First Snow On Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto
For the second time, we were on our way back to Toronto after a long fall Vancouver visit. We left the first time in mid-October, but got called back for family reasons. On our way back to Vancouver we did a detour through the national parks while the weather was still good. On this winter road trip return to Toronto, we planned a straight run with little stops and no major tourist detours. We were ready to be home!
In early December, we were worried that winter conditions would likely slow us down and might even cause us some longer stops on this winter road trip return to Toronto. We again decided that travelling through the U.S. would be smarter and cheaper – could escape some winter weather, much cheaper gas even with bad Canadian exchange rates and better U.S. discounts for ex-military on a broad range of hotels. We considered different paths across the U.S. and finally decided to head much further south than we had on our drive to Vancouver, planning to cross much of the country along I-70 rather than I-80 or I-90. As we planned our Vancouver escape, we looked at the U.S. overview weather forecasts to find the right day to leave and hopefully miss some of the coming weather. Of course, that assumed that the weather forecasts proved true!
When it was time to leave, we did one final check to make sure we were not leaving anything in the Airbnb condo and by 7am we were off on our winter road trip return to Toronto. Going against traffic made it easy to leave Vancouver and when we only had a 5 minute wait at the border, we were well ahead of schedule as we stopped in Everett just north of Seattle to do one final Washington road and weather check to assess where we were crossing the mountains. Good thing we did! The more southerly route on I-84 along the Columbia River in Oregon was in the midst of an ice storm and Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 seemed better. Diverting around Seattle on I-405, we very quickly started to climb higher and the trees got more snow laden.
Listening to the radio weather alerts, we knew it might be a slow drive but we knew the weather would be serious when we saw dozens of large semi trucks pulled over to put their chains on.
The road was wet with slush and the temperatures were just under the freezing point. Putting the Volvo into manual drive mode, we slowed down and moved steadily up and over the pass. After coming down on the other side, we again passed the line up of semi trucks taking off the chains. This would be our first taste of real winter but not likely our last on this winter road trip return to Toronto!
The rest of the run along I-90 to I-84 and into Pendleton went well. The roads were generally dry even if the fields were snow or ice covered. You could see the fields and fields of fruit trees and wine vines going up into the fields.
We arrived earlier than we thought at 3pm with time to relax and unwind from a stressful drive. The Oxford Suites offered fresh homemade cookies and a light dinner that was perfect before we settled in for the night. We had survived our first day on our winter road trip return to Toronto!
Ending Our Day With A Utah Sunset
Re-packing the car before 7am, we checked the roads to see how slippery they would be. While we knew we still had some mountains to drive through, we would be surprised to find that most of the day we were driving through mountains as we went through Oregon into Idaho and then finishing up in Utah.
We were not far out of Pendleton before we saw signs to chain up and flashing road signs warning of winds and ice. Before long we were slowed right down as snow was blowing across the roads right at freezing. We were worried about icing even though the road was mostly wet.
After driving through yet another mountain pass, coming down we got at the end of a long line of semi trucks inching along. It was about a 20 minute crawl until we saw the source of the delay. At first we only saw the jackknifed tractor trailer with a line of cars and a bus pulled over. We were not sure if the others were just witnesses or were somehow involved in the accident. Crawling past this accident, we were surprised to see another truck totally on its roof. We were really glad we had waited a few hours before hitting the icy roads on this winter road trip return to Toronto.
It was a slow driving day as we drove through the snow covered mountains.
We pulled into the Holiday Inn Canyon Hotel just outside Ogden UT as the sun was setting. The sky to the west kept us entertained as the clouds lit up and the horizon turned orange. We were not quite sure why we saw lights behind the mountains in the east?
Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming
Once again it was an early morning on the road. Driving through twisty mountain roads from Utah into Wyoming, we climbed steadily higher. We continued to find the rock piles fascinating and we started to see the red rock formations we had seen so much of when we visited the Grand Canyon. At one point we passed the road that could have taken us to re-visit Yellowstone Park but having done our U.S. National Park tour earlier in the fall, we were not taking that detour on this trip.
We kept driving and driving in Wyoming for 403 miles (648 km). Much of the run along I-80 is at high altitude on the flat plateau as you cross the Continental Divide, with the high point being a maximum elevation of 8,640 feet (2,633 m).
Being high on the plain, it was a perfect spot to locate fields and fields of wind turbines. Although it was quite disconcerting to find this clean energy source located beside massive chemical plants that were creating their own cloud formations.
The flat plain also meant periods of really high winds. As we had seen on our road trip from Toronto to Vancouver, I-80 like I-90 had regular gates that could be put across the road to divert traffic when the road conditions were bad. Luckily we had a great day to travel this road. As we approached the hills we could see vast arrangements of snow fences to try to divert the snow and prevent blinding blowing snow
There were odd things to stop for if you were watching for them! If you wanted to stop for an iconic picture, you could stop and have your picture taken with Lincoln! You could even catch the bunch of reindeer lounging by the McDonalds!
The railway line runs parallel to the highway and on this busy railway corridor we would see long train after long train.
