snowy night. Making the drive by the shortest route over relatively evenly paced days would make your stops roughly Twin Falls, ID; Laramie, WY; and Lincoln, NE. I'm sure you can find a reasonable room in each of those locations. Try the nationally advertised low cost chains such as Motel 6. Super 8, Red Roof Inns, Microtel, EconoLodge and others. Don't try sleeping in the car in December, It will be cold and uncomfortable at best. You need good sleep, not a fitful rest.


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

    Default an odd choice

    You've come up with a very scenic route that would be a great choice for a summer sightseeing trip. But for one for good conditions in Winter, its really not a good choice, and its really not one based in much logic.
    He thinks that 80 will most likely be closed (since it's closed once already this winter, though I read on here that it opened up pretty quickly).
    Its been closed once this year, so it will likely be closed? Wyoming got hit with one of the worst storms it will see all year, and the freeway was closed for a day or two. Overall, in a bad winter I-80 will probably be closed for maybe 10 days total between November and March - so saying it will likely be closed is just not an accurate statement.

    On the flip side, I-70 has also already been closed a couple times this year. Through Colorado, I-70 has the highest mountain crossing of any interstate highway, so it will see plenty of winter weather and sees more short term closures than I-80 - although again here I wouldn't say that the road would likely be closed either.

    The big problem with going I-70, is that beyond the pass, you're then planning to get north from I-70 by taking a 2 lane road that is also at a high elevation and has a significant chance of seeing bad weather too - but it won't get near the attention that an Interstate highway will. Or if the weather is bad and you use option 1, you'll be adding basically a half day of extra driving because of the increased miles to get to I-15

    I-80 seems like a much better choices to me - and if you are looking for an alternate in case there is poor weather forecast for Wyoming, then I'd look at taking I-90 across Montana and South Dakota. I think you'll find that's a much better option than trying to us US-6 and I-70 across Utah and Colorado.

    As far as sleeping in the car - do you have winter camping gear? Unless you have sleeping bags that have a sub-zero temperature rating, you are going to freeze - and you can't get much sleep when you can't stop shivering. Remember, a car provides almost no insulation from the elements, and sleeping with a car running is a very good way to get a potentially fatal case of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I'd spend the $50 for a room at a motel 6, a mom and pop, or other budget motel chain.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 11-27-2010 at 05:26 PM.

  4. Default good advice

    The paths we chose were just speculation based on one of our friend's experience with doing this trip before. I came here looking for suggestions so I'm thankful that you've put your voice in on I-80. That's the route we'll probably end up taking.

    Of course we have sub-zero sleeping bags! :)

    So Montana is a viable reroute in case weather in Wyoming is exceptionally bad?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Absolutely - almost anything is a viable reroute, you need to investigate all the options if needed. All the states have websites with weather and road conditions. Bring a wifi-equipped laptop.

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