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  1. Default Driving I-94 from Chicago to Seattle: Thoughts?

    Dear All:

    Long-time lurker, first time poster. What prompted me to finally join is the fact that I'll be going on a road trip of my own in early August of this year. Basic trip information is as follows: I'm helping a couple who have been great friends of my wife and I since graduate school move from the Midwest to Seattle. We have two cars (both a year old and in good shape), three drivers in our early thirties, two cats, and one two year old. One of the three drivers is midway through a pregnancy, but loves to road trip.

    We are planning taking Interstate 94 from Chicago to Spokane, and then taking 90 to Seattle. From my calculations, this is a 35 hour trip (in terms of driving), and given that we have two cars for three drivers, we need to make this at least a three night trip. Can folks provide some feedback on the following trip itinerary?

    Day 1: leave Chicago early in the morning, drive 14 hours (I know-a really long day) to Bismark ND. The rationale for this day is that the midwest will be the easiest day of driving, and the 2 year old will have the most patience to make it through this day than any other day. Plus, the landscape is a bit easier once we get outside of Chicagoland.

    Day 2: Bismarck to Billings, MT (6 hours). A shorter day of driving, mainly to allow the two guys to detour with the 2 year old to Custer's Last Stand, and to let the wife get some rest in Billings.

    Day 3: Billings to Spokane, WA. This is 8 hours of driving through some real tough terrain. I'm perhaps most worried about this day, as there is demanding terrain, and not as many places to stop along the way. Any thoughts on making this day a bit shorter-easier? One thought is to go on Day 2 from Bismarck to Livingston, which adds two hours to that day.

    Day 4: Spokane to Seattle (4 hours). The last day, easier driving until we hit the Cascades and Seattle sprawl.

    Any thoughts on whether anything needs to change? I think we'll be able to do some decent rotations, and we look forward to having a lot of fun. We've ruled out taking I90 because of the Sturgis Motorcycle event, and I80 is just plain boring and too busy.

    Thanks in advance for any feedback!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    That first day really has to change. Its nearly 850 miles to Bismarck, and that's way too far to travel in a single day, especially when you've still got miles upon miles of trip ahead of you. Its the kind of thing that is really quite unsafe, especially since your basically talking about solo drivers. It will really make the following days miserable, even though they are significantly shorter.

    Throw in the fact that you're traveling with a toddler and that makes it 10 times worse, as you aren't giving time for him/her to work off their energy. Its also a bit of fools errand to think that it will be easier for the child to deal with that kind of long drive on day one. I'd say its likely the opposite, in fact, where they are going to end up getting in the car every day assuming that days 2,3,4 will be as miserable as day one.

    You should also know that only in Google's fantasy land where you never have to stop or slow down for traffic, gas, construction, etc could you make the trip in 14 hours. Real world conditions will make this a 15-16 hour trip if you make only the bare minimum of stops.

    Its simply unnecessary and frankly counter productive to try to kill yourself on day one, when you've got plenty of time to make this trip comfortably and safely.

    A much much better plan would be to break the trip into evenly spaced legs, where you have time to have fun every day, and you don't need any days where you have to recover from the previous time on the road.

    A better plan would look like this:
    Day 1: Chicago to Fargo. At 600+ miles this is still a very long day on the road, and is the absolute maximum that would be recommend. Alexandria or Fergus Falls would be places to consider, but I could see you wanting to put in a few extra miles that first day and pushing to Fargo.

    Day 2: Fargo to Miles City or Forsyth. This is about 500 miles and is much more along the sustainable pace that will work best considering your driver/passenger situation. It would give you time to do a little exploring at places like the North Dakota State Capitol, Fort Abraham Lincoln and Museum and Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

    Day 3: By stopping before Billings, you can detour to Little Bighorn right away in the morning, and have everyone be able to enjoy it. You'll actually get on I-90 at Hardin MT (via MT-47) just north of the Battlefield, and you'll never rejoin I-94 again, as I-94's western end point is just east of Billings. You should be able to make it to Missoula for the night, easily. Mountain driving on the Interstate is not going to be significantly different or more difficult than driving on the plains, as you've still got gradual slopes and curves that are designed for long haul truckers to maintain highway speeds.

    Day 4 would take you from Missoula into Seattle. This is a nice comfortable drive of a little under 500 miles to finish off your trip.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Construction!

    Having just driven I-94 into St Paul, be aware that there are several long (10 miles) stretches of construction, which will still be there in August. The two which come readily to mind are in western MN and just east of Dickenson ND.

    You may like to reconsider the fact that day 1 will be the 'easiest driving'. It is in fact the only day that you will be passing through major metropolitan areas. The rest of I-94 is a beautiful relaxing drive through incredibly scenic countryside.

    You can't do better than follow Michael's advice. Have a great trip.


  4. Default Thanks!

    Dear Lifemagician and midwest michael-thank you both for the great advice. I'm glad for the recommendation regarding the first day being too long-you are certainly correct. Also, thank you for the MN 94 updates-helpful information to have.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 06-26-2012 at 08:44 AM. Reason: Removed quote for easier reading.

  5. #5

    Default I-90, Sturgis motorcycle rally 2012, western MT

    Be aware of the dates for the 2012 Sturgis, SD motorcycle rally (near Rapid City). It's August 6-12 this year, and you can assume you'll find tens of thousands of travelers headed there in the days before and for a few days afterward. Much of the traffic will be on I-90, both east and west of Rapid City, so bear that in mind in the event you'll be passing by during the event. A few years back, I passed by the Little Big Horn, overnighting at Hardin, MT on the Saturday night before the rally's start. There were no rooms available, and likewise no campsites. We pitched our tent along the side of the entrance to the campground not more than 30' from the highway. If your party expects to overnight closer than Billings and to visit the battlefield during the rally, expect big crowds, as many of the rally attendees go for rides through the Black Hills and to surrounding areas by day, returning to Sturgis at night.

    Western Montana is far from difficult. Quite the contrary, it's a splendid drive along river valleys with huge mountains all around. One big pass near Bozeman, another east of Butte, and a final pass crossing into Idaho. None have climbs/descents of more than a few miles.


  6. Default

    Foy-Thanks for the advice. I am deliberately planning on going through ND to minimize the Sturgis issues. My thought is we will do a long-lunch break at Little Big Horn and try to enjoy the sights. My friends have begun mentioning that western MT is beautiful-certainly going to be different than driving through boring texas!
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 06-26-2012 at 08:43 AM. Reason: In line response so removed quote for easier reading.

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