Driving during December/January
Replies: 11 - Last Post: Sep 17, 2012 9:19 AM Last Post By: SoloHobo
Sep 15, 2012 8:46 PM
Driving during December/JanuaryHi all,
I am looking at going around the US during December & January. I know that driving through the Northern states is totally off limits for me (coming from Australia & never having driven in snow before). However, I would really like to drive down the West Coast (from Seattle to SF) and also through the southern interior (Vegas, Grand Canyon, Arizon, Texas). I'm just wondering how conditions are in these areas at that time of year, and if it would be feasible to drive this area over a 5/6 week period?
Sep 15, 2012 8:52 PM
1Most of this argosy has been recently commented on E. to W. the thread is road trip from NY to CS...carracar
Sep 15, 2012 10:34 PM
2Your question is so broad that I can't really answer whether it is feasible but do keep in mind that winter driving conditions are not limited to a particular latitude ('the north') but also elevation. There are plenty of locations in more southerly areas that experience wintry weather. For example, the north rim of the Grand Canyon is closed in winter and Flagstaff, Arizona gets snow. Ice is, in some respects, worse than snow and that occurs in a wide range of areas in Dec and Jan. It snow in the northwest and parts of California in winter.
Here is a link to a previous TT threead that touched on a simiar request - http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1997487
Sep 16, 2012 7:01 AM
3The west coast in December/January will be wet and foggy i the lowlands andsnowy in the mountains with snow unlikely at or near the coastline. As you cross any mountains to the inland you will likely encounter snowy conditions. The easiest (and most boring) way from Seattle to San Francisco is down interstate 5. The more interesting (and much, much slower) way without snow would be following the coastal highway 101.
As temperatures approach freezing, even along the coast, you will need to be aware of icy roads especially on bridges which freeze up more quickly than the rest of the road surface.
Sep 16, 2012 9:31 AM
4I5 through Oregon, Washington and northern California can get snow or even more fun, freezing rain in these months although rain and fog is more the norm. It has even been closed on rare occasions. It's usually fairly short in duration though so just build some flexibility into your schedule (1-2 days usually does it), and keep apprised of weather and road conditions. The whole area tends to become a real mess largely because it is rare.
So yes it is doable with a little flexibility and weather awareness.
Sep 16, 2012 11:07 AM
5Using Highway 101 is slower than I-5, but not horribly so - I've done both routes in all seasons - maybe 40 or so times each over many years, and my rule of thumb is that you're looking at roughly 5-6 more hours between Seattle and San Francisco by sticking to the coast compared to inland; on many occasions I'd call it closer to three hours. It partly depends on your route, and also on specific timing. At that time of year, daylight will be quite short, so driving days will be limited on that front as well, unless you fancy driving on wet and twisty roads (or, alternatively, icy freeways) in the dark. Of course once past San Francisco, and realistically, once you're south of the Siskiyou mountains (Oregon/California border) the possibility of snow/ice will diminish, as it will on the coast virtually all the way.
Regarding the Southwest (Arizona/New Mexico/Texas) it's a more complicated picture owing to varying elevations. The Grand Canyon rim, like all the major national parks and most scenic areas in Arizona/New Mexico/Utah, is at very high altitude, and the chances of encountering icy or snowy conditions in those areas are quite high also. The "red rocks" areas can be quite beautiful in winter, but you will need to plan things "in real time" - using local forecasts and reports, etc. - when you're in the area.
Six weeks is quite a long time, so you ought to have the flexibility to rearrange your plans and itinerary as you go.
Sep 16, 2012 12:39 PM
I just had a conversation about this with folks on this forum.
I think the results was:
1. As long as you are willing to (sometimes) delay or change your travel plans based on weather most folks would go for it. (The travelling part ain't so bad.)
2. A number of rockies/desert destinations are actually at a higher altitude and maybe inappropriate for winter travel. (sheesh you arrive there and there's 3 feet of snow on the ground everywhere except the parking lot.)
I've heard of folks going surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon so I wouldn't rule it out totally, but in general the travel part is possible, elevation should be included when deciding your destination(s)
Sep 16, 2012 5:38 PM
7There is some excellent snow skiing and snow boarding all along the areas you are wanting to go. You will need a set of chains for the car though as getting there they will be required in the higher elevations, you can buy chains at any automotive store, you will need them even with AWD or a 4x4.
And yes, you could ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon, though you would need a wet suit for the surfing portion, and a lot of courage. Some big swells in winter.
Sante Fe New Mexico is a good scene IMO.
Sep 16, 2012 9:27 PM
8December and January are usually quite rainy for the west coast, so you need to be prepared to be driving in moderate to heavy
rain between Seattle and California. The weather won't be so much a factor in the inland states. You have
given yourself more than a month for your trip, however, so you can be flexible and rack up more miles on
the dryer days. All in all- it's definitely doable.
Sep 16, 2012 10:52 PM
9We are also Australians (although with some snow driving experience) who did a six-week winter trip December-January - and we limited ourselves to the Four Corner states (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado), plus a couple of days either end in Las Vegas Nevada.
The trip was wonderful indeed. There was a huge amount of snow that year, but also, almost every day was dry, crisp, blue and cold. The champagne snow was magical - you could just about blow 20cm of fresh snow off your car in the morning - it was that powdery. Plus all the major roads (and many minor ones) were cleared of snow very promptly - usually by early morning. We had little dangerous driving at all (although a couple of big blizzards kept us awake and alert - but they were still fun).
We have also been to the Northeast in late autumn, and it was less good. In fact, I think both coasts are not at their best in winter ... and conversely, not only are the high deserts and mountains best visited in winter, they are also the best thing to do in winter. But I agree - a few days to thaw out in Florida or somewhere similar (or Hawaii) is a good idea as well.
So my recommendation is to leave the West Coast and the Northeast for a warmer time, and concentrate on the high cold interior ... we took that risk and it was great. You need the right clothes, a car with winter tyres, and a sensible attitude (and somewhere to keep your camera warm - it gets very cold indeed).
Driving over Lizard Head Pass near Telluride Colorado.
Sep 17, 2012 9:11 AM
10Really the northern states really do a fair job of snow/ice removal. I know from experience Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri attempt to keep the Interstate's and freeways clear at great expense.
Although the southern states get less and when it does it melts in a couple days, such storms can be paralyzing for the duration.
Sep 17, 2012 9:19 AM
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