Are Electric Cars Good For Road Trips?

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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During my kids’ 2019 spring break, my family flew to Salt Lake City, rented an SUV, and drove a big loop that included Park City, Arches National Park, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. Doing this trip during the off-season is a good idea. Wide-open roads. No crowds. Cheap hotels. The trade-off? Not everything is open.

Despite restricted access, Yellowstone National Park proved nothing short of extraordinary. You’ll need at least two, if not three, full days to see everything, which is especially true during the height of the summer tourist season when the mountainous roads are clogged with sluggish motor homes and lumbering tour buses in addition to meandering bison.

And you can expect to see lots of Teslas prowling the park, in addition to the bears, buffalo, deer, eagles, elk, and wolves for which Yellowstone is known.

Teslas Among the Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park

Tesla Supercharger Station Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone, Montana, is the western gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The nearest cities of any meaningful size are Bozeman and Idaho Falls. But touring the region in a Tesla is not a problem, thanks to this bank of Superchargers at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. (Christian Wardlaw)

 

Frankly, the number of Teslas inside Yellowstone surprised me until I discovered the bank of Superchargers located next to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. There are eight of the electric car chargers, which sounds like plenty until you consider that we spotted four different Teslas in the park during the two days immediately after Yellowstone’s spring re-opening.

Imagine what summertime evenings might be like at ye olde bank ‘o Superchargers in, say, July.

The good news for Tesla drivers is that West Yellowstone also offers a couple of Destination Chargers, Level 2 stations accessible to Tesla owners. The bad news for drivers of other electric vehicles is that, unlike Lizzo, you’re not gonna find any juice for getting loose in Yellowstone National Park:

  • Blink – Nearest charging stations located in Yakima, WA
  • Chargepoint – Nearest charging stations located in Big Sky, MT, just over 40 miles from West Yellowstone
  • Electrify America – Nearest charging stations located in Dell, ID, Idaho Falls and Butte
  • EVgo – Nearest charging stations located in Salt Lake City
  • Volta – Nearest charging stations located in Boise

Meanwhile, with our rented GMC Acadia we had no fewer than seven choices in gas stations throughout West Yellowstone, each one with multiple pumps capable of refilling the tank in about five minutes. No range anxiety for us.

Yes, Electric Cars Are Good For Road Trips (When They’re Teslas)

Gray Tesla Model X
For now, the best electric vehicles for road trips are Teslas. Recently announced range enhancements combined with the company’s exclusive network of charging stations make it possible to travel to or through nearly every state in a Tesla. (Tesla)

 

If you own a Tesla, especially one with longer driving range, you can use it to road trip just about anywhere in the U.S. except Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota. Soon, however, major interstates in North Dakota will have them, as well as the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui.

If you own a different kind of electric car, you can still take a road trip. For now, though, you’ll need to stick closer to population centers. The charging station network for J1772 and ChaDeMo connectors simply isn’t as robust as Tesla’s, making it impossible to access the more remote areas of the country like Yellowstone National Park. For example, in my own Los Angeles suburb, with a population of more than 125,000 people, there are only eight DC Fast Chargers available outside of Tesla Superchargers, so companies like ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo have some work ahead of them.

Even with a Tesla, however, advance planning is necessary. You need to take a route where Superchargers exist and plan to recharge at lunch and dinner. And if the charging station bank is full you’ll need to wait your turn or revisit them during the wee hours of the morning.

Regardless of vehicle choice, though, you need to go to Yellowstone National Park. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, it is a breathtakingly beautiful place.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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