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  1. Default Pittsburgh to Seattle in 10 days, mid-February

    Hey everyone,

    Just wanted to get some advice for an upcoming trip I'm taking. Basically I have 10 days to make it from Pittsburgh to Seattle - I'm in my late 20s and driving by myself in a Honda Civic in mid-February.

    I've done this trip once before several years ago - on the way out there in the summer I basically took the I-90 route through South Dakota, cut down to Yellowstone, and then back up through Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington. On the way home in winter due to weather, I cut all the way down to the Grand Canyon / Vegas through California, and cut across I-40 and then back up.

    Ideally I'd like to do something different this time. Two "goals":
    A) Avoiding bad weather and especially snow chain situations. Snow chains would be a deal breaker, I got stuck dealing with that in Lake Tahoe once and it's just not worth the trouble.
    B) Minimizing the cost - the company is giving me the option to drive rather than fly, but due to a change in policy we can no longer expense hotels

    A) As of now I'm planning on getting out to an interchange point like St. Louis or Kansas City on the first day, and then depending on weather making a decision. Here are some options
    I-70 - This would be my preferred route, assuming I can avoid weather / chain issues. Would this be realistic in mid-February? Also since 70 just kind of ends in Utah, what do you think would be the best way out? Cutting up to I-80 on 6? Cutting up to I-84 and heading out north through ID? Taking 50 across Nevada? I'm not familiar with any of the roads out here at all and what spots to avoid in the winter. Ideally I'd get to go skiing in Utah or Colorado if I take this route, assuming the weather allows it.
    I-80 - Browsing the forums I'm getting the sense that this would be more risky than I-70?
    I-94 through North Dakota. My big concern would be the weather / chain requirements through ND, MT, and that bit of ID (I remember a giant climb right at the state line from last time).

    If all of these are bad ideas, I suppose I could just do I-40 again but I'd really rather try something new.

    B) I've never stayed in a hostel before, I'm thinking this trip could be a good chance to try that out both in terms of saving money and meeting people. Any recommendations / warnings? Or any good cheap hotels? I'm assuming that sleeping in the car, while tempting given that I'm kind of an insomniac and hotels feel wasteful, would not be a good idea whatsoever?

    Sorry for the long post, and thanks in advance for the help.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    First, let me point out that I-40 is by no means a guarantee of good weather. You'd have the risk of ice in the southern plains, snow in the mountains of NM and AZ, and again the chance of snow/ice/chain restrictions in several locations along I-5 in California and Oregon. Not to mention, you're adding several hundred miles, which means more time on the road, which means more days where you could be impacted by a storm.

    If you are sticking to the interstates, and give yourself time for roads to be cleared, there really is no reason you should need to deal with chains. It may mean waiting for a day for conditions to improve, but that solve the problem in all but the worst storms.

    Beyond that, there is a big connection between cost and the length of your trip. The easiest thing you can do to reduce your costs is to reduce your time on the road. The most direct route would be using I-94 and/or I-90, which you could do comfortably in 5 days. Going via Colorado would add about 300 miles, and likely means another day on the road, but with 10 days available, you really can take any route you'd like, and have enough extra time to deal with weather delays.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Hostels and more.

    Quote Originally Posted by ol_ceeks View Post
    B) I've never stayed in a hostel before, I'm thinking this trip could be a good chance to try that out both in terms of saving money and meeting people. Any recommendations / warnings? Or any good cheap hotels? I'm assuming that sleeping in the car, while tempting given that I'm kind of an insomniac and hotels feel wasteful, would not be a good idea whatsoever?
    Here is probably the most comprehensive listing of hostels on the internet. In my early days of roadtripping, my route would be defined by hostel locations. It's always a good idea to call beforehand. Ocassionally I have found a hostel still listed, which had closed down.

    A few tips... make sure that the hostel at which you stay has a locker for each bed, in which to keep your valuables... and make sure you put them in there. Carry a medium sized padlock for this purpose. Coin operated lockers are not secure, and should be avoided. Always wear footwear in showers. This goes for hotels and campgrounds as well. And avoid hostels which allow sleeping bags. These are the major cause of bedbug infestations.

    For cheap hotels/motels, look for the discount coupon booklets at rest areas, truck stops, welcome centres, etc. These are usually for walk-ins only, but it pays to call ahead and make sure there are vacancies. And make sure you inspect the room before committing to it.

    You are quite correct, sleeping in a Honda Civic would not be a good idea. It will not give you the rest you need, to stay alert and safe on the road the next day.

    Lifey
    Last edited by Lifemagician; 01-29-2012 at 10:56 AM. Reason: grammar

  4. Default

    Thanks, that helps a lot. That's a good point about the I-40 / I-5 weather as well, last time I lucked out - looking back on it, a couple days before I left I-5 wasn't passable at all.

    What's good is that I do have to take the full ten days - if I cut the trip short, I either go in to work and lose the free paid time off (not happening...), or have to start paying rent so it's a wash money-wise anyway. You're right, I can always wait out any bad storms I run into if I allot myself enough time and find a hostel or cheap motel with vacancy.

    Right now I'm leaning towards the I-70 route just because it seems as if there might be more to do (skiing in CO and UT, and the UT national parks) than in dead of winter ND. But I guess it will ultimately be dictated by the weather reports the day before.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    In that case, you really can go whatever way you want, and weather should not be much of a factor at all. Even going via Colorado, you can still easily make the trip in 6 days, so 10 days gives you plenty of time to deal with weather delays and do some exploring along the way too.

