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Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

Fremont, California
posts: 4
Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

Hi... I am planning a trip to Death Valley during the thanksgiving week. I need suggestions on a couple of things like...

Timing - Is it advisable to take a road trip to DV end of November with a 7 year old?

Route - In reading all the earlier posts looks like the best route in terms of scenery is the one through Yosemite and US 395. I have already been to these places couple of times including the Tioga Pass and Mammmoth Lakes (don't mind another trip though :) ). Besides the road might we closed during November, right? Is there is any other route that you can suggest during that time other than I5?

Thanks in advance!!

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 39,525
reviews: 74
1. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

You can cross the Sierra near Lake Tahoe or loop around the southern end of the mountain range. Here is an article with info and historical closure data: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g61000-c158581 (You don't have to include Yosemite to use the route information.)

Drive Hwy 99 instead of I-5.

Are you familiar with driving in snow? In tule fog?

Do you have lodging reservations in Death Valley? Are you planning to camp?

Here is the TripAdvisor forum page for Death Valley NP last November: tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g143021-i2027-o240 (Today it's page 13.) I suggest you read some of the relevant threads on that page and the pages before & after.

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,861
reviews: 42
2. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

You’re right, by Thanksgiving the Sierra passes are usually closed. Last year was an exception, when the winter weather came so late and was so skimpy that Sonora and Tioga didn’t close until around Christmas and then reopened in May. Take it for granted that those will be closed, and if Thanksgiving comes and they are open, be thankful for the break—but because it means we’ll be in a drought, pray for snow and rain once you’re safely through!

For families with young kids, I think late fall is ideal for a first Death Valley visit. If you don’t know how they will react to a hot desert summer (125º or more), you can be more assured of a good experience if you go in milder weather. You can hike or just walk around more comfortably. You can wallow in the Sand Dunes or hike a gorgeous canyon like Mosaic without worrying about heatstroke (but don’t skimp on drinking water regardless of the season). I’ve found that most kids enjoy visitor programs that rangers give, and park staff make a special effort to involve kids. There are only limited programs in the summer; in July, you might see someone like me at Dante’s View or other visitor sites making informal contact with people, giving “mini-programs” or answering questions according to visitor needs, but almost no formal programs. From mid-October to April, you’ll see a variety of talks, guided walks, caravans, or longer hikes daily and some sort of activity each evening; schedules are posted around the park and on the website.


BTW, when you go to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, be sure to ask about the Junior Ranger program.

Here are some details about the alternatives for getting to the park.

ALTERNATIVE 1: Hwy 50 via Tahoe is longer, but pretty. The most direct way is through South Lake Tahoe to NV Hwy 207, Kingsbury Grade. Westbound, it’s one of the most dramatic approaches to Lake Tahoe, and eastbound you’ll be able to get glimpses of the awesome views. But take care, and pull off the road if you want to stare; you’ll be mainly ascending, but the road is steep and curvy and can be icy in winter.

NV 207 goes to Hwy 395 near Gardnerville. You'll be on 395 for about 220 miles. The Eastern Sierra is a long string of wonderful places to stop and look around, go for a stroll, eat, take a picture, buy a memento (including some nice local arts and crafts), see a visitor center, park, or historic site; or stop overnight. You will never be more than an hour from gas, food, or lodging, even in winter. The towns with the most visitor services are Walker, Bridgeport, Lee Vining, June Lakes, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine. The main visitor sites in winter are Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes (Devil’s Postpile will probably be closed except to snowshoe or ski entry), Manzanar, the Alabama Hills, and Mt. Whitney. At Lone Pine, stock up on whatever you want (last real town before DV), then turn onto CA 136. From Lone Pine it is about 50 miles to Panamint Springs, 80 miles to Stovepipe Wells Village, and 100 miles to Furnace Creek; these are park resorts with all services.

