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  1. Default Roadtrip through Idaho and Montana

    Hi everyone, I'm Mike from Sydney, Australia. My wife and I are considering moving to the North West US in the future and we thought we'd go on a roadtrip in winter to make sure that we are fine with the winters. Since we live in Sydney (which has no snowfall at any point in the year) we've had little experience driving in snowy/icy conditions other than when we've driven down south to go skiing. We're aiming to get there sometime in January or early Feburary next year and spend at least one month road-tripping.

    We plan to fly to Boise and then travel up to Couer D'Alene via ID-55 and US Route 95, then continue to follow US-95 up as far as Bonners Ferry if we feel like it. Then we'll be heading back down to CDA and travelling along I-90 all the way down to Bozeman. From there we'll go back along I-90 and turn off up to Helena. We'll then travel down I-15 through Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, etc all the way back round to Boise.

    So with that general outline, I have a few questions (numbered for convenience of reply, rather than for any particular order):

    1) What are the chances of the roads being closed (especially ID-55, Route 95, I-90 and I-15), for how long could they be closed and are there any recommended alternative routes?

    2) As someone who's spent little time in snowy areas, I'm quite paranoid about it. So, I plan on having more than enough warm clothes, sleeping bags rated for -30 F or lower, several days worth of food and water, blankets, tent, foam mats, strobe lights and anything else I can think of for when I get stuck in a month-long super-blizzard (I'm joking about the super-blizzard...I think...). Is there anything else I need to consider for travelling in snowy/icy conditions? Should I be renting a 4WD over a regular car? I'm assuming I'll want snow chains? Anything else you can think of?

    3) Google Maps is telling me that our planned route will take 26 hours. As I said, we're planning on being in the US for at least a month. We'd like to be able to stop over in a few towns along the way, rather than just stay in 4 or so major cities/towns for several days each and then spend the rest of our time driving. Is this possible? Is 26 hours a realistic estimate of the total driving time spent or will travelling in snowy conditions mean that we have to travel much slower and take lots of long detours in order to go around closed-off roads? If it's not really very realistic to travel that in a month with many stops along the way, how about if we cut out the return to Boise and we simply travel around to Bozeman as planned, but then fly out from Bozeman to LAX then back to Sydney? Would that cut down the trip enough?

    4) Accommodation: we aren't particularly fussy about where we sleep for a night, but we're wondering if we might run into towns which have no vacancies at their motels (due to ski season or something else). Is that likely? Also, we're experienced hikers and campers and over here we'll often just pull into a campground or national park and camp the night while on a roadtrip. Obviously camping in Australia is very different to camping in NW US in winter, but we're considering it as a last resort. Will it be easy enough to find a campground to stay at if we need to?


    We've tried to research it quite a bit and we plan to research some more, but we thought we'd find out what others think about it. We'd greatly appreciate any thoughts and advice.

    Thanks very much,
    Mike

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default From One Aussie to Another.

    Hi Mike, and Welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum.

    All my trips to North America have been between the beginning of March to the end of November, so I do not have extensive experience driving the roads in the winter. (Other than spending a few months driving with Jindabyne taxis during the ski season.) But I have spent quite some time in ID, and have a friend who lives there. Most of your trip is going to depend on checking the weather and road conditions at the time. It could almost be a case of taking it day by day, and with a month, you will probably be in a good condition to do that.

    Some routes you may like to consider, weather and road conditions permitting. When leaving Boise, consider taking 55 north to New Meadows, where it meets up with 95. This is an incredibly scenic route... even in winter.

    And to see more of spectacular central ID, consider 93 west from Idaho Falls to 75, and 75 south to Twin Falls (again weather and roads permitting). The latter will take you through Sun Valley Ski Resort at Ketchum and Hailey, and the wonderful Clarendon Hot Springs.

    Not too sure about tent camping at that time of the year, in that area. From what friend tells and shows me, it gets pretty well snowed in sometimes. You will just have to take it as it comes, and be prepared to sit out a storm.

