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  1. Default Need advise for winter roadtrip from San Francisco,CA to Missoula, MT


    I am planning to do a road trip for Christmas from San Francisco to Missoula, Montana.

    Google maps has given me 3 routes:
    1. I-80E and US-93N
    2. I-80E
    3. I-80E and US-95N

    I am not sure which route be the best. This is a fun family trip for us and we don't have any time restrictions. So, I am ok with taking a longer route which might be safer. I am planning to leave around December 20th, be in MT by Dec 24th with breaks on the way and come back to San Francisco by New Years.

    Please advise on the best route to take.

  2. #2


    I-80 to US 93 would be scenic, but not good if winter weather is involved. Another route to consider, especially if storms are predicted during your travel time, would be I-80E to I-15 N to I-90 W. Still lots to see along that route.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default 'Best' Depends on Several Things

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    We are very loathe to label any particular route as the 'best' between two points simply because the whole point of RoadTrips is to allow personal freedom. You may want the most scenic route, or the safest route in bad weather, or the route that connect the most attraction (which are themselves a matter of personal choice). So, with that said and noting that you'll have plenty of time for the drives up and back, I'd suggest that you simply evaluate what each of the different routes has to offer and then choose the one that's most appropriate for each leg.

    The safest route is actually not even on your list. That is the all-Interstate route from San Francisco to Missoula which is I-80 east all the way to Salt Lake City and then I-15 north to Butte and I-90 west to Missoula. While that adds some 280 miles to your drive over the shortest route, it only adds about 2˝ hours of driving time due to the better quality of the roads, higher speed limits and lack of small towns and cities to navigate on surface streets. Also, Interstates are designed to have shallower grades and gentler curves making them more easily navigable in the event of precipitation, and receive first priority from plowing/salting/sanding road crews. They also have more lodging options even in relatively remote areas should you need to simply get off the road and spend the night somewhere unforeseen. In the event that bad weather is forecast at the time of your departure, that is probably the way you should go.

    The most scenic route would involve US-93 from Wells NV all the way up to Missoula. That route crosses the Snake River Plains, passes Craters of the Moon National Monument, runs parallel to the Lost River and Bitterroot mountain ranges, climbs over the Lost Trail Pass at over 7,000 feet, and then descends along a river valley into Missoula.

    The shortest route (in terms of miles) would have you leave I-80 at Winnemucca NV and follow US-95 north through Oregon and western Idaho to Grangeville, then use ID-13 to cut over to US 12 at Kooskia and follow that over Lolo Pass into Missoula. Although this would save you about 80 miles, it would take about the same time to drive as the US-93 route. It also has the distinction of being perhaps the least populated of all your route choices. That might appeal to you or might fill you with foreboding.

    So the choice is yours, and there's no reason why you can't take different routes up and back. All of the routes will take just about two days, more or less, leaving you plenty of time for either sight-seeing or to sit out any unforeseen bad weather that might catch up to you.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 11-25-2013 at 09:10 AM. Reason: Typos

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    To help put things into perspective, the "fastest" route in good weather is I-80/US-93/I-84/I-86/I-15/I-90.

    Another option not mentioned is I-5/I-84/I-82/US-395/I-90. This has the potential to be the "best" in poor weather.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    Lots of good suggestions and having 4 days to complete a trip that could potentially be done in 2 days you do have time to do a little sight seeing. You can also see that you do not have to follow a pre-planned route that comes from a computer program, if weather permits you have time to wander and have lots of route combination options. I would also opt for a different route coming home to the one you take out and take the opportunity to see more of the country. US93 is a nice drive and Twin Falls is a nice place for an overnight stop with Centennial Park and Perrine bridge offering views of the Snake river canyon and nearby is Shoshone Falls which is certainly worth a visit.

    You should have no need to book in advance so to find the 'best' route both ways you should go with the things that interest you and see if you can work them into your trip when you have the most up to date weather forecasts and road condition information prior to leaving and from the road as you travel.

  6. Default

    Thank you Pmount, AZBuck, glc and Dave for your detailed replies.

    For our onward trip to Missoula - we are planning to take the US93 route as all of you suggested that it is the most scenic route.

    Can you please let me know if there are any nice lodges or B&B or hotels that have great views for us to stay on our way? On of the reasons we are going to MT (snow country) from California is to have a white Christmas - in the same spirit, we would like to stay at places that are family friendly and christmasy.

  7. #7

    Default This is a nice drive!

    You've been offered some very nice advice here. The drive up US 93 should be terrific!

    At one point or another, I've driven the portion of this route from Elko, NV, on through to Wells, then all the way to Missoula (although I am not sure about Twin Falls, ID to Arco, ID--might not have driven that).

    Be aware that you should keep your fuel tank well topped for the NV and ID sections of this trip, especially in winter when running low or out means you'll get cold quickly. While there are entirely adequate fuel intervals all along I-80 to Wells, they can be spaced somewhat greater than you're accustomed to. From Wells to, say, Hamilton, MT (just south of Missoula), you may find fuel stops some 35-50 miles apart. Again, not a problem in most cases, but just don't run your tank low.

    As to family-oriented stops, most of NV and ID are well within LDS Church (Mormon) territory, and a more welcoming and family-oriented group I have yet to encounter. Sure, NV in particular has a well-deserved reputation for, ahem, more secular celebrations of life, but finding family-oriented overnight stays and restaurants shouldn't be a problem. One I know just a bit about is the Star Restaurant in Elko, NV. The Star serves Basque food and serves "family style". I learned just a bit about Nevada's Basque community on a RoadTrip including Elko in 2011 and have been eager to return ever since. Further north, I've spent a handful of days, but never an overnight, up in Salmon, ID, and have come to like its low-key, outdoorsy, and friendly atmosphere. And I sure do like Missoula. It's one of my favorite Western towns and has been for decades.

    Keep a close eye on the weather, keep fuel in the car, and have some "warmies" ready in the event you have unexpected trouble, and it'll all be fine.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default A sneak preview.

    It wasn't long ago that we drove US93 from Vegas to Kallispell and really enjoyed the ride. On this page you can see some of the options between Twin Falls and Missoula. There were some nice B&B's around Salmon, but they were either booked up or way out of budget.

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