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  1. Default Advice on a Cincinnati OH to Seattle WA road trip (Mar-Apr 2018)

    Hi folks, was hoping to get some advice on an upcoming road trip I'm making with my Dad and sister.

    Background - We are from the UK and flying into New York JFK late on Fri 23 March 2018. We're then staying nearby somewhere overnight, then early on Sat 24 March flying from La Guardia to Cincinnati OH. Our plan is to then pick up a rental car at Cincinnati Airport, and drop it off somewhere in Seattle WA 12 days later on Thurs 5 Apr. We'll then be staying overnight in Seattle before getting an Amtrak up the coast to Vancouver, where we will again stay overnight, before flying home from Vancouver to the UK on Sat 7 April.

    We have established stops for the start and end of the trip, but currently the middle is fairly flexible:

    Fri 23 Mar - fly to New York
    Sat 24 Mar - fly to Cincinnati OH then pick up car and drive to Louisville KY
    Sun 25 Mar - drive to Nashville TN
    Mon 26 Mar - drive to Memphis TN
    Tue 27 Mar - drive to St Louis MO
    ...
    ...
    ...
    Wed 4 Apr - drive to Portland OR
    Thurs 5 Apr - drive to Seattle WA (drop off car)
    Fri 6 Apr - Amtrak to Vancouver
    Sat 7 Apr - fly back to UK

    So basically we have 8 days of driving from Wed 28 Mar to Wed 4 Apr to get from St Louis MO to Portland OR. I'm not worried about the pace, it will be fairly rapid but I've done two cross-country trips before so know what to expect.

    However, what I am unsure about is what sort of car would be best for a trip like this. The previous road trips I've done have been in the height of summer, whereas this time it will be spring. Our route between St Louis and Portland hasn't been set in stone but we're very keen to drive through the northern states of Mississippi, N Dakota, Wyoming, Montana etc - as I understand it, in late March/early April the weather in these states can get extremely cold/snowy/icy. Normally I would just opt for a small-ish compact car but not sure if that would be sufficient for a route like this at that time of year? Would something bigger like a 4WD SUV be more appropriate? Do we need to worry about snow tyres and chains etc? (Sorry I am a bit naive with this, we don't get much snow here in England)

    Also one other thing, we were hoping to skirt the northern edge of Yellowstone - however, having done some research it seems that a lot of the park is closed for a couple of weeks in late March/early April to clear all the snow away. Apart from, it seems, one road which remains open year round (from Gardiner MT to Cooke City MT) - would anyone know if it is worth taking this road? I know we don't have enough time to properly see Yellowstone but even just driving through the northern edge (or possibly staying the night if there are any accommodations open at that time of year) would be awesome.

    Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read, any and all advice on any of the above would be much appreciated. Thank you!!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Welcome to RTA!

    What the weather will be like 4 months from now, is anyone's guess. You're right, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana do *normally* stay colder through the early spring months. (BTW, Mississippi is quite a bit south, not a northern state at all, with completely different weather patterns.) If it were me, I'd rent a medium sized car, which probably will be equipped with all-weather tires, and not worry about the added expense of an SUV.

    Yellowstone is considered open all year, but to non-snow machine traffic only between mid-November and mid-April. Yes, they start to clear the roads then. Some portions of YNP don't even open to vehicular traffic until mid-May, such as the mountain passes. You could, indeed, get to Gardiner and then along the road between Mammoth and Cooke City, which is generally open year-round, but you won't get to Old Faithful, or any of the geyser basins, for that matter, unless you sign up for a snowmobile tour.


    Donna

  3. #3
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    You would also probably not be able to go east from Cooke City, that road also closes for the winter.

    A snowmobile tour is also not possible after March 15, all but the one road mentioned will be closed to ALL traffic.

    https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm

  4. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Welcome to RTA!

    What the weather will be like 4 months from now, is anyone's guess. You're right, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana do *normally* stay colder through the early spring months. (BTW, Mississippi is quite a bit south, not a northern state at all, with completely different weather patterns.) If it were me, I'd rent a medium sized car, which probably will be equipped with all-weather tires, and not worry about the added expense of an SUV.

    Yellowstone is considered open all year, but to non-snow machine traffic only between mid-November and mid-April. Yes, they start to clear the roads then. Some portions of YNP don't even open to vehicular traffic until mid-May, such as the mountain passes. You could, indeed, get to Gardiner and then along the road between Mammoth and Cooke City, which is generally open year-round, but you won't get to Old Faithful, or any of the geyser basins, for that matter, unless you sign up for a snowmobile tour.


    Donna
    Thanks Donna. I meant Minnesota not Mississippi, whoops!

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    You would also probably not be able to go east from Cooke City, that road also closes for the winter.

    A snowmobile tour is also not possible after March 15, all but the one road mentioned will be closed to ALL traffic.

    https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm
    Thank you for the response - I see what you mean, now that I re-read the NPS website. I assumed I could depart I90 at Laurel and approach Cooke City from the east and then drive west along to Gardiner before rejoining I90 but it sounds like that will not be possible.

