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User Content => Road Trips => Topic started by: CtrlAltDel on January 26, 2016, 12:24:18 AM

Title: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: CtrlAltDel on January 26, 2016, 12:24:18 AM
I am planning my 2016 trip from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, and I would appreciate any advice you might have to help me.

My basic route is to take I-94 from Chicago to I-90 to Seattle, then coast down I-5 to Portland, then cut back on I-84 to Yellowstone, then drive across Wyoming on US-14, then head back east on I-90 to I-35, where I will take a weird route back to Chicago on one of the few roads I havenít yet traveled on.

If you have any information on things to see along the way, or even a bit out of the way, I would gladly hear about them. Iím interested in road stuff and cultural stuff, in particular the Lewis and Clark voyage and the Oregon Trail. I know I want to see Devilís Tower, and Yellowstone itself is of course a big thing, but past that I donít know.

There is something I donít like about this route though. Iím not fond of going so far south in Idaho on I-84. Iíd rather follow a route approximating the dashed line I made on the picture below, but I donít know if there are any roads in the area, and if there are, if they are passable for a Civic. Iím also willing to accept criticism of my route in general, if you see anything problematic with it.

Iím also wondering about the best time to make the trip. I was thinking about taking two weeks, more or less, starting on May 8 or 9, to avoid summer crowds, but that might be too soon, due to things being closed or too cold.

Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: kkt on January 26, 2016, 12:50:30 AM
US 12 through Idaho should be easily passable in May, and very pretty.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: rschen7754 on January 26, 2016, 01:59:00 AM
I-90 at Vantage, WA (Columbia River) is a pretty spectacular segment. The Grand Coulee Dam might be interesting but is a bit north of I-90. Hells Canyon might be worth considering but I've never been there.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: mefailenglish on January 26, 2016, 05:37:24 PM
A couple of suggestions in Oregon along I-84...the Bonneville Dam, nearby Multnomah Falls, and of course the Bridge of the Gods. 

If you don't want to go all the way down I-84 through Idaho, you could pick up US 20 in Mountain Home and head east.  That would take you past Craters of the Moon, which I would recommend.

Take the time while going across 94 in ND to visit the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP.  At least drive the loop road.

For Lewis and Clark, Pompey's Pillar off 94 in MT.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: Rothman on January 27, 2016, 07:47:50 AM
If you've got the time, the entire Historic Columbia River Highway (US 30) is worth it and there are many more falls than Multnomah that are just short hikes off the road.  If you're really adventurous, the "hike" (more like a swim) up Oneonta Gorge is also worth it.

I second Craters of the Moon.  Also, there's also a museum out along US 20 dedicated to one of the first experimental nuclear reactors at Idaho National Laboratory (how many names has that site had?  I remember when it went from INEL to INEEL...).

Southern Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP's good, but my family still debates which unit -- Northern or Southern -- they enjoyed better.

Pompey's Pillar is definitely worth a stop.  You get to see Clark's signature right on the rock.

Also looks like you'll be going past Effigy Mounds in Iowa; I've never been there but always wanted to go.

You're also going past Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle along I-90.  These are the falls that were featured at the beginning of Twin Peaks.  Worth a brief stop.

Both Minneapolis and Milwaukee are great cities to visit.  Tried to get my wife to fling her hat where Mary Tyler Moore did along Nicollet Mall, to no avail (check out the skyway network and parks along the Mississippi in Minneapolis).  The RiverWalk in Milwaukee's nice.

That's it from me.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: CtrlAltDel on January 27, 2016, 10:33:25 PM
Holy moly, there are a lot of interesting things I did not know about. I will definitely be looking into all these things. If you have more ideas, though, please keep them coming.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: corco on January 28, 2016, 12:00:22 AM
That straight line takes you right through the absolute most scenic parts of Idaho (and some of the best scenery in America), that nobody visits.

I would strongly recommend this route through Oregon and Idaho. Google is a little bit pessimistic on times. All of those roads are paved and passable. The Banks-Lowman road isn't a state highway, but it's indistinguishable from one. I'd warn that it's about 75% mountainous and twisty from the Brownlie Dam all the way to Sun Valley, but absolutely beautiful. Speed limits will range from 45-65, and I'd plan to average about 52 MPH without stopping, so more like 13h instead of the 13h 40 google suggests.


Oregon 86 is pretty deserty, kind of scenic. US-95 north from Cambridge is absolutely gorgeous. ID-55 down from New Meadows to Banks is also a beautiful drive, and I'm not just saying that because I'm from McCall. The Banks-Lowman Road is a little bit more boring, it's mostly just twisty. Idaho 21 from Lowman to Stanley is jaw-dropping. The drop down is pretty enough through Sun Valley, and then it's back up to Craters of the Moon. Once you get past Craters of the Moon and out onto Idaho 33, it's amazingly stark how flat and barren the country is over to Rexburg.

Google for some reason doesn't like the stretch of Idaho 33 between Idahos 22 and 28 (and hasn't for years), but it's a perfectly normal, drivable road.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: paulthemapguy on February 08, 2016, 04:22:52 PM
I'm also from near Chicago, and I took a trip that landed me in South Dakota along I-90 before cutting north to the Twin Cities before coming home.  I'd recommend the Twin Cities for anyone looking for a pair of awesome Midwestern cities, and I'd especially recommend it for roadgeeks, because of the strikingly high density of freeways there.  As you might already know, South Dakota is the only Plains state worth driving across (that column from ND south to TX).  In SD be sure to check out Custer State Park and the Badlands.  My buddy and I found the Devil's Tower to be a waste of time and money.  They charge you a lot of money to get close to it, when you can see the big chodey rock from miles around.  I also aspire to travel US12 over the continental divide in the next couple of years, plus the Columbia Valley, so I look forward to the results!
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: ysuindy on February 08, 2016, 10:42:31 PM
My college age son and I spent 17 days in Washington and Oregon this summer.  Here are some ideas for you.

