Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto

From Vancouver To Toronto Through The US

Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto

Planning Our Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto

For the second time, we left for our winter road trip return 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! We’ve had this trip planned for a while now and it was time to go home. We heard that the weather was changing and kept an eye on things, just in case we ran against any issues while on the road.

Trip Route.jpg

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. was smarter and cheaper.  We escaped some winter weather, got much cheaper gas even with bad Canadian exchange rates and there were better U.S. discounts for ex-military on a broad range of hotels.

When we planned our trip, we considered different paths across the U.S. and finally decided on a path much further south than on our cross country drive to Vancouver.  The route crossed 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 and found the right day to leave and hopefully miss some of the coming weather. Of course, that assumed that the weather forecasts proved true!

Weather Map.jpg

First Snow On Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto

When it was time to leave, we did one final check and made sure we were not leaving anything in the Airbnb condo.  By 7am we were off on our winter road trip return to Toronto.

Going against traffic made it easy to leave Vancouver. We only had a 5 minute wait at the border.  So we were well ahead of schedule as we stopped in Everett just north of Seattle for one final Washington road and weather check to assess where we crossed 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.

Snow in Oregon.jpg

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.

Snow Chains in Oregon.jpg
Snow Chains in Oregon.jpg

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 was our first taste of real winter.  But not likely our last on this winter road trip return to Toronto!

Snow in Oregon.jpg

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. We saw fields and fields of fruit trees and wine vines going up into the fields.

Snow in Oregon.jpg

We arrived earlier than we thought with time to relax and unwind from a stressful drive. The first day on our winter road trip return to Toronto was done!

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 were surprised when we found that most of the day we drive through mountains as we travelled through Oregon into Idaho and then finished up in Utah.

We were not far out of Pendleton before we saw signs to chain up and flashing road signs that warned of winds and ice. Before long we slowed right down as snow blew across the roads right at freezing. We were worried about icing even though the road was mostly wet.

Snow In Idaho Mountains.jpg

After driving through yet another mountain pass, 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 when we saw another truck totally on its roof. We were really glad we waited a few hours before we hit the icy roads on this winter road trip return to Toronto.

Accidents and Snow In Idaho Mountains.jpg
Accidents and Snow In Idaho Mountains.jpg

It was a slow day as we drove through the snow covered mountains.

Snow In Idaho Mountains.jpg
Snow In Idaho Mountains.jpg

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.

Sunset in Utah.jpg

Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming

Once again it was an early morning start. 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 saw 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 we did our U.S. National Park tour earlier in the fall, so we did not take that detour on this trip.

Sunrise in Utah.jpg
Red Rocks in Utah.jpg
Red Rocks in Utah.jpg

We kept driving and driving in Wyoming for 403 miles (648 km). Much of the run along I-80 was at high altitude on the flat plateau as we crossed the Continental Divide.  The high point was at a maximum elevation of 8,640 feet (2,633 m).

Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg
Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

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 created their own cloud formations.

Wind Turbines Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg
Chemical Plants Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

The flat plain also meant periods of really high winds. As we saw 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 as we travelled this road. As we approached the hills we saw vast arrangements of snow fences used to divert the snow and prevent blinding blowing snow

High Winds Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg
Road Closing Gates Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg
Snow Fences Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

Stops Along The Way

There were odd things to stop for if we watched for them! For an iconic picture, we could have our picture taken with Lincoln! We even caught the bunch of reindeer as they lounged by the McDonalds!

Lincoln Statue Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg
McDonalds Deer Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

The railway line ran parallel to the highway and on this busy railway corridor we saw long train after long train.

Railway Trains Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

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 and pick up the more southern I-70 on our winter road trip return to Toronto. We knew it was 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 continued to move north and it looked like we could stay up on I-80. Looking ahead we were targeting Gothenburg, Nebraska for our stop that night.

As we neared Cheyenne, we began to see the higher peaks in the distance and Elk Mountain as we passed by.

Elk Mountains Crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming.jpg

Our Stop For The Night

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 checked the coverage map and paid extra for partner coverage. We thought that gave us some insurance in the remote areas we travelled. But I guess it is good that we did not have an emergency in Wyoming!

Cell Phone Towers.jpg

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 was -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 did not complain. We even saw spots where the hay was recently harvested.

Warming Up.jpg
Hay Harvests.jpg

Our stop for the night was at a Comfort Inn.

Heading Into The Sun

We rose, packed and headed out.  Our bodies were not quite adjusted to the fact that we changed 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 watched the sky start to redden as the sun slowly began to climb. Snapping pic after pic we caught the show. We were pleased to find the we had full data services everywhere in Nebraska!

Nebraska Sunrise.jpg
Nebraska Sunrise.jpg
Nebraska Sunrise.jpg

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 left the snow behind us and the scenery looked almost spring-like.

Country Houses.jpg

The vast open plains seemed to be ideal spots for the large wind farms we saw all along I-80. So we were not surprised when we saw transport truck after transport truck with wind turbine parts.

Wind Turbine Transport.jpg

We made good time on our winter road trip return to Toronto.  So 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 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 were created equally. While we chose Best Westerns if available to try and consolidate our points, this one certainly was not up to par with the others we were 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 plotted our route home with a border crossing in Buffalo NY. But when the GPS showed us that this route was 2 hours longer than crossing the border into Windsor ON, we opted for a shorter day over saving a little gas money. This also put us at the border crossing at mid-day rather than later in the day.  We hoped this saved us some time crossing the border.

Our route 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.

Winter Driving.jpg
Accidents Winter Driving.jpg

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 turned off for the Ambassador bridge.

Ambassador Bridge Detroit to Canada.jpg
Ambassador Bridge Detroit to Canada.jpg

Our planning 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 travelled often so the car drive was almost on auto pilot. Soon we saw 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!

Distance4,569 km (2,839 mi)
47 hours (Includes break time)

Our route took us through 10 states and 2 Canadian Province:

1Vancouver, BC
Pendleton, OR
Border cross and travel in WA and OR
647 km, 8 hrs
Pendleton, OR
Ogden, UT
Travel OR, ID, UT
837 km, 9.5 hrs
Ogden, UT
Gothenburg, NB
Travel UT, WY, NB
1093 km, 11 hrs
Gothenburg, NB
Joliet, IL
Travel NB, IO, IL
1092 km, 10.5 hrs
Joliet, IL
Toronto, ON
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)

Glad To Be Done Our Winter Road Trip Return To Toronto

We took 9 days to drive from Toronto to Vancouver.  And it was another 12 days when we toured the western U.S. National Parks on our first attempt to return to Toronto.

The final winter road trip return to Toronto took us just 5 days. We made the most of our time in Vancouver.  But 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?

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