    As for your other queries, I will leave it up to those experienced with those issues.

    Lifey in Melbourne

  3. Default

    Thanks for that Lifey :)

    I'll definitely check out those routes you mentioned - mine were solely based on the fist route that Google Maps gave me. I was hoping to find some scenic routes, so thanks very much for them.

    I wasn't too sure about tent camping either. I've tent camped where it was technically snowing and that was fine, but the snow wouldn't have been more than 2 or 3 cm deep; so I can't really compare it to tenting in Idaho. I'm considering renting a station wagon or similar with seats that recline fully horizontal. It might not get as good mileage as a smaller car, but it'd mean that if we really had nowhere to sleep, we could comfortably sleep in the car.

    I think you're right: we're probably going to have to play a lot of it by ear. I'll make sure to pick up one of those NOAA weather radios to carry with us if we leave the car and otherwise I'll keep checking the weather channel on the car radio to see what roads are closed and whether we should just hole up for a few days while a storm passes. It's good to hear that you think a month should be long enough - I was a little concerned that we'd have to detour around half the country due to road closures and never even complete half our trip!

    Thanks again,
    Mike

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Realistically

    While I applaud your desire to gain some experience with the area you're considering emigrating to, you need to understand that learning to drive in true snow conditions is not something that you do in a month. It will take a few years to get really comfortable/competent. So for the purposes of this trip, I think you should concentrate on seeing the area safely and experiencing the cold/snow/isolation conditions without challenging yourself on the road. What you can do (the way many teenagers were taught to drive on snow in my younger days) is to go out after a good snowstorm to a LARGE unpaved parking lot and practice there at slow speed first. You need to learn how to control skids, how to feel when they are imminent, and why the three main rules of winter driving are 1) slow down, 2) slow down), and 3) slow down.

    Personally, I would recommend against getting a big heavy SUV or 4WD/AWD car at first. They will just give you a false sense of security. I spent about a dozen years in Maine, including a couple of winters when I had a 50 mile commute to work, and all I ever needed was a good front wheel drive car with decent tires. Subarus have always been popular in snow country for a very good reason. In your case, when the weather is really bad, you should just stay off the roads until the crews have had a chance clear them off and make them passable. You may also be in a Catch-22 situation where the rental company won't allow you to put chains on their vehicle while the local police may require chains for certain roads at certain times. That should be a dead giveaway that you shouldn't be trying to drive those roads until they've been cleared.

    I don't think too many campgrounds are going to be open in that neck of the woods in January/February, so you should probably plan on 'camping' in motels instead. Still a few survival items in the trunk (boot?) of the car wouldn't hurt.