I will second the Historic Columbia River Highway through the Gorge.  My son and I did the section between Troutdale and Dodson in half a day.  Like a good road geek, I spent too much too time at the Vista House - great views and a great deal information on the history of the road inside.  We did the short hikes to Latourell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Multnomah and Horsetail Falls. 

http://columbiariverhighway.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/historic_columbia_river_highway1.pdf (http://columbiariverhighway.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/historic_columbia_river_highway1.pdf)

You mentioned Lewis and Clark.   While not on your route, you might want to consider visiting the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco, Washington - at the mouth of the Columbia River.  I think it would be especially good as you will be returning along a good part of their route.  I would realistically allow 2-3 hours for this.  You would likely cross the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler bridge on US 101.

http://capedisappointment.org/lewis-clark-interpretive-center/ (http://capedisappointment.org/lewis-clark-interpretive-center/)

There are several other websites for these two.

Some other possibilities for you:

Mount St Helens Visitor Center - most of the trip from I-5 is on a new road built after the 1980 eruption destroyed the old road.  There are some good presentations (films, ranger talks) at the Visitor's Center.  The road itself is quite an engineering feat.

http://www.mountsthelens.com/visitorcenters.html (http://www.mountsthelens.com/visitorcenters.html)

Mount Rainier National Park - I'm not sure I can point to much road geek stuff here,  you're going to see a bunch of great scenery on your trip.   I thought the entrance to the Park area on Washington 410 on the northeast corner was pretty spectacular.  Is it worth detouring about 5 hours out of your way for - probably not.

Speaking of national parks, depending on how many you plan to visit, an annual pass may be in order?

Sounds like a great trip - can't wait to read about it.
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: SD Mapman on February 18, 2016, 03:59:39 PM
Okay, as a local Black Hills guy, the best way to do Devils Tower is to hike the Redbeds trail, but if you don't have time to do that the paved loop trail at the bottom is fine. It's also not a waste of money if you're going to be visiting more than one National Park/Monument on this trip, as you can buy a multi-pass of some sort at your first stop.

Other things I would recommend in the area are Spearfish Canyon, Mount Roosevelt (near Deadwood), and Warren Peak (Sundance, WY). The Mt. Roosevelt hike is short on a nice trail, while Warren Peak has a paved road up to an observation tower with a pretty cool view (just don't climb it if it's windy out).

Personally, I think the Southern Hills are overrated, but that's probably because I live here. If you want road stuff, try driving the Needles Highway (north part of SD 87 - not sure when exactly it opens) and Iron Mountain Road (part of US 16A).

I would recommend the Badlands (specifically the small area just south of the East Entrance (I-90 exit 131)).


For Wyoming: Stop at the Shell Canyon Visitor Center in the Bighorns (on US 14). There are hummingbirds (at least there were in August) and a cool waterfall.

I know nothing else about the rest of the route (as I don't live there).
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: CtrlAltDel on July 06, 2016, 01:08:02 PM
Well, I am back from the trip. It was an amazing experience. I saw quite a bit of interesting scenery and roads and historical sites, enough to last quite a while. Here is my final route.

(I started in Chicago and traveled west along I-90 first. Then I went north along US 101 and I-5 to Seattle. Then east along I-90 and I-94 before heading south on I-35. Then a bit of road hopscotch to get back to Chicago. This is mostly the opposite way than as I stated in the OP. The red dots indicate places I spent the night.)

As you can see, I didn't quite get to all the places suggested above, mostly because of mileage reasons, in that I have an older car and I wanted to keep things under 6,000 miles. That said, I did take my car, a Honda Civic, down many roads that a Honda Civic ought not go down, including things like the ruts of the Oregon Trail and overgrown grass fields where the actual path to travel could only be seen if you looked really closely.

My favorite thing, if I had to pick just one, would be the view of the Columbia river from a hike I did near Multnomah Falls. Roadwise, it would be the viaduct of I-90 near Wallace (which, as you know, is one of the last pieces of the Interstate Highway System to be constructed). My least favorite thing would have to be the Craters of the Moon. What I saw was interesting, I admit, but on the whole underwhelming.

This trip clinches the contiguous 48 for me, complete with at least one gas receipt and a state map for each, and I am happy to have done so. I have to say, though, that I am also a bit disappointed that I no longer have a road-trip goal. I'm not sure what will be next. County clinching seems to be too big a task. . . .

In any case, thanks to everyone for your suggestions. They helped make the experience quite memorable for me. 
Title: Re: From Chicago to the Pacific Northwest
Post by: paulthemapguy on July 06, 2016, 08:54:22 PM
Wow!  Well first of all, welcome home heheh (I'm from Chicagoland so maybe that makes me qualified to say that?).  I am jealous of your having clinched all of the lower 48.  Will you be blogging or uploading pictures?  Do you photograph roads or signs or roadside attractions along the way?  What were the sidetrips you took to reach roads you haven't taken (and what roads were they)?