Hello, my friend and I are planning on traveling to America at the end of the year in our (Australia's) summer, so your winter.
We want to hire a car and road trip from New York to San Francisco (obviously lots of stops in between) then up to Vancouver in Canada, then to Toronto and then back to New York. So obviously there will be a lot of snow in most of the places we'll drive through. This time of year is the only time we can both get time off and we WANT to visit in winter, but we also want to drive and aren't really looking to compromise on that. The place we are planning on hiring a car from have a Jeep Grand Cherokee available and thats the car we are hoping on getting. So all I really want to know is what advise can you give us on traveling in winter and what things should we plan/look out for? Is a road trip in the dead of winter possible? Should we get snow chains even with a 4x4? We're both very good and safe drivers but any suggestions and information you could give would be much appreciated thank you!
Travelling the US/Canada in the winter is completely doable. Some things to note
1)A 4x4 doesn't mean you won't slip and fishtail, just means the likelihood if you getting stuck in snow is less. I have driven small 2 wheel cars in snow and watched 4x4 jeeps do 360s around me. The trick is easy on the gas and break, maintaining a constant in control speed.
2) Snow chains are only required in some places and not all, most of the time only big trucks require them. Again this is local jurisdiction rules and varies, in my experience I have never required them in well traveled areas.
3) As a note most interstates (I-## roads) and some US routes (US##) are consistently plowed. Basically the places that are used to dealing with snow, get it cleaned fast. The places are that are not used to getting tons of snow are slower (such as the Washington, DC area). However if any place gets dumped on, you are screwed for a few days anyway no matter what you are driving, cause they usually just shut down the roads.
4) I wouldn't too much about Canada, lived there for many years, and they consistently clean the roads. However like the above comment, if they get dumped on, you are screwed no matter what you drive.
5) Road closures, a lot of the places out west in the Mountains have winter road closures. Some mountain passes are not maintained so you can't get to them in the winter anyway. Examples are Yosemite's Tioaga road, most of Yellowstone National Park, sections of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Tetons National Park. So before you go, find out of the roads are open. Also purchace an annual national parks pass, its good for 1 car load (or 4 people) $80, most national park fees range from free-$10-$25+. You can get them at any fee station. BTW, I highly recommend checking out Yellowstone National park in the winter, it's a bit more expensive, as you have to pay for shuttle in and lodging in the Park.
6) Emergency gear. If you plan on travelling a lot in winter conditions and in remote places, pack a nice winter sleeping bag (rated 0C or lower preferred), a camp stove, a few liters of water and food. This is in case you encounter blizzard conditions and you have to shelter in place. I have yet to have to do this, but just in case.... Also to note, most campsites are closed in the winter, camping on the side of the road is generally frowned on in the US.
Road-Tripping-USA, hope you guys have a blast!