Im getting out of the Army in a couple months and am going to be driving from Seattle to Indy. I am considering trailing a 1999 Corolla with my 2008 F-150. I could go way south to SF or LA then head East through the SW, or take the northern route across WA, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. Would the northern route be safe in mid-October to Early Novemeber? It would safe me almost 1000 miles. Plus, its the last part of the lower 48 I have yet to see. Any natives of the area have good advice on the passes and weather conditions?
If you are towing with a Ford F-150, I see no particular problem doing this in October-November. I have driven this area at least 9 times cross country, and I-94 or equivalent is great driving; you might even find it a little dull!
Have a great trip and welcome back.
Check weather conditions as you get close to the departure date. Today’s advice won’t do you much good.
I think the southern route would be best unless you are really good at watching the weather, or had time enough to wait out road conditions. We were at mount hood OE last November, a beautiful day, 2 days later had a snow that allowed 4wd only or chains. Maybe global warming will help but under those conditions I would not even think of towing a car. I had to cancel a trip to Glacier in August once due to snow in the mountains.
Fortunately, the pioneers already figured this out for you. Take the Oregon Trail. Go down to Portland and take I-84 east until it links up with I-80 north of Salt Lake and take I-80 east to Cheyenne and points east. This route punches through the Cascades at sea level through the Columbia gorge and avoids almost every other mountain range in the west. There’s one pretty steep, but short uphill section east of Pendleton and there’s one somewhat windy mountainous section in the Wasatches in eastern Utah, but other than that it’s smooth sailing.
This would probably be a good compromise between the direct northern route and going way the heck out of your way through the southwest. On I-90, you go over 6 mountain passes (that I can think of at the moment), 3 of which go through major mountain ranges and are quite substantial.
Just to elaborate, I do drive the I-90 route fairly regularly during the winter and usually the Snoqualmie Pass (in WA) is the most likely to be actually closed. But the Lookout Pass (on the MT/ID border) and Homestake Pass (over the Divide by Butte) can be really, really icy. Plus Montana really has more of a hands-off approach to snow removal and road closures/chain requirements. They sometimes require chains for semis, but never for passenger cars. And I’ve never seen the interstate closed because of snow alone here, and I have driven through some backcountry-depth snow on the interstates in my 4x4. But, this only really applies if there happens to have been a storm recently.
But, horror stories aside, the Northern Rockies is a pretty dry region and the highways are usually completely dry for probably 80% of the winter. Chances are you can just scoot right through as if it were the middle of summer. It’s just that when it’s bad, it can be really bad.
I’m not a native of the north but the southern route through here is not all that great at times.
The southern route through AZ and NM can get pretty nasty at times and TX/OK/AR can get pounded pretty hard by ice. Snow is preferable any day of the week over 2" of ice and not too many years ago everyone for miles around here (OK) was stuck without electricity or open roads for 5 days straight, including me.
I remember coming through Flagstaff, AZ one time in Oct. and got stranded there for hours while waiting for the snow plows to clear I-40.
Closure of I-40 in TX and NM is not that rare either.