ALTERNATIVE 2: Shorter and quicker, but far less dramatic. Get to Bakersfield (I much prefer 99 just because I-5 is so monotonous and it puts me to sleep, but this is your trip, not mine.). At Bakersfield, take CA 58 (Tehachapi Pass) or CA 178 (Kern River Canyon, Walker Pass). Neither is a bad choice, and the distances are similar, but 178 will take maybe 20-30 minutes longer. Hwy 58 is all freeway to the town of Mojave and is quite green, and you might see trains running along the Union Pacific mainline and the historic Tehachapi Curve. Hwy 178 is a twisty rural road along the Kern River and Lake Isabella, a manmade lake created by the damming of the Kern River for flood control. This is a popular water recreation area. If you take 58, take CA 14 north at Mojave, which will connect with 395; if you take 178, it will end at 395. Get to Ridgecrest, the last major town and shopping opp before DV, then go north to Trona. This is an interesting town, home to a major desert marsh mining operation with minerals harvested off the ancient Searles lakebed and processed in the refiners you’ll see. It’s also home to Trona Pinnacles, a huge expanse of tufa deposits left from when Searles Lake was much larger and deeper.

North of Trona is a signed junction for Death Valley via Panamint Valley or Wildrose-Emigrant. If you are OK with the possibility of some ice or snow, I suggest Wildrose, a mountain road that goes through a green, pretty area that surprises many DV newcomers. You’ll even see trees. A couple miles are unpaved gravel but OK for any car driven carefully. This road is narrow and twisty, with a 25’ vehicle length limit. The other choice, Panamint Valley, is also scenic, but more classic Mojave Desert landscapes similar to what you’ll see farther into the park. Wildrose Road drops you into the park farther east, closer to Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and most major sights. If you are staying at Panamint Springs resort, you need to take Panamint Valley Road.

Alternative 1, via Tahoe and 395, is about 525 miles to Stovepipe Wells. Alternative 2, via Bakersfield, Tehachapi or Kern River, and Trona, is about 50 miles shorter. Of course, those are approximate, since people’s travel styles vary and they make different stops or detours. You’ll have to decide, based on your time frame and how much you want a scenic route. Maybe take one way going and the other returning, perhaps taking the Sierra route first to avoid long snow delays on the return trip when you’re more pressed for time (but being aware of possible tule fog on the San Joaquin Valley return trip).

San Francisco, CA...
posts: 2
3. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

Is anyone familiar with the current status of Big Pine Road east of Eureka Valley? The NPS site says the road is closed between Eureka and Scotty's Castle turnoff. Was hoping to make a big loop in from the north, see the Eureka Dunes, then head down to Death Valley.

Camp Sherman, Oregon
posts: 515
4. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

As the morning reports says, still closed. Only way to reach it right now is from Big Pine. Won't be able to do that loop. Keep checking.

Tucson, Arizona
Destination Expert
for Dusseldorf
posts: 2,818
reviews: 338
5. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

You could try posting this question on Death Valley Talk. Just because the Park Service says a road is closed does not mean you cannot drive it at your own risk....often it depends on what kind of vehicle you have and why the road is closed. Often, in that area, a wash washes out the road, and may even still be active, but with the right vehicle it can be crossed.


San Francisco, CA...
posts: 2
6. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

Okay thanks. Yeah, that's what I was thinking. I have a Jeep Wrangler, fairly stock, but I've done quite a bit of driving in the desert. Is Death Valley Talk this site: http://www.deathvalley.com/dvtalk ?


San Francisco, Ca
posts: 6,315
reviews: 46
7. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

ALTERNATIVE 1 from Frisco Roadrunner is a memorable drive. We did it in late winter/early spring one year (it snowed when we went over the mountains, but not heavily). Mono Lake is spectacular. Hwy. 395 is one of the most beautiful roads I've ever driven.

Tucson, Arizona
Destination Expert
for Dusseldorf
posts: 2,818
reviews: 338
8. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

Death Valley Talk Forum has many people who travel the back roads and share advice. Your specific question can be posted there to ask if anyone has driven this route in the last week or so. I myself would not attempt the drive without very good tires, a spare, but most importantly high clearance. You can always turn around.



9. Re: Death Valley over Thanksgiving week

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