The Great Northwest – Traveling During a Pandemic

The Dakotas and points west.

Starting mid-September through mid-October, we spent 29 days traveling the country. Some probably consider us crazy to choose to travel during a 100-year pandemic. Trust me, neither of us wants to be sick, and at our tender years, we are more likely to have severe complications should we happen to contract Covid-19. So we were careful. For this post, I will share some of our thoughts on staying safe while traveling in these trying times.

It all started when my niece and her husband, Pat, and Gary, invited us along on a road trip to visit state and national parks and other sites in the upper tier of western states. We had planned from the beginning to stay safe on the road, and despite the concerns over the virus and hazy, smoky skies from the wildfires in the west that we knew might change our itinerary and mar photographs, we started our planning.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We focused our travel list on visits to outdoor parks in the off-season. That choice alone provided the safety margin of wide-open spaces and less crowding. National parks are open, but their visitor centers are typically closed. Instead, rangers set up tables outside the park building. They had plexiglass shields and wore masks. People who needed maps or other park information stood in socially distanced lines taking their turn to visit with the rangers. Most of the time, we didn’t need to stop at the visitor center as maps and information were provided as we passed through each park’s entry gates.

John Day Fossil Beds in Central Oregon

Most of the time in the parks, masks were totally unnecessary. With the lighter crowds, viewpoints in the parks were sparsely attended and social distancing was easily accomplished. Our journey encompassed over 8000 miles and included stops in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. Over the next several months, I will share images and stories from our trip.

Coldwater Lake in Mount Saint Helens National Park

We stayed in a different hotel almost every night. In all but a couple of cases, we stayed at Choice Hotel properties because of their quantity and the fact that we could take advantage of a fall promotion that gave us an occasional room for accumulated points. In only a couple of locations did we stay more than one night.

What we found is that generally hotel staff provided a safe, masked, socially distanced check-in procedure behind plexiglass shields. We found the rooms to be clean and were told that they were sanitized prior to our use. On the days when we spent two nights in the same hotel, their cleaning staff did not enter our rooms during our stay. When we requested additional towels or other replacement items, they were left in a plastic bag at our room door.

Diablo Lake in the North Cascade Mountains in Washington

For our meals, we depended on drive-throughs and delivery generally, though on occasion we ate inside a restaurant. Those restaurants we chose to eat on-premises, were evaluated for appropriate spacing between tables, a reduced number of people, and whether or not the wait staff was masked. We didn’t walk out of a restaurant because of concerns, but I know there are people who are not ready to eat inside a restaurant yet. I understand that. I am not yet ready to fly on an airplane and likely won’t again until a vaccine is available.

Mount Rainier in Washington

One thing I noticed is that all along our travels in public places, nearly everyone in the general public wears a mask. Most stores require it, and in only a few cases did we run into individuals who were “anti-mask”. Those people we simply made sure to avoid as necessary.

We did have to curtail our travel goals due to the wildfires. There were two places in Oregon that we elected to skip, Crater Lake and a nearby waterfall area, as that part of Oregon was in the midst of attempting to control the wildfires.

All in all, we felt safe in our travels knowing that we were taking the best precautions that scientists tell us we must. When we returned from Arizona in April, we drove back to North Dakota straight through in 29 hours, avoided hotels, and only stopped only at drive-throughs for food. In less than a month, we will again travel south to our place in Arizona and now that we see how hotels are handling their return to operations, we are confident their procedures will ensure a safe return.

John Steiner


  1. Great story, John. We moved during the pandemic and looked at houses during that time. It’s been a world-changing time. I have never felt unsafe, wearing masks when I needed to, keeping everything spotless, avoiding people close up. Like you, I’m not ready to go on a plane in spite of the fact I’ve had both vaccinations and it’s been two weeks. 🙂 Talk to you soon.

    • Our journey last fall in the great outdoors of the northwest states provided a break from staying home, and our plans to stay safe worked just fine. We got our shots in Phoenix in February and early March, so we are much more likely to travel, but still follow those same precautions that worked well for us for the last year.

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