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Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Melbourne, Australia
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Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Hey guys,

I will be travelling to the US for a big trip around March 2014. We will be passing through Montana and South Dakota for a leg of it.

At this stage, it has been planned to go through this leg right at the start, around the 4th of March from Seattle and heading across to Minneapolis. Weather is reportedly quite treacherous at this time of year as it is on the tail end of Winter.

The other option is to completely reverse the trip, and head through this leg towards the end, likely around the 30th instead to try and ensure the best weather conditions.

My questions are;

Considering the climate, will we experience significantly (emphasis on significant) better weather towards the 30th, or will it be much the same at both ends of March? I assume none of you have a crystal ball, but some of your may be aware of typical weather patterns. I have done my research, and I seem to get very mixed statistics.

This trip is heavily time sensitive and we are relying on sticking to time as much as we possibly can. Our preference is the start of March however as it saves all the stuff we are looking forward to after this point. But not if it is going to compromise the whole trip and throw everything off due to poor weather.

Also, will Yellowstone (or parts of) be open at both ends of the month?

I thank you for taking the time to read this and responding!

Billings, Montana
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for Yellowstone National Park
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1. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

The only part of Yellowstone National Park that will be opened to wheeled vehicles the end of March will be the road from the north entrance (Gardiner, MT/Mammoth) to the northeast entrance (Cooke City, MT). All other roads will be closed even to snow coaches and snowmobiles. Snow coach and snowmobile travel closes around the first week of March.

I have lived in Montana all my life (54 years). There is no way you can predict what our spring weather will be like. I gave up trying to predict what the spring is going to be like this far in advance along time ago. Montana is also huge. The weather in one area can be crappy while the weather in all other areas can be absolutely beautiful. I90 is the only interstate that goes west to east through Montana (it does branch at Billings with I90 going southeast towards Wyoming and South Dakota and I94 going northeast towards North Dakota). The state does a great job of keeping the roads plowed and opened up for travel. It is a very rare day when a road is closed in Montana due to snow. That being said, you do have to be prepared for all types of weather and driving conditions. The roads can be opened but sometimes it is best if you just hunker down in a town overnight before venturing on.

Deb

Edited: 14 December 2013, 13:09
Mahtomedi, Minnesota
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2. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

I'm not a betting girl, but if I were to bet I'd take my chances going west the end of March. Usually in minnesota and SD you will get more rain than snow that time of year.

N. Idaho
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3. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Shawn also has a 150+ reply thread going on the Road Trips forum regarding this trip.

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i12567-k6927655…

BTW, altho you didn't mention Idaho which you will have to go thru between Seattle and Montana, same goes with Deb's and gnp4me's replies for that stretch of your trip.

Pam

Edited: 14 December 2013, 15:57
montana
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4. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Deb sums up the weather picture really well. You will not be able to predict the weather, just come prepared.

As for traveling in the far eastern part of Montana and South Dakota, be aware that this is the Bakken Oil Field region, so check the route you are planning to see how it has been affected by the oil field workers, in terms of hotel and restaurant availability.

Take care and have a safe trip!

Saint Paul...
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5. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Shaun - your tour of US rest areas, fast food restaurants and occasional glimpses of scenery from highway pull-outs will inevitably be affected by weather no matter what direction you select.

Now, one thing going for you is that Montana and the Dakotas really do a great job keeping the roads open in winter and the fact is that maybe 25 out of 31 days in March will be fairly good winter driving weather.

I don't have experience driving through mountain passes in winter, so I'll let the experts here comment on that. However, on the open plains of eastern Montana and the Dakotas, I'm leaning towards recommending going earlier in March. If it snows modestly, the plows will be out keeping the Interstates clear and you can make fairly good progress. However, if its a mixture of freezing rain and snow which is more likely later in the month, you'll have a good chance of sliding into a ditch.

Now, if it's forecast for heavy snow, you'll be best off staying put for a day till the plows clear the roads. You can easily check the forecasts via local radio/TV or web sites - personally I'm fond of Weatherspark but there are quite a few. You also do have to watch out for blowing and drifting snow, which can happen on even sunny days.

Most of the rest areas in ND have free wifi, don't know about the states you will be visiting. I am curious why you chosen to take I90 south thru SD to Mpls. It is the route I'd pick because you go past the Black Hills, Mt Rushmore and Badlands NP (and avoid the Bakken as that's in ND, not SD, as someone mentioned above) but I thought you were very interested in getting to Chicago. Going thru SD adds a couple hours or so to Mpls. Going I90 thru SD directly to Chicago might be slightly faster as you miss the Mpls traffic, if you want to skip Mpls.

Bemidji, Minnesota
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6. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Personally I would wait until late March. The days are longer, the average temperatures are warmer, the sun is higher in the sky which makes snow or ice melt faster.

Saint Paul...
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7. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Normally I would agree with RM-MN about waiting for late March for all the reasons stated. However, these Aussie explorers have an incredibly ambitious trip planned and I wonder if starting on their southern route (Albuquerque, Denver, etc.) instead of the northern route just doubles their chances of icy roads. I tend to worry more about freezing rain than falling and blowing snow.

Honestly, I don't think it matters much. They will run into bad weather somewhere. Best they can do is look at the week long forecast when they land and take a gamble on which route will be better.

Melbourne, Australia
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8. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

Everybody has made some extremely good points. At this point, we are looking at reversing the trip and doing South Dakota-Montana later in the trip. Thank you all for your assistance.

9. Re: Travelling through Montana/South Dakota during March

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