When most people think of a road trip, the image that comes to mind is a convertible with the top down, sunglasses on, and cruising down Route 66 into a desert sunset.
I say “most”, because some of us take to the highway in a rusted out 4x4, sleeping in the back, icicles forming from the eyebrows, cursing at the engine that won’t start. Yes, for some of us, the winter road trip has become an ideal pastime to make the grey days more interesting.
The following list was tabulated using several criteria: Accessibility, adventure, driveability, and the ability to get back home in one piece. It is by no means comprehensive, yet just the trips on this list will likely keep you occupied for at least a few years.
So, in no particular order, here are the best winter road trips in North America:
The “Powder Highway” in British Columbia
Although this nickname was coined by some marketing folks, the fact is that — this highway really is full of powder. The area is a circular route through the Kootenays and western Rockies in BC. The drive accesses some of the world’s best skiing at Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama, Kimberly, Red Mountain, Whitewater, Fernie… not to mention all the amazing heli-ski and cat-skiing providers if you’ve got the bank account to back it up. Be sure you’ve got a reliable vehicle here, as help can be few and far between on these desolate stretches where it’s just you, your vehicle, and the trees. Oh, and the deep, deep snow.
Straddling the Continental Divide
The states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming can be considered some of the last great wilderness in the lower 48 United States. It has an area of 330,000 square miles, but is home to less than 3 million people. As such, it’s a wilderness lover’s playground. Driving around these three states is a dream for the backcountry enthusiast; countless peaks surround the roads here, allowing plenty of opportunity for those who like to ascend the mountains using their own steam. The main concern here is avalanches — the continental snowpack can make for some scary situations. Never go out unless you or someone else (i.e. a guide) knows the conditions to a T.
I‑80 and I- 70
If you want to cover a lot of ground, perhaps the combo of these two interstates will satisfy your need. I‑80 and I‑70 were engineering marvels that blew up mountains, crossed canyons, and ushered in a new form of day-tripper ski resorts in Colorado. Beginning on California on, you have the opportunity to take a detour around Lake Tahoe. Doing so will give you access to over 20 ski resorts that surround the lake. After Tahoe, you can visit the Reno blackjack tables to boost your travel fund. The highway then crisscrosses Nevada and Utah, giving you ample wilderness to quiet your mind. Salt Lake City is the next big destination, where the local ski hills will do plenty to satisfy your craving for deep snow. SLC is also the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and you can still visit most of the venues if that strikes your curiosity. From there, you have to take 1–15 S for a bit until you intersect I‑70. Head east toward Colorado, where you will be surrounded by the great Rocky Mountains. Here you’ll see a wide array of ski resorts all the way back to Denver, at which point you say goodbye to mountains for about 2,000 miles.
The Icefields Parkway
Connecting the Canadian National Parks of Banff and Jasper, the Icefields Parkway is hands-down one of the most spectacular routes in the world. This drive is also gorgeous in the summer, but the multitudes of tourists that trample the highway make it a bit overwhelming. In the winter, though, there are no tourists, just you, the mountains, and the bighorn sheep. There are a number of ski traverses here, with the Wapta traverse likely being the most famous. Even if you don’t step outside the car, you will be mesmerized by the stunning beauty all around. Definitely worth checking out if you have the time.
So where else should we go in the winter? Share your favorite routes in the comments!
See you out on the open (and icy) road!