    In that case we may have to skip Yellowstone as it doesn't make much sense to double back on ourselves. Save it for another trip!

  6. #6
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    When you *do* go to Yellowstone in the summer, the drive in from I-90 through Red Lodge over the Beartooth is absolutely spectacular.

  7. Default

    Well, this trip is coming up quickly, excitement levels are rising! We fly into JFK on Friday evening.

    We still don't really know our route in between St Louis MO and Portland OR however, and was hoping for some ideas/inspiration from you guys. There's a few places in between that we've been looking at, but nothing set in stone yet.

    Fargo ND - mainly just cos I'm a big fan of the film, and I love small-town America. Would be great to see this town in the snow and hear the accents and apparently there's a museum that has the wood-chipper from the final scene of the film! But it's a bit out the way.

    Mount Rushmore SD - not desperate to see this but depending on the route we take it wouldn't be a big detour at all, and it would be crazy not to see it if we're passing so close by. My guide book says it's a fairly good tourist attraction

    Bozeman MT - Again this is just based on my guide book but it says this is one of the coolest towns in the Rockies, beautiful surroundings and a worthwhile pitstop

    Would have loved to spend a night in one of the national parks, just for the beautiful scenery and hopefully the chance to see some wildlife. But have looked at Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier and access seems very restricted over the next few weeks due to all the snow.

    Also on the approach into Portland I really like the look of the Columbia River Gorge so would like to spent at least a morning or afternoon taking in the beauty there.

    I guess our first decision is whether to go from St Louis all the way up to Fargo and then skirt along the northern border (either on I-94 or Route 2 which is supposedly more scenic?) - or to skip Fargo and take the slightly more direct route via South Dakota (stopping at Mt Rushmore on the way I guess).

    Any thoughts or input would be greatly appreciated! Cheers

  8. #8
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    Fargo is a pretty noteworthy detour. There are some artifacts from the movie at the city's visitor center, although it should be noted that most of the movie isn't set - and I don't believe any of it was filmed - in Fargo. Brainerd, MN is actually where most of the movie was set, and is much more small-town America than Fargo.

    If you go that way, Teddy Roosevelt NP would be a good stop to consider.

    If you go through South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore is iconic and certainly worth a stop, although it's not my favorite place in the region by a longshot. I'd make sure to hit Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Jewel and/or Wind Caves, and Devils Tower as you get into Wyoming.

    Little Bighorn Battlefield is quite close to where I-90 and I-94 come back together, so that could be a stop either way.

    You are still pretty limited in where you can go within Yellowstone, but the northern part of the park as previously described would still be worth checking out. Grand Teton would be a significant detour to get to at this point, and Glacier is probably too snowbound to really be worth your while for the detour at this time.

  9. Default

    Hi Michael, thanks a lot for your response. I hadn't (gulp) even heard of Teddy Roosevelt NP before I must confess, but just been reading about it now and it sounds fantastic, so if we go the Fargo route then that definitely sounds like a worthwhile stop.

    Does anyone have any views on I-94 vs Route 2 when crossing North Dakota? My guide book said the scenery on I-94 is fairly bland, but is much better on Route 2. However, I imagine Route 2 would be a fair bit slower and also a bit of a detour if going from Fargo to Teddy Roosevelt NP.

    I will also do some reading on the places you have mentioned around South Dakota, it looks like a good chunk of them are concentrated in the SW corner of the state so that might be quite convenient. I guess we then need to make a decision between going via North Dakota or going via South Dakota.

    If we were to see some of Yellowstone, can someone hopefully just confirm that my interpretation of the park website is correct: we would need to enter the park at Gardiner (on Route 89 after leaving the I-90 at Livingston), from there we could go east as far as Cooke City (via Tower Junction) - and at that point we would need to turn around and come back the way we'd came, eventually getting back to Livingston on I-90?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by rorylando45 View Post
    Does anyone have any views on I-94 vs Route 2 when crossing North Dakota? My guide book said the scenery on I-94 is fairly bland, but is much better on Route 2. However, I imagine Route 2 would be a fair bit slower and also a bit of a detour if going from Fargo to Teddy Roosevelt NP.
    I've only driven parts of US-2 across ND, but I don't think it really would be that much different scenery-wise compared to I-94. US-2 is quite a bit farther north, and thus is farther out of the way than I would go, unless you had a specific reason that you wanted to take it.

    I will also do some reading on the places you have mentioned around South Dakota, it looks like a good chunk of them are concentrated in the SW corner of the state so that might be quite convenient. I guess we then need to make a decision between going via North Dakota or going via South Dakota.
    Yes, I would consider ND vs. SD an either/or situation in your case.


    If we were to see some of Yellowstone, can someone hopefully just confirm that my interpretation of the park website is correct: we would need to enter the park at Gardiner (on Route 89 after leaving the I-90 at Livingston), from there we could go east as far as Cooke City (via Tower Junction) - and at that point we would need to turn around and come back the way we'd came, eventually getting back to Livingston on I-90?
    Correct.

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