  6. #6

    Default Drive by skiing

    Hello ol_ceeks,

    While they don't have the size and reputation of the Colorado resorts, be aware of the existence of some friendly local ski areas along or near I-90 in Montana:

    1) Big Sky: This is more of a high end ski mountain and is not too far south of Bozeman.

    2) Bridger Bowl: Again, more of a high end facility.

    3) Showdown Ski area: In the Little Belt Mountains north of I-90.

    4) Discovery Basin: About an hour south of I-90 between Anaconda and Philipsburg, but on the "Scenic Loop" of MT 1 which brings you back to I-90 near Missoula. Check out the motel/ski packages in Anaconda and Philipsburg, with Philipsburg being particularly attractive due to being "on the way" back to I-90 (no backtracking) and since P'burg is a real hidden gem of a town in Montana.

    5) Montana Snow Bowl: Just east of Missoula.

    6) Maverick Mountain: About 1.5 hours south of Butte. Overnight accomodations at the Grasshopper Inn a couple of miles away, or at Jackson Hot Springs Resort, about 20 miles away, but on a "loop" route back to US 93 and I-90 at Missoula. And on the way to Missoula you'd drive right by...............

    7) Lost Trail Powder Mountain: On US 93 at Lost Trail Pass, which is the MT-ID border and lies around 1.5 hours south of Missoula. As noted, Lost Trail Powder Mountain can be accessed on a loop passing by Maverick Mountain ski area by driving south/southwest from I-90 at Cardwell, MT to Dillon, thence MT 278 to Polaris, thence through the spectacular Big Hole Valley to Wisdom, and ultimately to US 93.

    8) I almost forgot Red Lodge Mountain Resort, just past the quaint, fine little town of Red Lodge, around an hour south of I-90 just west of Billings.

    As you've probably learned, I-90 crosses Montana at generally low elevations, so much of the "chain up" drama is absent except for during big storms right there in the passes. Doing the Cardwell-Dillon-Big Hole-US 93-Missoula loop avoids Homestake Pass, the highest point on I-90 in MT, but does substitute Badger Pass, Big Hole Pass, and Lost Trail Pass, each a bit lower than Homestake, but most of that route remains in the valleys, as well, which should make for more enjoyable winter travel.

    Final note: Some of the noted ski mountains have little if any snowmaking facilities. Some operate restricted schedules (such as Maverick Mountain, which I believe only operates Wed-Sunday weekly. Check ahead for conditions and operating schedules if you decide to go on a tour of the offbeat ski mountains of Montana.

    Foy

  7. Default

    Awesome, thanks. I'm actually leaning towards doing this now assuming the weather cooperates, figure this could be great chance to go to some ski places I'd otherwise never get to try out (with the added bonus of not having $100 lift tickets and parking issues like the more well known ones).

    Any particular favorites of the ones you listed or good cheap hotels you stayed at? I'm going to start calling some this weekend and checking availability, and it seems as if Bozeman might have a couple good hostels too.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    Since you're into skiing and taking the more northern route, you might also look at the Black Hills of South Dakota, which has a few high quality mountain ski spots. Terry Peak, I believe, is the big one, although I've never been there myself.

    It would be a bit off the direct route, but Jackson Hole wouldn't be an impossible detour with your timeframe either (just keep in mind roads through Yellowstone are not open).

  9. Default

    This is of course going to be weather dependent, but after looking at things it seems as if this route may be my best bet for avoiding trouble / not repeating what I've already done.

    http://g.co/maps/5n9cm

    Any decent hiking places / trails to stop along the way? I'm hoping to avoid the trip becoming just sitting in the hotels. I do also have the option of extending the trip by three days, if there are any other places I should check out.

  10. #10

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ol_ceeks View Post
    Awesome, thanks. I'm actually leaning towards doing this now assuming the weather cooperates, figure this could be great chance to go to some ski places I'd otherwise never get to try out (with the added bonus of not having $100 lift tickets and parking issues like the more well known ones).

    Any particular favorites of the ones you listed or good cheap hotels you stayed at? I'm going to start calling some this weekend and checking availability, and it seems as if Bozeman might have a couple good hostels too.
    I should emphasize I haven't skied at ANY of the Montana ski mountains. While visiting during summertime, I've been to Discovery, Maverick, and Lost Trail Powder Mountain. Based on recollection (each ski mountain has a website), Discovery is the largest, then Maverick, then Lost Trail. Seems like Discovery has > 2,000 acres of skiing. When researching for a contemplated trip a couple of years ago, Discovery had some bargain agreements with motels in Anaconda and some less-of-a-bargain deals with motels in Philipsburg. There is Fairmont Hot Springs Resort beside Anaconda and I think there's a bit of a discount through Discovery, but the hot springs are piped into a conventional swimming pool and the hotel is, while nice, fairly expensive.

    Maverick Mountain is fairly isolated, with only the Grasshopper Inn and the rustic Elkhorn Hot Springs Lodge within a handful of miles. Jackson Hot Springs Resort is about 25 miles west and on the way back through the Big Hole towards Lost Trail Pass/ski area. Skiing Maverick one day, overnighting at Jackson Hot Springs (see their website--it's fairly nice and has a good restaurant), skiing Lost Trail the next day, then overnighting in Darby, Hamilton, or Missoula should be a good route. You could ski Montana Ski Bowl slightly east of Missoula the third day, and Big Mountain, MT the day after that. My son went to Big Mountain as a high-schooler, and he really enjoyed it.

    Foy

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