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Driving from San Diego to Tahoe- what's the best route?

Driving from San Diego to Tahoe- what's the best route?

Nov 13th, 2008, 09:06 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2008
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Driving from San Diego to Tahoe- what's the best route?

I am driving to South Lake Tahoe from San Diego in 1 day in December, I am wondering what the best route to take is, I am worried about seasonally closed roads, someone suggested taking US 395- does this avoid the traffic/snow?
Thanks for your input!
gbritfl is offline  
Nov 13th, 2008, 09:21 AM
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If there is snow in the area, no route will avoid the snow.

I-15 north to US-395 north to US-50 west is the shortest route. The alternative is I-5 north to Sacremento and US-50 east.

Check weather the day before you leave to decide. Sometimes storms will effect the west face of the Sierras and not the east and vice versa. If there is a storm, the last few miles will have snow no matter which route you take. CHP also often closes the mountain pass roads to vehicle without chains.
dwooddon is offline  
Nov 13th, 2008, 09:41 AM
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you do realize that will be about 550 miles via 395 and a 10+ hour drive assuming good weather and no food/rest stops.

being on the east side of the sierra - 395 doesn't often close - but that is one hellacious drive in winter. It could easily take 14 hours w/ stops and weather delays.
janisj is offline  
Nov 13th, 2008, 06:07 PM
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395 is the way to go. It's the fastest and most scenic route. It's only hellacious if you run into a storm and it's snowing at the higher elevations on the route.

As dwooddon says, check the weather just before you depart. Weather forecasts have improved greatly in the past few years for Northern California and you can decide which route to take at that time.

An alternate choice to going up I-5 if it's snowing on 395, would be to take US 6 out of Bishop and then take US 95 north to US 50. This is a lower elevation route and one preferred by truckers going to Reno. It's in the desert and not in the mountains so the grades are much less formidable and snowfall is much diminished. But, again, check the weather reports before driving.
Supercilious is offline  
Nov 13th, 2008, 07:22 PM
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It is a long and mostly boring drive no matter which way you go and I have done them all.

Because it is so long and the weather in December can change quickly, I would come up the central valley on Hwy 99.

If you get stuck on the east side of the Sierra doing 395 and a storm blows in you will be stuck in some pretty remote places with no place to stop and little options for getting over the Sierra Mountains.

If you come up the west side, take I-5 from SD and then Hwy 99 up the central valley to Stockton (where I live) and then take Hwy 88 (Waterloo Road) east to Hwy 89 (north) to SLT.

The advantage to staying on the west side of the Sierras is you are at 0-200 feet elv until you turn east toward SLT and then you only have less than 100 miles at any elv that will get snow.

If the weather is bad and it sounds like the passes might close. You can stay on Hwy 99 to Sacramento and take Hwy 50 (east) directly into to SLT.

Hwy 88 is plowed all year round as is Hwy 50, but 50 is a better road if it is snowing.

If you check the weather before you leave SD and it looks good then I would agree to take Hwy 395 to Hwy 50 (west) to SLT.

You can call the CalTrans 800 number for updates by punching in the highway number. But if you come up 395 after about Mojave you are at the last turn off over to the central valley via Hwy 58 and still have 400 miles to SLT.

According to Mapquest the difference in all these routes amounts to no more than one hour, with 395 being the fastest at 9 hours.

Keep in mind you will need to carry chains even if it is not snowing as CHP can cite you for not having them in the vehicle.

No matter which way you go try to time you travels over the highest elv around noon to 3:00 PM. That way you stand the best chance of the road being plowed open and not having to put on chains.
jamesr3939 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2008, 08:39 PM
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"It's only hellacious if you run into a storm and it's snowing at the higher elevations on the route."

I have to disagree - my comment about being hellacious wasn't about the weather. That is one looooooong drive (no matter the route). Would be hellacious if the weather is nice and double dog hellacious if the weather is nasty.

Is there any way you can split this into a 2 day drive??
janisj is offline  
Nov 14th, 2008, 09:57 AM
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Two hellacious days instead of one?

Maybe it's just me but I'd do it in one day just to get the "hellacious" part ouf of the trip.

If you go up HIghway 99, check the weather report for tule (ground) fog. It's what causes those awful chain accidents on the highways.
easytraveler is offline  
Nov 14th, 2008, 10:00 AM
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250 miles one day and 300 miles the next takes about 80% of the hellaciousness out of it
janisj is offline  
Nov 14th, 2008, 10:12 AM
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Get a cheap SWA flight into Reno. Making that drive in one day is awful. In the winter? Crazy! 395 is VERY iffy weather-wise. I-5 to I-80 is the safest and fastest.
TTess is offline  
Nov 14th, 2008, 10:27 AM
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Its a given that flying would be the best option - I just assumed you needed to have your car while at SLT. If you don't need your car (or if you can rent one) then definitely fly.
janisj is offline  
Nov 14th, 2008, 06:56 PM
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Well, I guess we all have a difference of opinion about 395. If I had to make the drive in one day, 395 would be my only choice if the weather was clear. The rough part of the drive is getting out of SoCal. I would leave real early to avoid traffic. Once you are up around Lone Pine, the scenery kicks in. It's one of my favorite drives and I've probably done it a hundred times though only a couple of dozen times in the winter.

Hwy 99 is boring and clogged with traffic. I-5 is better but still pretty boring. And you risk the chance of Valley Fog which can be deadly. And those routes will add hours to the drive.

There's tons of folks who use 395 to go up to Mammoth Mountain from LA and San Diego in the winter. From there it's just another 3 hours to Tahoe. If you are going to Stateline on the South Shore, take the Kingsbury Grade in Gardnerville.
Supercilious is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 03:05 PM
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Super - I have a friend who used to "fly" via 395 from L.A. to Reno, frequently. She said it was much shorter time-wise due to less traffic and fewer cops. However, the road is more desolate and I'd be concerned about the weather in Dec.
TTess is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 03:19 PM
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Keep in mind the fact that daylight is short in December, and you could end up having to navigate traffic and snow in the dark on a strange road. I do think taking two days to make the trip is a much better plan, no matter which route you take.

Underhill is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 07:23 PM
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I understand traveling with family in car from SD to Tahoe. Also that you might not know your route until the day before you leave, depending on weather.

How about leaving the night before after work, if time is short, to still split up the driving? From SD drive past LA to Bakersfield, Mojave or ? the first night. Even if you get to one of those places at 9 PM and stay in a motel, you can get a good start the next day, so it won't be such a long drive in unknown conditions.
MBnancy is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 10:51 PM
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I love Hwy 395, but do be careful of ICE! As it gets toward dark the roads can be full of dangerous black ice. Have driven it in December and have had easy drives and scary ones - depends on the weather, so check road conditions ahead of time.

Otherwise I'd suggest 99 to 88 to 89.
elnap29 is offline  

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