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  1. Default NYC to Portland in 7 days

    Hey guys, first big road trip and first post here! I'm happy to find this old-school treasure trove of knowledge :)

    I'm moving myself from NYC to Portland, OR over 7 days (Nov 21 thru 27) - I'll be renting a mid-size SUV like a Toyota RAV4 which I'll be packing somewhat tight with my belongings.

    I'm pretty set on the first couple days, as Chicago seems to be the consensus hub for all points West. In the handful of posts I've read on getting through the mountains, I sense that there are two schools of thought: the more direct southern route on I-80 to I-84; and the lower-elevation Northern route on I-90/I-94/SR-395/I-82/I-84.

    Does anyone care to add to the debate over these two routes, or to throw their hat in the ring for another one? I'm slightly more partial to the Northern route, as I've heard great things about Montana, and (unfortunately) not-so-great things about Nebraska, though my main concern is obviously the weather, which I plan to keep an eye on as I move West. I do have a fair bit of experience driving in the snow, though not much in a mountain environment.

    This being my first time through this part of the country, I'm also wondering if anyone has any recommendations for good overnight stays outside of the main population centers on the route. Using a simplistic method of hopping from one big town to the next, I've come up with this draft route along the Northern route: *Edited: I mistakenly gave myself a 800 mile drive from Chicago to Bismarck* NYC - Akron, OH - Chicago, IL - Sioux Falls, SD - Sheridan, WY - Missoula, MT - Portland. This would be a 6 day trip, which gives me one day of slack for unforeseen delays. Do you guys think this is feasible this time of year, and are there any hidden gems that I should stop to see along the way?

    Thanks for reading this wall of text - I look forward to trading notes with y'all in the future!

    tl;dr: NYC to Portland in 7 days - I-80 or I-90, what's the best way through the mountains??
    Last edited by slyli; 11-08-2019 at 10:27 PM. Reason: Revised itinerary

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Six of One; Seven of the Other

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Actually, I do have an opinion on which route would be best, but it's not one you've laid out. Start with the understanding that almost everything between the Appalachians and the Rockies is going to be flat and visually less than stellar. That is not a criticism, I was born a Midwesterner of Midwestern parents. It's just a fact. And since the Rockies and Appalachians run roughly like "\ /", the farther south you can stay, the less of the Great Plains' flatness you'll have to endure.

    I would also argue that Chicago is NOT "the consensus hub for all points West." Indeed there are good reasons to avoid it starting with the fact that the main road between NYC and Chi-Town, I-80, is toll between Cleveland and Chicago, but then so is the usual alternative, I-76 through Pennsylvania. What I'd suggest instead is I-80/I-76 past Akron OH and then I-71 southwest to I-70 to Indianapolis. Next would be I-74 to the Quad Cities and get back onto I-80. Be sure to map out your personal choice for beltways around major cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis, especially if you're going to be navigating them any time near rush hour(s).

    I-80 through Nebraska actually follows the Platte River and the old Oregon Trail, and there are lots of historic sites and some interesting rock formations as you get into western Nebraska. This routing also takes you past Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake where you'd pick up I-84 for the rest of your drive to Portland. And if this is your first experience with them, wherever you cross the Rockies they're going to blow you away. Also keep in mind that, if you're moving to Portland, the northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana are going to be a (good) day's drive away; close enough to visit and explore on a week's vacation anytime you like.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 11-08-2019 at 07:57 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    If you decide to take the northern route, I'd still follow Buck's advice on avoiding tolls and Chicago. What you would do is take I-29 north out of Omaha to I-90.

    I would caution you to try not to drive more than 550 miles in a day. Professional drivers are limited to 600 miles a day and anything more can become unsafe, especially over a multi-day trip. Fatigue can be insidious.

    Taking Buck's advice and the northern route is just over 3100 miles, and if you break it up into 6 equal segments that would put your target overnights around:

    Mansfield OH
    Davenport IA
    Sioux Falls SD
    Buffalo/Sheridan WY
    Missoula MT

    Ample lodging choices are available in all those areas.

    If you take the southern route, adjust the overnights to:

    Kearney NE
    Rock Springs WY
    Boise ID

    Those also have plenty of lodging.

  4. Default

    That's a good point about the 'V' shape AZBuck. I will have to stick with Chicago as I've got a friend there that I'd like to visit. I will give the I-80 route some more serious thought though. One other question about that route though - do you have any advice about the I-80 mountain passes going through Southern Wyoming? I've read that the route has higher elevations than the I-90 route, and might be susceptible to more bad weather.

  5. Default

    Thanks for the recommendations glc! I realize that miscalculated the distance between Chicago and Bismarck - I will certainly NOT be driving 800 miles in one day..

    I am pretty set on Chicago, but I'll take your recommendations for Sioux Falls through Missoula to heart. I wouldn't mind stopping by the Badlands on my way through.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by slyli View Post
    Chicago to Bozeman in two days seems like a stretch, but I'll give it a go if the weather holds up.
    Please don't.

    I actually think the route you've picked is fine - if you want to see Chicago. There are advantages to avoiding Chicago, particularly when it comes to tolls and traffic, and as such the route to bypass it offered by Buck and GLC is a good one, but Chicago is still a great city and if you want to take a quick stop there, by all means, you should.

    But getting from Chicago to Bozeman is a very, very bad idea. That's 1400 miles - which is closer to a 3 full day drive than a 2 day drive. Chicago to Bismarck is almost 850 miles, trying to do that in a single day is practically homicidal - at the very least you'd be a zombie traveling at 75 mph throughout your drive through North Dakota, both at the end of that first day, and the following days as the fatigue continues to drag on you.

    That said, you can still comfortably get from Chicago to Portland in 4 days, you just need to adjust the stops.

    Leaving Chicago, Fergus Falls, MN is the farthest you should really attempt to travel. That would put a Miles City, MT as a good next stop, followed by Missoula. From Missoula, you could get to Portland in a Day. All of those drives would keep you under 600 miles, and within the boundaries of safety for a multiday trip.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    From Chicago, I'd take either I-90/US-395/I-82/I-84 or I-80/I-84 the rest of the way. I would not take I-94 unless there's something along that route that you must do or see.

    Northern route overnights - Sioux Falls, Buffalo/Sheridan, and Missoula.

    Southern route overnights - Lincoln NE, Rawlings WY, and Boise ID.

    Now - if you want to see the Badlands, you may have to add another day unless all you do is drive the SD-240 "loop". Get an early start from Sioux Falls, it will take you at least 4 hours to get to the entrance in good weather. You would need to make it as far as Gillette that day (evening) in order to make it to Portland in 2 days with a stop in Missoula.

  8. #8


    Beware of those pot holes around the Chicago area--I count my lucky stars just a couple of weeks ago that my tires or front end weren't bent out of shape the getting a flat tire where there isn't much room to pull over. I am generally referring to the I-80 to I-94 section. My advice would be to skip Chicago and fly out and visit your friend at a later date.

    I-80 can experience some strong winds across Wyoming--it is actually a natural condition. The trucks can also be more of a nuisance than on I-90, at least between the Billings/Salt Lake City longitudinal and the Mississippi River. A side benefit of the I-90 routing is being able to do a drive-thru of the Badlands NP without too much of a time penalty (a couple of hours).

    Weather will be a potential factor on all of the routings. Just avoid it or sit it out. At least it won't be chasing you!

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