Best Winter Road Trips for Active Outdoorspeople

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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.

1I 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.

2The 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!