For those who plan to travel in coming months, road trips remain a popular option as they offer more flexibility and control of your schedule and surroundings than other modes of travel. However, winter weather can create challenging conditions for drivers. These tips from AAA will help you plan a safe winter road trip.
Before You Go
Before you start your trip, make sure your vehicle is prepared for safe travel.
- Check the tread on your tires and replace them if necessary.
- Make sure your windshield and rear window defrosters are in proper working condition.
- Keep plenty of windshield washer fluid in your reservoir and don’t dilute the solution with water.
It’s always a good idea to have your vehicle checked by a mechanic before taking a trip. You can find a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair.
Consider Renting a Vehicle for Your Winter Road Trip
If you’re not confident that your car is ready for a road trip or you’d like additional features such as four-wheel drive or extra cargo space, consider renting a car. Hertz offers discounts and benefits for AAA members, as well as Hertz Gold Standard Clean, which is a 15-point cleaning process that ensures your vehicle meets the CDC sanitization guidelines. Find details at AAA.com/Hertz.
What to Bring
- Keep a bag of sand or cat litter, a shovel and traction mats in your trunk or cargo area in case you get stuck in icy conditions.
- Pack useful items such as blankets, gloves, flashlights, food and water.
- Have tire chains on hand in case you encounter ice or snow.
How to Drive Safely in Winter Conditions
- Remove all ice and snow from your vehicle before you start driving.
- To defrost your windows, set the temperature control to hot and let the engine warm up, which helps keep frost from forming inside. If the windshield and side windows fog on the inside, open a window slightly and set the fan to a higher speed.
- During snow or other low-visibility winter driving conditions, drive with your low-beam headlights on to make it easier for other drivers to see you.
- Brake, accelerate and steer gently, gradually and smoothly.
- If you encounter a snowplow or salt trucks, allow plenty of space and don’t try to pass.
- Clean your headlight lenses periodically, such as when you stop for gas, to remove grime from slushy streets. Clear any snow and ice from your vehicle as well, as it can fly off and strike other vehicles.
- Obey the Basic Speed Law any time there’s a possibility of icy roads. This means never traveling at speeds that aren’t reasonable and safe for conditions. It’s important to reduce speed because you may encounter patches of black ice that are difficult or impossible to see. Bridges, ramps, overpasses and shaded areas may become icy before other surfaces. Be cautious at intersections, where stopping and starting vehicles can polish the ice, making it slicker.
- Wind gusts can make steering on ice more difficult, so it’s critical to reduce speed during windy conditions. Be aware that buildings can cause sudden changes in wind direction.
Pacific Northwest Road Trip Ideas
From the first snowfall of the season (which can occur as early as October) through April or May, expect road closures on mountain roads and around some national parks in Oregon and Washington. Areas near ski resorts are typically the first to be plowed after a heavy snowfall, and some mountain passes through the Cascade Range are open year-round.
If you want to experience the Pacific Northwest mountains in winter, the Grand Pacific Northwest Road Trip offers great views of Washington’s Mount Rainier and is accessible year-round. To see Oregon’s Mount Hood up close, consider the Mt Hood Scenic Loop, Hood River County Tour Route Road Trip.
If you have a full day or more to spare, consider one of these popular scenic drives recommended by AAA travel editors that provide the most bang for your buck. (Click the links for a sample road trip itinerary and interactive maps.)
- Grand Pacific Northwest Road Trip– A scenic loop through northern Oregon and southern Washington that includes Portland, the Historic Columbia River Highway, Multnomah Falls, Yakima Valley, Mount Rainier National Park and other top sights.
- Northern CA & Southern OR Coast Road Trip– A one-way journey that starts in California’s Central Valley and continues north up Oregon’s coast, with views of state parks and quaint beach towns along the way.
- Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Oregon Coast Road Trip– A one-way trip up Oregon’s coast on the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101) that offers some of the best whale watching in Oregon.
- Olympic Peninsula Road Trip– A scenic loop from Seattle that circles the Olympic Peninsula and the lush rain forests of Olympic National Park, with stops in Tacoma, Olympia, Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Rely on AAA Travel for Every Mile of Your Road Trip
AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers — from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner, or browse pre-planned itineraries at AAA.com/RoadTrips. Estimating fuel costs for your trip is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator, and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair. For printed maps, AAA TourBook guides and trip planning advice, visit your local AAA office.