    AZBuck

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    While I applaud your desire to gain some experience with the area you're considering emigrating to, you need to understand that learning to drive in true snow conditions is not something that you do in a month. It will take a few years to get really comfortable/competent. So for the purposes of this trip, I think you should concentrate on seeing the area safely and experiencing the cold/snow/isolation conditions without challenging yourself on the road. What you can do (the way many teenagers were taught to drive on snow in my younger days) is to go out after a good snowstorm to a LARGE unpaved parking lot and practice there at slow speed first. You need to learn how to control skids, how to feel when they are imminent, and why the three main rules of winter driving are 1) slow down, 2) slow down), and 3) slow down.
    Good advice, thanks for that. I wasn't really planning on driving when it was too snowy on the road - only if there was a thin layer. I also tend to drive very cautiously, so I wasn't too concerned about skidding (though maybe I should be even at lower speeds?)...but then again, I really would like to get out of Boise before the month is up, so perhaps it would be best if I safely tested going faster than 10 MPH, haha. I think I'll try that out in a large parking lot as you said. On a related note, can I be booked for driving too slowly on a freeway? I'd try to keep up with traffic as best I can, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    Personally, I would recommend against getting a big heavy SUV or 4WD/AWD car at first. They will just give you a false sense of security. I spent about a dozen years in Maine, including a couple of winters when I had a 50 mile commute to work, and all I ever needed was a good front wheel drive car with decent tires. Subarus have always been popular in snow country for a very good reason. In your case, when the weather is really bad, you should just stay off the roads until the crews have had a chance clear them off and make them passable.
    Oh ok; I didn't consider that. All I've been thinking about was whether I'd need a 4WD so that I can crawl my way along a snowed-in freeway, but it certainly would be easier if I just waited a few days in a town for the road to be cleared than to spend those few days slowly crawling up the freeway. I wasn't sure how long it took for road maintenance/clearance to happen - I was even a little worried that it didn't happen, so I'd have to just inch my way along through thick snow. If maintenance happens in a few days, that seems perfectly fine by me to wait it out.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    I don't think too many campgrounds are going to be open in that neck of the woods in January/February, so you should probably plan on 'camping' in motels instead. Still a few survival items in the trunk (boot?) of the car wouldn't hurt.
    Yeah, ideally we'd just be staying in motels - I was only considering camping or sleeping in the car as a last resort if there are no vacancies at any motels in town (I've got no idea if that could ever be the case, but I'm just worried that we'll be on a long stretch of road, pull into the only town for miles and miles around and it only has one motel with no vacancies).

    Thanks for the reply,
    Mike

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
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    6,936

    Default Now is the time to get some good maps

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeN View Post
    Thanks for that Lifey :)

    I'll definitely check out those routes you mentioned - mine were solely based on the fist route that Google Maps gave me. I was hoping to find some scenic routes, so thanks very much for them.
    Mike, it is four months before you take this trip. I would strongly recommend that you get some good maps or a road atlas now. Google is great for zooming into areas about which you want to find out more, but to get the overall picture, you need paper maps.

    If you were to order a Rand McNally now, you'd have it in a couple of weeks. You will then have a really good overview of the place, along with where the elevations are (more snow!) and where the scenic routes are. And all the other information on maps will stand you in good stead, especially the hints and tips and general information in the front and back of the atlas.

    I get one for every trip... hilight the roads I drive, and have it as my trips souvenier. And to refer to when I read the forums.

    Lifey

  7. Default

    Yeah, admittedly I've just been using Google Maps and the few travel brochures I've managed to procure to plan the trip. I was thinking of relying on a GPS when we got there, but it certainly would be easier to plan if I could get an overall view of Idaho and Montana. I'll order it now. Thanks again :)

  8. #8

    Default Idaho in the snow

    I've only driven in US snow on a couple of visits but my experience has been that the local authorities are extremely good at getting out and clearing the roads so I really don't think it's something you need worry about too much; you've got a month to go at so if you do end up having to spend an extra day somewhere it's no real problem.

    One of my winter trips took in Boise, Ketchum and Twin Falls so you might be interested in the report I put together at the time:

    http://www.roadtripamerica.com/forum...southern-Idaho

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Not a wise idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeN View Post
    I was thinking of relying on a GPS when we got there ...
    Mike, it may benefit you greatly if you read this thread. And there are other reports of similar incidents. I have been led astray by my GPS on more occasions than make me comfortable, both at home and in the US. You can definitely do without a GPS, but for a safe trip you will need good paper maps, and the ability to read them.

    Lifey

  10. Default

    Wow, that's certainly a good point and a real eye opener. I think I've come to rely on my GPS a little too much when driving, but my wife and I are perfectly competent at reading topo maps and road maps; just never saw much need to. Now I do! After reading that, I don't think we'll be travelling the longer, deserted "back roads". That post further cements my desire to bring every tool we need for the car, all our camping gear and a whole ton of food and water; even if we don't need it for that trip, it'd be comforting to have and would mean that I could enjoy the trip instead of having a niggling worry at the back of my mind that we'll get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I'll see if I can update my order with Rand McNally to include one of their Idaho road maps too.

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