Our lunch stop was in Laramie at a great local roadhouse. This was decision time for us – would we continue on the northern route along I-80 or would we head down as planned at Denver to pick up the more southern I-70 on our winter road trip return to Toronto. We knew it would be longer to head south but weather would be the key driver. We checked both road conditions and weather and our luck was holding. The cold weather front was continuing to move north and it looked like we would be able to stay up on I-80. Looking ahead we were targeting Gothenburg, Nebraska for our stop that night.
As we neared Cheyenne, we could begin to see the higher peaks starting in the distance and Elk Mountain as we passed by.
Despite seeing cell towers and vast satellite arrays, we ran all the way through Wyoming without once getting cell phone service.
When we purchased time for our U.S. SIM, we had checked the coverage map and paid extra for partner coverage. We thought that would give us some insurance in the remote areas we would be travelling. But I guess it is good that we did not have an emergency in Wyoming!
We gradually lost altitude on the drive through Nebraska, although we experienced no major downhill runs. As we came down in altitude, it got warmer. It had been -11°C first thing in the morning but we were surprised when the temperature reached +14°C in the heart of Nebraska in mid-December. But we were not complaining. We could even see spots where the hay had been recently harvested.
Our stop for the night was at a Comfort Inn. We are generally pretty specific about our room request – high floor, away from elevators, facing away from the highway but we added a new item – “not on the floor with the sports team”. Kids running the halls and banging doors was not what we wanted after a long drive. We had once checked out of a hotel at midnight when management could not get the kids under control. Luckily this group of chaperones shut down the hall noise in pretty short order.
Heading Into The Sun
We rose, packed and headed out – our bodies not quite adjusted to the fact that we were changing time zones every second night. Shortly after we hit the highway, the morning show began. This was the first morning with a clear sky and we were able to watch the sky start to redden as the sun slowly began to climb. Snapping pic after pic we caught the show – tweeting and texting as we drove to share this great morning start. We were pleased to find the we had full data services everywhere in Nebraska!
It was a fast run along flat roads with no road construction active on the weekend as we passed through Nebraska, then Iowa and into Illinois. We managed to get past the larger cities of Lincoln, then Omaha and finally De Moines with little slowdown. We had left the snow behind us and the scenery looked almost spring-like.
The vast open plains seemed to be ideal spots for the large wind farms we had seen all along I-80. So we should not have been surprised to see transport truck after transport truck carrying wind turbine parts.
We made such good time on our winter road trip return to Toronto that when we stopped at lunch to plan our stop for the night, we realized that if we did a really long drive on this day, we could actually make it home to Toronto on the next day. While we had originally planned to stop in Ottawa, IL, the stretch target for the day became Joliet, IL.
Checking into the Best Western on the west side of Joliet, we learned that not all hotels in a chain are created equally. While we had been choosing Best Westerns if available to try and consolidate our points, this one certainly was not up to par with the others we have been used to. But it was our last night on the road!
Running for Home
Wanting to stay in the U.S. for as long as possible to take advantage of the lower gas prices, we had plotted our route home with a border crossing in Buffalo NY. But when the GPS showed us that this route would be 2 hours longer than crossing the border into Windsor ON, we opted for a shorter day over saving a little gas money. This would also put us at the border crossing at mid-day rather than later in the day and hopefully save us some time crossing the border.
Our route had turned north west and the morning proved to be colder and the roads a bit icier as we did the final stretch on our winter road trip return to Toronto. This slowed us down a little but bypassing Chicago and driving on Sunday, most of our run was on quiet highway roads.
As we neared Detroit, we were surprised to find almost no signs to the Canadian border. Trusting the GPS blindly we finally caught the first border sign almost at the point we had to turn off for the Ambassador bridge.
Our planning had worked out and our border crossing took about 5 minutes. We were back on Hwy 401 and headed for Toronto. This was a route we had travelled often so the car drive was almost on auto pilot. Sunday traffic was generally easy and soon we hit the ramp for Hwy 427 and then the Gardiner Expressway and we could almost see our condo in the distance.
Arriving home after 4 months in Vancouver, we took several trips up to the condo to unload the car. It was good to be home!
Vancouver to Toronto – Road Trip Stats
It was a much faster return trip from Vancouver to Toronto! We averaged almost 100 km/h (60 mph) over the trip – including breaks! It was great to have U.S. Interstates with speed limits of 80mph!
|Distance||4,569 km (2,839 mi)
||47 hours (Includes break time)|
Our route took us through 10 states and 2 Canadian Province:
||Border cross and travel in WA and OR
||647 km, 8 hrs
||Travel OR, ID, UT
||837 km, 9.5 hrs
||Travel UT, WY, NB
||1093 km, 11 hrs
||Travel NB, IO, IL
||1092 km, 10.5 hrs
||Travel IL, IN, MI, ON and cross border
||853 km, 8 hrs
Our 5 day run home cost us about $1,089 CND broken down as follows:
Accommodations = $ 553
Food = $ 178
Gas = $ 346
Fees = $ 12 (tolls and washer fluid)
While we had taken 9 days to drive from Toronto to Vancouver and had taken another 12 days when we toured the western U.S. National Parks, this winter road trip return to Toronto had taken us just 5 days. We had made the most of our time in Vancouver, but having been away for most of 6 months, it was going to be great to enjoy Toronto for a while over the holidays – at least until the Toronto winter drove us to escape south!
Have you done a winter road trip return to Toronto? Any tips?