A friend and I are planning a winter trip starting mid-november and carrying on through mid-december. Our current Route is from Kentucky, to Chicago. Il, then to Montana, and ending in Seattle. At first I was hoping to do a car-camping thing to save money, but as I look into the temperature I am getting worried it will be to cold.
I don't know if anyone has done a north US roadtrip before in the winter, but I'm looking for some advice.
I basically would like to know how "you" went about it. I'm not sure exactly what i hope to see along the way because I feel like the time of year is bad, but if anyone has any suggestions/ experience for our trip it would be most appreciated!
Is car camping out of the question? Are road conditions going to be really bad? Is there still stuff to see along the way? Canada isn't out of the questions there's a possiblity of going to Banff and Calgary. I'd also like to See Glacier Natural Park, and Yellowstone if they have visitor access this time of year, and there is a possiblity of trying to get in some snowboarding. Any help would be awesome thanx!!!
I am located west of Chicago (in farm country) and we have been having unusually low temperatures for this time of year - meaning highs - 40s, lows - 10s & 20s. As for camping, it depends on your equipment and how insulated your sleeping bag is. By "car camping" do you mean sleeping in your car? If so, you should pay particular attention as to where you stop for the night. Larger truckstops and some wayside rests will allow sleeping in your car. But, most states have laws forbidding it in most areas and it could be a hefty fine if caught. I would suggest making your stops closer to populated areas just in case a freak storm does blow up.
As for the weather, check weather.com for the long-term forecasts before setting out, or once you get into the more northern states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota). I checked out the info for Chicago, Pierre, S.D. and Billings, Montana just for an idea - they are expecting daytime highs in the 30s and 40s for the next month. Lows are predicted to be in the 20s. (It's just an idea of what to expect.)
I have made the trip from Chicago to Minnesota and North Dakota several times in December. Rarely is there snow by Thanksgiving and most of the time, there was little to no snowfall by Christmas. This does not mean there won't be - but the major storms usually hit at the end of December and January. Your biggest concerns will be through the plains of Montana and the mountains. Even if snow does fall, sticking to the main interstates should cause you little to no problems driving as the plows are good at maintaining clear highways.
Personally, I think you will be fine. Again, just check the long-range forecasts as you go. The Highway Patrol offices (you'll pass quite a few) are also very good for gathering information. They need to know what's coming their way. Though it may be more than you are planning to pack - do have extra clothing (hats, gloves, boots, heavy socks), an extra blanket (easily stashed in the trunk) and fresh batteries in a good flashlight. Also keep your phone charged.
Each state you will pass through will have emergency cell phone numbers listed on road signs along the major highways. I can tell you that Illinois' is *999. I can't find a listing for the states who do have them. I do know Kentucky and Tennesse have them too. On a trip I made to N. Carolina this past March, we made sure to ask the local police or highway patrol for the number if we missed seeing a sign.
Good luck and enjoy the trip!
Some input from a western Kansas girl!
For whatever crazy reason (just had to meet the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes), my dad and I went to North Dakota about a week before Christmas my senior year of college. The drive up was great; 60 degrees in Bismarck. However, that night, the bottom dropped out of the thermometer, and the next day, they had a wind chill of -35 degrees! Moral of the story? Be prepared for anything at anytime.
In addition to everything that Isa said above, one thing that we found really helpful were those little packets you can get in the hunting/sporting gear section of any Wal-Mart. Basically, you shake the bag up, and the powder inside mixes to start a chemical reaction that produces heat for anywhere from eight to sixteen hours, depending on the size of the bag. It was so cold the second day in ND that the heating coils in my dad's car froze, so we had leukwarm air coming through the vents. In the same section, you can find emergency blankets, which look like folded up aluminum foil. They're cheap and compact, so it doesn't hurt to grab a few.
Easily stored foods with lots of protein, like peanuts without a lot of salt, are a good thing to take along. A lot of gas stations will let you fill a travel mug with hot water for free for tea, instant coffee, or hot chocolate, especially in rural areas. There's even a gas station on I-70 outside of Kansas City where they would regularly let me fill it up with their coffee (the regular, nonfancy stuff) if I had my own mug and bought gas.
As far as a list of Highway Patrol #s, again, my small town roots emerge!, Wal-Mart usually carries a great Rand McNally atlas that has a lot of that info listed in the front and back covers. I think you can get the atlas for under $10.
The biggest danger when driving during winter conditions, especially on the plains, isn't so much when it is actually snowing, but the day after a snowfall when the clouds have cleared and the sun comes out. When that happens, the sun starts to heat the air, which creates stronger winds, which in turn causes blowing and drifting snow. This is actually more dangerous to drive in than the blizzard itself, and school was cancelled more often because of that than because of the original storm. When it hits, just find the nearest Super 8 and hunker down.
All said, though, odds are you probably wouldn't have too many problems. To be honest, snowstorms are more the exception than the rule, depending on the route you take. Isa is right on about the truck stops. Any of the rest stops along the interstate systems are pretty much open for pulling over and, well, resting. Better to pull off than to keep going. I would add that as long as conditions are forecast to be okay, the scenic route is always amazingly surprising, but if it snows heavily, the road can be hard to follow. Found this out in rural Colorado once!
My folks live on the plains of northeastern Colorado now, and my dad makes frequent trips to the back side of the front range for meetings. He always carries tire chains in his car (it's actually required by law during some conditions). Just check with the highway dept. of whatever state you are going through before you leave, often info on their websites.
As far as the national parks go, some of them might close depending on weather conditions, which determine accessibility. Just check online before you go. Some of the mountain passes on interstates like I-70 will occasionally close, but they aren't closed for long. It's a major truck artery, and I would stick with roads like that when going through the Rockies.
(Hi, Isa! *waves*)
Thanks for all the info rbyslipahs, and Isadora! Plan are underway!