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  1. Default Seattle-SFO; advice from seasoned trippers?

    Hi everyone,

    I'm new to the forum (and road trips in general). We plan to take one next week from Seattle to SFO (or perhaps even San Diego). The thing is, the weather doesn't look too promising - it'll be raining most places and even snowing if we go as late as the 20th/21st.

    My question is: How bad is I-5 south (are there any mountains or passes we should be careful about, esp. given the weather?

    How about US-101? Is that a better alternative, despite the 5 extra hours? Is it scenic enough in the winter/rains?

    We're driving with a pre-schooler & a baby, so I was wondering if it in fact gets so bad that it's worth canceling the plan?

    Any do's/don'ts will be appreciated! Thank so much!


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

    Default well lately

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    This certainly has been a rough winter so far in the Pacific Northwest. I-5 was closed in Washington for several days because of the widespread flooding.

    I-5 is still going to be your best route. The mountains in Southern Oregon/Northern California would be the biggest concern snow wise, however sticking to the Interstates is still your best bet. US-101 along the coast is a much slower, curvy 2 lane route, and you'd need to plan for extra days to make that trip, not just a few extra hours.

  3. Default I-5 is usually your best bet...

    As a rule of thumb, I-5 is usually the best bet. It's *the* major highway going north-south, and keeping it open and safe is the priority for the Transportation Department folks.

    There are several places you do have to be careful in nasty weather, and of course you need to be more careful driving anyway if the weather is nasty. The places I've typically found that are issues are in southern Oregon to about Redding. This takes you up from the Williamette Valley in Oregon over the mountains and down into the California Central Valley. The Siskiyou pass can be blocked by snow, if there is a heavy snowfall. Typically the road is closed for only a few hours to a day, since its a priority to keep it open. About the longest I've heard of it being closed was a couple of days -- and that was because a storm had stopped right on the area and was dumping snow continuously. In that case, I'd watch the forecasts, and not take off from home until the storm lifted.

    Heading south to San Diego (which is reachable in 2 days of driving from Seattle) the only other place of real concern is the Tejon pass near the Grapevine/ Gorman area, where the I-5 comes out of the Central Valley and down into Los Angeles, and then south to San Diego. It can also get snow -- its gets closed maybe once every year or so, and like the Siskiyou it typically gets opened within a few hours.

    If you have a concern, and with smaller kids in the car, keep an eye on the weather, and an ear on the weather reports. Typically the weather forecast is pretty good for a couple of days in advance, but you never know. As a rough rule of thumb, try to hit the areas of concern on the route in the daytime, preferrably between like 10 am and 4 pm -- the hottest time of the day. And of course, do the basic smart things like have some extra stuff along in the car just in case -- chains perhaps, but definitely a cell phone, maps, extra clothes, credit card, some food (snacks on the road for starters...), appropriate supplies for the kids (diapers? games? toys? books? ), etc. I would also throw in a tour book (AAA tour book for example) or a listing of hotels in that area -- just in case I need to find one that I wasn't planning to stop at.

    I will note the worst problems I've heard of have been of people who tried to cut from I-5 over to 101 on the smaller roads through the coast range, and ended up lost and stuck in the snow. Over the past couple of years, I've heard of at least a couple of cases of people getting stuck for days in the snow doing that. And I do need to note you *can* see snow on 101 on the Oregon coastal route -- just that it doesn't stay long.

    If you're really concerned, you might drive from Seattle to somewhere like Eugene and spend the night. That will be somewhere around 5 hours in the car. Then the next day, push over the Siskiyou pass and on to SF. That'll be a longer day, with about 10 hours in the car -- but once you're to Redding you'll be in the lower elevations of the flat Central Valley.

    If the weather looks good, or you're into early mornings, you can push to Redding in one day from Seattle. But that's again going to be about 10 hours in the car -- leaving Seattle at 6 am will put you into Redding about 4-5 PM. Redding to SF will be 4-5 hours on a flat superhighway, mostly through the orchards and ricefields of northern California.

    If you want to make it to San Diego as an alternative, its reachable in another long day from Redding (about 11 hours in the car) or a shorter day from SF.

  4. Default Thanks!

    Thanks so much! That really does help.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Best route is the one with the sights you want to see

    I-5 should be fine as long as you consider the suggestions you've already been given. However, the real scenic route is 101 along the coast. If you have time, this is the route I would suggest. To me, driving the I-5 route is more for just getting from point A to point B.

    I'm not clear if the 7 days is for the drive or if it includes the time to play in Seattle and San Francisco. You would want at least 3 days to do the coast highway and have time to stop and enjoy sights along the way. You could do it in two but that would be rushed. Even with rain, it is a beautiful drive. In fact, the power of the ocean during the winter is really fun to watch, imho. Just have good raingear and you'll be fine.

    If you're going to try to go all the way to San Diego, I would recommend 5 days total for the coastal drive. Again, that's just for the driving portions, not for the stops in the Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego. You would want at least 2 days in each city, I would think, to see the highlights and enjoy them.

    I agree that the worst problems have been people cutting across from I-5 to the coast on small roads. These people, unfortunately, went on roads that should have been closed to traffic in the first place. It's always a good idea to check with Oregon's DOT and local information (police and state patrol are good choices) when taking smaller roads during inclement weather. A prudent check like this only takes a few minutes and can make a big difference. Also, in at least one case, the family, tragically, continued driving into the wilderness while snow was falling. I would hope most people would see these conditions and go back to the nearest town.

    Anyway, if your trip is mainly to enjoy the cities and make haste between them, then do I-5. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the coast, then you will want to carve out time to enjoy that. Don't let a little rain get in the way of a great trip!

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